As we commemorated the International Day of Education under the theme ‘recover and revitalize education for the COVID-19 generation’, we reflect on how learning across the world has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nigerian educational sector has been enormously affected by the pandemic. This impact is felt mostly by children and youth from underserved communities.
According to World Economic Forum, COVID-19 has exposed the education divide in Nigeria. Children and mostly youths are affected due to digital inequalities in the country and the inability to adjust to new learning methods.
The UNESCO report on Socio-Economic And Cultural Impacts Of Covid-19 On Africa, 2020 highlighted the sense of urgency needed on the African continent to mitigate the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the educational sector with its high rate of casualties.
Today, the world is experiencing the second wave of the pandemic. There seem to be no concrete actions to close the digital divide in the education sector. Recently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities ( a Nigerian union of university academic staff responsible for promoting the cause of university education in Nigeria) suspended a nine-month strike. Despite all these, academic activities are still on hold because of the universities’ lack of capacity to fully execute COVID-19 protocols.
The question remains how do we recover and revitalize education for the COVID-19 context and future generations? How do we reduce digital inequalities? How do we adapt to new learning methods in a way that is inclusive with vulnerable groups? There is an opportunity to develop apt education policies and programs in line with progressive and adaptive education practices in the world as education practices will never remain the same even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Rejuvenating the educational structures in Nigeria can be achieved by addressing the underlying factors;
Access and Affordability: Many private schools have set up hybrid learning structures where tutors interact with their students via online classrooms. Impossible with many public schools across Nigeria because they are ill-equipped, lacking internet-enabled devices, electricity, and financial capacity to afford data. It implies a denial of the Right to Education. Practical steps should be taken, such as building well equipped shared-learning centers within schools in underserved communities and providing uninterrupted power supply to these centers.
Reliable Partnership: Improving the quality of education will entail partnerships between the government, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations. The government should cut-down on bureaucracy and provide space for innovation to thrive, while the private sector should adopt more corporate social responsibilities that are “ICT-Education” focused. The government and the private sector must shake hands with the NGOs, who work in underserved areas ensuring that models that work be scaled.
Improved curriculum: What are the use of a well-equipped learning center and reliable partnerships when the curriculum is out-dated?. Now is the time to adopt a curriculum that reflects the realities of the digital age.
Human Capital Development: Educators in Nigeria (especially in underserved communities) lack the skills required to deliver learning in the digital age. Creating appropriate teacher-development and management systems to support educators lacking the skills to function effectively in the current context.
Improved funding for the education sector: UNESCO encourages countries to benchmark their education expenditure following the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, by allocating at least 15% to 20% of the public budget to education. Nigeria’s 2021 economic recovery and resilience, the budget has only an abysmal 5.68% allocated to the Education sector. If the country is serious about rejuvenating its education systems, budgetary allocation to the education sector must be acutely improved.
In conclusion, without inclusive and equitable education and lifelong opportunities for all citizens, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.” UNESCO. Therefore, the government and policymakers must pay attention to and seize the moment to create quality educational structures during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Gabreal Odunsi | Program Officer | Digital Inclusion