Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation’- Nigeria in perspective.

Today is the International Day of Education and the theme for this year is ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation.’ SDG Goal 4 is for quality education to be available to all children in an inclusive and equal manner by 2030 yet today, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, estimates that “over 200 million children will still be out of school in 2030.” The current pandemic and increased inter/intra-state conflicts has further widened the divide in terms of access to quality education. Statistics from the UN has it that, “258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school.”

Before the pandemic exacerbated last year, I wrote this piece on the increasing divide between private and public institutions in Nigeria’s education space and its implication for millions of children and youth across the country who cannot afford to attend a private institution. The COVID19 pandemic has further widened this gap.

Nigeria’s tertiary institutions were already on an industrial strike months before the pandemic-induced national lockdown was announced in March, 2020. This means that for over eleven (11) months, public tertiary institutions were closed while primary and secondary schools were closed for up to nine (9) months respectively. Contrast this with the fact that during the same period, majority of the private institutions continued active learning online despite the restriction of physical learning.

Private Institutions both at the secondary level and the tertiary were able to continue education delivery online not just because they had capacity and resources needed to do so but that they valued the development of their students enough to adapt to the new environment (online learning). These private educational institutions responded by equipping their workers (teachers) and students with the technological capacity necessary to transition studies online thereby keeping them intellectually engaged while their counterparts in the public institutions were left to remain idle, doing nothing for over 11 months.

Private educational institutions deserve commendation for their ability to adapt quickly to the new normal; however, we need to have a meaningful conversation on how to make public citadels of learning work, as effective as their private counterparts. The federal government of Nigeria and all stakeholders involved need to drop this apathy towards education If Nigeria is to make any meaningful progress in terms of economic development.

Speaking of divides, how can the Nigeria government breach the education gap in the country especially in the face of the COVID19 pandemic? What institutional frameworks & infrastructure need to be laid down to ensure that Nigeria’s education system is well prepared to overcome disruptions that come from pandemic and the likes? Some of the answers to the above questions have been provided in a policy memo that Eben, Comfort, Kehinde, Oteheri and I published last year here, titled, Nigeria’s Public Education in a Post Covid world; Strategies for Inclusive Learning in Tertiary Institutions.

Below are three ways the Nigerian Government can tackle the education crisis in the country.

  1. Improve Teachers Welfare: Honestly, this is not only a Nigerian thing. Teachers are underpaid in several parts of the world and this needs to change. The recent approval of teachers reform bill by the Nigerian government is a welcomed development as it promises to increase funding and welfare of teachers. The government should ensure that this agreement is swiftly implemented. The culture of industrial strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) should be finally put to a stop and their grievances over salaries adequately addressed. Currently, it takes an average of 5–6 years for a university student to complete a 4-year course and this is due to the periodic interruptions caused by industrial strikes by ASUU.
  2. Technological Empowerment of Public Institutions & Retraining of Teachers: Public institutions are lagging behind in terms of the use of technology. Most teachers and students in public tertiary institutions are still ignorant when it comes to the use of technology for communication and course delivery. Simple things like email communication between lecturers and students still remain foreign in some of these institutions. This needs to be addressed by a deliberate reskilling of academic staff in universities. Current vice-chancellors, rectors & principals should see this as a priority and a metric of their success in office. Teachers need to be trained on modern ways of delivering course contents online. There needs to be collaboration between private sector edtech innovators like Sim Shagaya (Ulesson startup founder) and many others here, and public education stakeholders in Nigeria for the reimagining and building of learning platforms that will serve tertiary institutions. These challenges are not unique to Nigeria alone especially when it comes to transitioning learning online. However, with deliberate policies and actions, Academic staff of public institutions can be equipped to meet the challenges of 21st century methods of learning.
  3. Reward Excellence: Nigerians are more likely to be honored for their excellence abroad than in Nigeria and this really needs to change. State governments and the FG should do more in terms of awarding scholarships and grants to students, teachers and institutions making great strides in their crafts. In recent years, there have been complaints by Nigerian students sent abroad by the Nigeria government over the delayed payment and in some cases, non-payment of tuition fees promised to them for their scholarships. How do you send students for masters abroad on government-funded scholarships and then abandon them? Here are students complaining about how the Bayelsa State government & the Federal government of Nigeria abandoned them in Russia without the promised tuition and stipends. Cases like this do not inspire students to work hard. It kills the hopes of young diligent students littered all across the nation. There is no economic growth and development without commensurate investments into human capital development. We must recognize this and do what is needed to encourage a culture of excellence unless Nigeria risks the continuous loss of its best brains to countries and continents where excellence is adequately rewarded.

On this International day of Education, we all must join hands together to ensure that every child has access to quality education. One way of contributing to this is by making a generous donation to #ECW, Education Cannot Wait — “Education Cannot Wait is a new global fund to transform the delivery of education in emergencies — one that joins up governments, humanitarian actors and development efforts to deliver a more collaborative and rapid response to the educational needs of children and youth affected by crises.”