To say that coronavirus has drastically changed the way we live is an understatement. The world’s social interaction, business meetings, conferences, visits to hospitals, education, and economic activities among all other things we take for granted have been altered by covid-19 pandemic.
One of the sectors that have been hard hit is the education sector. As a result of coronavirus, many countries shut down, and the education sector was no exception. In Nigeria schools, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have been shut down for months, and while some
other sectors have since resumed their normal activities, there is now, a raging debate whether schools should be reopened or not.
While the debate rages on how best to reopen Nigerian schools, the
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has offered some remedy for pupils at home. UNICEF’s Global Chief of Education, Robert Jenkins has offered tips to help keep children’s education on track while they’re staying home.
According to Jenkins, countries should “try to establish a routine that factors in age-appropriate education programmes that can be followed online, on the television or through the radio. Also, factor in play time and time for reading. Use
everyday activities as learning opportunities for your children. And don’t forget to come up with these plans together where possible; “Encourage your children to ask questions and express their feelings with you. Remember that your child may have different reactions to stress, so be patient and understanding. Start by inviting your child to talk about the issue. Find out how much they already know and follow their lead. Discuss good hygiene practices. You can use
everyday moments to reinforce the importance of things like regular and thorough hand washing. Make sure you are in a safe environment and allow your child to talk freely;
“Start with shorter learning sessions and make them progressively
longer. If the goal is to have a 30- or 45-minute session, start with
10 minutes and build up from there. Within a session, combine online or screen time with offline activities or exercises.
“Digital platforms provide an opportunity for children to keep learning, take part in play and keep in touch with their friends. But increased access online brings heightened risks for children’s safety, protection and privacy. Discuss the internet with your children so
that they know how it works, what they need to be aware of, and what appropriate behaviour looks like on the platforms they use, such as video calls. Establish rules together about how, when and where the internet can be used. Set up parental controls on their devices to
mitigate online risks, particularly for younger children. Don’t forget that there’s no need for children or young people to share pictures of themselves or other personal information to access digital learning;
“Find out how to stay in touch with your children’s teacher or school to stay informed, ask questions and get more guidance. Parent groups or community groups can also be a good way to support each other with your home schooling.”
Sadly much of what UNICEF is proposing may not be appropriate for all children in Nigeria where access to online learning is beyond the
reach of the average family. Many families’ have had their livelihood destroyed by the coronavirus and are now struggling to make ends meet.
Many others are out of job, while others who may still have jobs were not paid during the covid-19 lockdown. Similarly, many private school
teachers have not been paid any salary during the lockdown, families of such teachers are thus literarily living from hand to mouth, and unless the schools are allowed to reopen, private school teachers would never earn any income. How could children of such teachers afford access to the internet for online learning?
Even those that have access to the internet also face the challenge of electricity. In many towns and villages, power when available at all, it hardly last for two hours. Many resort to buying diesel or fuel to power their generators. Again how many parents can afford that in a country that has been declared the poverty capital of the world?
Fortunately, we are seeing a lot of creativity in many countries which Nigeria could emulate. Rightly so, many ministries of education around the world are worried that relying exclusively on online strategies will imply reaching only children from better-off families. The appropriate strategy in most countries is to use all possible delivery modes with the infrastructure that exists today. Use online tools to assure that lesson plans, videos, tutorials, and other resources are available for some students and probably, most teachers.
Working with telecommunication companies to apply zero-rate policies
can also facilitate learning material to be downloaded on a smartphone, which more students and their parents are likely to have.
Radio and TV are also very powerful tools. The advantage we have today is that through social networks, WhatsApp or SMS, ministries of education can communicate effectively
with parents and teachers and provide guidelines, instructions and structure to the learning process, using content delivered by radio or TV. Remote learning is not only about online learning, but about mixed media learning, with the objective of reaching as many students as possible.