By Titilayo Ogunbambi
According to UNESCO, about 1.4 billion students and youths across the globe have been affected by school and university closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Education announced the temporary closure of all schools on March 23rd, 2020, as part of steps to contain the spread of the virus. Considering the state of the country’s education sector, this necessary closure of schools presents a great challenge for not just the learners, teachers or families but for the economy as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragile system of Education especially in developing countries. While most developed nations boast of little or no disruption in learning activities since the pandemic set in, Nigeria is left to deal with the unprecedented negative impact. A report by Nigeria Education in Emergencies Working Group shows that about 46 million students are affected by the closure of schools across the federation.
Owing to the fact that distance learning has been aided so far through the use of technological tools as observed around the world, the big question is, does the Federal Ministry of Education have what it takes to cater for these 46 million students affected? Do households have the facilities to engage their children in remote learning or are teachers equipped with the resources to deliver live lessons?
A large percentage of Nigerians students come from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds and do not have access to computers or other learning devices. In many cases, they live in communities with poor or non-existent internet connection and there is the issue of epileptic power supply to deal with. Students whose families afford private schools are at an advantage as virtual learning is ongoing to engage the students but this only increases inequities and inequalities since students of government owned institutions do not have access to such opportunities. This further emphasizes the findings by UNESCO which states that temporary school closures come with high social and economic costs, with severe impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is disheartening.
Without doubts, some female students might not return to school by the time the lockdown is over. This may be as a result of unwanted pregnancy, early marriage, rape etc. Another factor would be the economic situation of families which may lead to the young girls being subjected to child labor. Due to certain gender stereotypes that suggest boys are more socially valued than their female counterparts, the latter can be pushed to learn a skill or asked to hawk to support the family, unknowingly sacrificing their future. This may be a common sight since there is an exponential increase in multidimensional poverty in the country.
As part of proactive measures to support young girls in pulling through the pandemic, Boundless Hands Africa has been supporting front line responders of gender-based violence cases in Lagos. Unfortunately, the number of gender-based violence cases are rising daily with so many young girls having to deal/stay with their abusers as the only option since schools that were once escape points are now closed.
Some possible solutions that may mitigate the dangers highlighted above and foster continuous learning for children especially girls in rural communities include:
It is high time government looked into investing in alternate pathways to Education.
No one should be left behind. Structures should be put in place by all levels of government using tools like print, radio to ensure students are learning.
More community engagement in these areas since an online solution might not work for them because of poor internet connection and electricity. A support system should be created for them with the structures on ground already. Teachers and volunteers can have a well-organized way of engaging the children
The private sector can help sponsor relevant infrastructure in order to bridge the gap. Some IDP camps deployed a talking book that doesn’t require electricity and is user friendly.
Parent Education and Enlightenment: The kids can learn while doing house chores. For instance, when washing dishes, they can count the dishes and do other mathematical exercise. They can learn English by spelling the name of the food their eating etc. If the parents are not aware of such learning styles, they can adopt these and many more.
CSOs and NGOs have to be engaged, to create a pool of volunteers that can engage students in an informal setting following the government’s social distancing guidelines to bridge the gap for these children.
In conclusion, this is not the time to apportion blames but for strategizing so that affected students will meet up in order to compete favorably with their peers across the world.
*Titilayo Ogunbambi is Founder of Boundless Hands Africa