According to a 2019 executive summary on poverty and inequality by the National Bureau of Statistics, 40.1 per cent of the population in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the largest producer of oil in Africa, is classified as poor.
A UNICEF report states that over 10 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 per cent of six to 11-year-olds regularly attend primary school.
All these show that before COVID-19, Nigeria was already struggling to ensure that young children stay in school and have access to proper education. Nigeria from reports contributes approximately 20 per cent of the total global out-of-school population.
On the heels of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown and closure of schools, minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, directed school administrators to switch to online learning.
A good directive and one that shows the government was concerned about the academic future of the children.
However, the questions on the lips of many Nigerians are ‘where are the infrastructure to support e-learning in the schools, especially, public primary and secondary schools?’ what happens to the kids in rural areas? How many parents have the financial muscle to provide the gargets and data needed to support e-learning?’
Expectedly, this directive by the government to some people, is elitist, a fire brigade approach and coming at an awkward time when academic, technical and administrative staff are not on ground due to the lockdown, making it difficult to assemble and train the relevant personnel.
With over 40 per cent of the population considered poor and most families earning below $1 (N360) per day and facing harsh economic realities due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the purchase of radios, TV or smartphones, might be a trade-off that they cannot afford.
That, of course, means that a large proportion of the kids may be left behind. One major issue that may stem from this inequality is that these kids who currently cannot keep up with their peers because of inaccessibility to digital tools may never catch up and will continue to feel the effect of this gap long after the pandemic is over.
With Nigeria already behind in preparing its young people for the workplace of the future, the effects of the pandemic further exacerbate this issue.
This is a situation Nigeria can ill-afford. That is why we are of the view that the federal government must do everything within its power to ensure that all Nigerian children in school, no matter the economic circumstance of their parents or how remote their villages are, should be provided with the tools that will aid their education and help them move with their peers in urban cities and in private schools.
Of course, we believe that the COVID-19 lockdown is actually a blessing in disguise, to force Nigeria to come to terms with the reality of a digitalised world and the need to begin early to prepare its young for the future through digital education.
In advanced world, blackboard teaching is almost a thing of the past. Pupils have tablets which contain different learning resources that make learning fun and a 24 hour thing.
This is the time for Nigeria’s education planners to put on their thinking cap and come up with the best way of making the e-learning option work not only during this pandemic, but even after.
The COVID-19 pandemic is revolutionising digital and online education globally and Nigeria cannot be left behind if we hope to compete on the global market place. A visit to most public schools in the country will reveal an urgent need for a new approach to the nation’s education system. With a teacher: pupil ratio of 1:85, going digital is just the way to go.
There are measures that must be taken to help bridge the divide when the urgent needs of the pandemic subside. These centre largely around Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and government aid.
A solution to this problem is the provision of portable solar radios to help bridge the digital divide.
PPPs can do much to improve the quality of, and increase access to, education for poor children in underserved communities.
This is why we appreciate the support of the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) which recently distributed radio sets to the most vulnerable children in Borno State to strengthen the delivery of alternative learning to disadvantaged communities.
This is the kind of support that Nigeria needs at this time, government alone cannot do it.
The government on its part should also begin to invest massively in infrastructure, especially power and other facilities that will make the cost of doing business low. This, in turn, will help the internet service providers to bring down the cost of data
We appeal to Nigerians to embrace the new system and make whatever sacrifice is required to make it work. At the end of the day, it will be in the best interest of all.
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