The infamous statistics of having over 10miillion children of between 5 and 14 years out of school has continued to stare Nigeria right in the face with one in every five of the world’s out of school children being a Nigerian. This is the current statistics from the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) despite primary and junior secondary education is supposedly free in Nigeria as stipulated by the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004. There have also been questions about the quality of education especially in secondary with reports from Head of Nigeria National Office revealing that only 32% of candidates that sat for the 2019 West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) scored 5 credits including English and Mathematics.
There is no doubt that the decay in Nigeria’s educational system has huge economic impact with Nigeria reported to have spent over 500million dollars in the last academic year according to data from the Institute of International education. It is also important to state that the entire budgetary allocation for Nigeria in 2019 is 1.7billion dollars (N620.5billion) which education analysts have said it’s below the minimum level recommended by the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for developing countries. The benchmark for education budget according to UNESCO is expected to be at least 25% but Nigeria’s budget for education dropped to as low as 5.2% in 2020 with about 85% of the budget accounting for recurrent expenditure.
It became imperative to lay the above background because the preceding educational system in Nigeria even before the outbreak of the novel Corona Virus pandemic is indeed dire. Thus with the entire system needing to battle a pandemic that seems to be ravaging sectors, Nigeria’s education may continue to play catch-up in terms of reform with regards to current realities. The current COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the ongoing academic calendar since March 2020 with no specific resumption date in sight. This according to the World Economic Forum is said to have impacted at least 70% of the world population.
Schools were forced to close indefinitely towards the end of the third term in primary and secondary schools with public universities going through what seems to be its perennial ritual of strike action due to one issue or the other with the Government. This meant that schools especially private institutions had to find an alternative to physical teaching during this period which seems to have come to stay.
In this vein, educational experts have called for the rethinking of future of education in the context of COVID-19 to either becoming more digital or exploring online approaches. Necessity they say is the mother of the invention thus there is no better opportunity for managers of educational institutions both government and private to come to a roundtable in a bid to develop a comprehensive framework to respond to the current realities in the education sector.
Digital transformation of the sector with the migration to several online platforms like Zoom and hangout has become major options with schools especially higher institutions. This in fact has to be in full force and inclusive. However, there remains a challenge of availability of smartphones, IPADs or computers with a UNESCO report revealing that 89% of students in sub-Saharan Africa not having access to the necessary computer gadgets while another 82% lacking access to the internet. As a matter of fact, when secondary schools in states in Ogun and Kaduna were deploying the use of conventional media like Television and Radio, there remains an outcry about poor electricity for access. Thus it is obvious that the challenges of education in Nigeria comes in tandem with poverty and lack of infrastructure to support the sector.
However, the benefits far outweigh the challenge and thus this calls for the development of a comprehensive plan to ensure an inclusive migration to online platforms where students would not just learn but be exposed to more information. There is need to invest in stronger internet, technological innovations like Learning Management systems and Content Management Systems that will herald a paradigm shift in the education sector.
This would encourage the culture of research not just amongst the students but also among facilitators. The habit of lecturers dictating notes from archaic materials of a decade ago will be archived as students would be encouraged to conduct personal exploration which in this way will not require compulsory physical contact.
Online classes will also encourage good oratory skills with students having the opportunity to make a presentation in isolation while reaching out to their colleagues and facilitators without undue stage freight. Also, the availability of digital tools and academics materials in PDFs, videos, and podcasts will widen the horizon of students with an avalanche of academic materials available for maximum utility. This also provides for the customization of the academic syllabus as already being practiced by the National Open University of Nigeria.
The future of education in Nigeria post-COVID-19 also calls for a massive overhaul of the academic syllabus in order to be in trend with current realities. There is a need to invest in Information Technology related courses, Digital technology, health technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship amongst others. This will go a long way in exposing to current trends and most importantly this will enable the education system to breed employers rather than employees.
As a matter of fact, registration courses, accreditation and other academic process pre-commencement of lectures should be migrated to the online space. The extermination of queues for academic procedures is long overdue and the current need for physical distancing wouldn’t have come at a better time to eliminate the queues.
While remote learning remains top on the list, physical learning and schools may not be abandoned completely thus there remain an urgent need to provide for spacious infrastructures for learning like halls, classes, labs, and hostels. This simply means school facilities must provide for a scenario where students can observe the social distancing of 6feets even while learning, unlike the current realities where students are usually sandwiched in an ill-ventilated environment. By implications, there must be policies that allow schools to only admit students that there facilities and equipment can conveniently accommodate.
While immediate plans for digital transformation should commence, education cannot wait even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus there is a need for a robust health plan for schools ahead of resumption. Similarly, medical facilities in our educational institutions must be refurbished with equipment and drugs upgraded to meet up with current realities.
Also, the Nigerian big guns in the educational system must be intentional in training of lecturers on the use of digital platforms for virtual learning. It is also time to take initiative and move with the tide of virtual learning for both students and facilitators.
In a nutshell, we must address the root cause of educational deficit which includes, poverty, poor budgeting, misappropriation of funds, corruption amongst other challenges to enable us to prepare for the future of education amidst pandemic. This basically means the traditional conventional system and processes must give way for modern learning systems in response to current and future realities.
In conclusion, the future of education even post COVID-19 may not be a substantial departure from the conventional classrooms and physical meetings. However, the current experience has exposed the system to a massive review of the learning process which include more of social distancing in classes, consideration of virtual learning options and use of digital platforms to complement teaching and learning process.
Moshood Isah is the media officer of Yiaga Africa.
Twitter : @Moshoodpm