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COVID-19 Pandemic Underscores Why Every Child Does Not Count in Nigeria

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By Mohammed Muhydeen

The ambush of global system due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has not spared Nigerians, most populous black nation on earth, despite giving the country a wide berth to set up emergency strategies in all of its sectors.

Nigeria’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced the first COVID-19 case on February 28, 2020, putting everyone on high alert. Even though the Federal government called for the CBN roundtable and other strategic meetings to discuss the economic impact of the virus on its sectors, reports show that as usual, the education sector was not given any special attention and no emergency strategy was set up until the federal government’s directive for all schools nationwide – tertiary, secondary and primary – to close down indefinitely, effective from March 23, 2020.

Shutdown of schools which affects over 46 million students throughout the country is one of the proactive measures implemented by the FG to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus, it was upheld by state governments excluding Abia and Cross River state governments that allowed schools to round up second term examinations and go on holiday.

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As the umpires in charge of primary and secondary education, some states governments had to set up emergency learning instruments for the affected children in order to keep them engaged while they stay at home but only Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Oyo states (only Southwestern states) implemented the proactive strategy which involved using state radio and television stations to teach essential subjects. Meanwhile, Osun’s emergency strategy for education may have been covered by the Opon Imo which is still a vibrant educational tool in the state. The efforts to mitigate learning disruptions published in April under Nigeria Education in Emergency Working Group (EiEWG) Strategy for North East states (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) championed by SUBEB, UNICEF and Save The Children has not been implemented yet. States like Kwara have put out online tutorial sessions for school children.

In retrospect, these measures are not enough to engage these students whose learnings were disrupted and examinations postponed indefinitely. Also, when these measures are examined using the social and economic divide of rich class, middle class and poor class, most of the pupils within the rich and middle class get the better end of the deal as they have parents and wards that can afford to send them to topnotch preparatory schools – with the best ICT tools and tech-savvy teachers – and gift them phones and tablets with unfettered access to massive open online class (MOOC) tools compared to pupils within the poor class – whose parents queue for government palliatives and at food kitchens – that have to rely on radio and television programs before they can catch up on school activities.

READ ALSO: Lagos To Partner Private Sector To Improve Education

This brings to light UNESCO’s conclusion that temporary school closures come with massive social and economic burden with severe effects on pupils from underprivileged homes. In Nigeria, these gaps show the need for an all-inclusive educational strategy during emergency situations and wedging the digital divide gap in the basic education system.
In tertiary institutions, even though the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, gave directives that schools should resume sessions online, while private university students have already begun to use their online portals and MOOC tools, most federal and state university students are still waiting for circulars stating when their online classes will commence. This could be blamed on ASUU which had already began an indefinite strike before the pandemic hit the nation.

Private institutions like the Covenant , Crawford, Elizade, among others are maximizing their online portals to educate their students while ASUU has released a communique to explain that despite federal universities having e-learning materials like smart boards and some rudimentary online portals, the plans cannot kick off because there is poor internet access for both learnesr and facilitators; high bandwidth costs; irregular power supply and facilitators need for requisite training in e-learning procedures.

As of May 1, Nigeria has 1,555 active cases of COVID-19 active cases across thirty-four states and the FCT, 319 patients have been discharged while 58 lives have been claimed by the novel virus. The push-pull effect of the pandemic has permeated every aspect of the country’s economy and continues to expose the ineptitude in Nigeria’s education system with 46 million students being at the receiving end, still, no clear cut solution to mitigate learning disruption, especially for disadvantaged pupils or poor class children attending public institutions.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s address to Nigerians on April 27 mentioned that the FG’s consideration of how children could continue learning without compromising their health was one of the factors that influenced phasing out total lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, effective from May 4 but there is no mention of school resumption date. In layman English, lockdown will be eased but schools cannot resume yet in order to reduce community transmission of COVID-19 to a manageable figure.
Official confirmation from the Federal Ministry of Education on April 29th also corroborated why schools will remain closed until further notice.

After Nigeria’s combat with coronavirus has been settled, the generational war to create an educational system for Nigerian children will continue, even though, COVID-19 has put us three steps backward. Undoubtedly, there is a need to close the digital divide in our educational systems, else, every global pandemic that finds a chance to reach Nigeria will make our educational systems more porous, out of school continue to increase, disadvantaged children get half-baked learning, while our workforce will have no space to accommodate unemployable graduates churned out by the inept federal and states’ learning institutions, and consequently widening the gap of getting enriched education led by parent’s social and economic class, remains.

Olakunle Mohammed
Mohammed is a Master of Political Economy and International Development student at the Ahmadu Bello University. His research interests includes development, public policy, education and service delivery.

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