ColumnsEducationOpinionEducation In the Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic: Focus On Enugu State

The current spate of the pandemic ravaging the global community has kept world leaders and organizations on edge to find a possible cure.

Meanwhile, as a precautionary measure, schools, religious places of worship, markets and other places of gathering were shut down so as to curb the transmission and spread of the virus.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, records, 191 countries implemented countrywide closure of educational institutions and over 1.58 billion learners have been away from schools representing more than 90% of the total enrolled learners worldwide since February 2020.

A giant step in the right direction but the imperatives of Educational institutions’ closure is not without consequences, although, public health overrides it all.

Consequences which may include learning loss, new or exacerbated inequalities, increased risk of drop-outs and loss of education personnel (UNESCO); others include adolescent pregnancy, physical and sexual abuse of girls, sex for money especially with low-income families, child marriages, school dropouts caused by a shift of responsibility towards income generation as recorded in Sierra Leone after the Ebola epidemic.

Hence it behooves governments and schools to proactively articulate and put in motion, plans, and programs that will identify and address the negative effects of school closure on the educational system, school population and the entire community with much emphasis on the vulnerable group; promulgate laws if need be.

The place of health and education in development informs the above assertion: health, education and real income per capita adjusted for purchasing power are three facets of development.

In March, the Nigerian nation joined other countries to shut down schools in compliance with the stay at home Executive Order. Enugu State then directed all public and private schools, from crèche to higher institutions to shut down since 27th March 2020.

But after the Easter break, most schools and teachers fashioned out modalities for continuous learning bearing in mind peculiarities of their audience.

A couple of interviews with some teachers and school proprietors in Enugu revealed that the Enugu State Commissioner for Education, Prof. Uche Eze had instructed them to utilise convenient and safe means to engage the students while at home.

For some private secondary schools like Pine Crest, teachers upload the course works on the school’s website to which students have access through passwords made available to them.

Others employ the use of apps such as Zoom, WhatsApp, and Google Classroom for class interactions.

The case is quite different for public schools where the schools are scheduled to teach on-air via government-owned Radio and Television stations.

The Enugu Radio School is a broadcast tutorial programme designed especially for students in examination classes (Basic education-junior WAEC and Senior WAEC and NECO).

The program runs from 5-6 pm Monday to Friday for secondary school classes while the primary school classes take the air from 11-12noon.

Sabina, a veteran teacher in a public school in an interview explained that having secured airtime with Radio Nigeria, the Post Primary School Management Board, PPSMB, schedules schools to come on air and deliver lessons to the students.

The choice of radio for tutorials for public schools is commendable though because the majority of her students are children of poor income earners who cannot afford smartphones, laptops, and data.

“Once the scheduled school is notified, the principal then appoints teachers that will go on air to deliver the prepared lessons. 30 minutes airtime is allotted for each subject and only exam classes involved in this arrangement; Junior Secondary School 3 and Senior Secondary school 3”, she said.

She further revealed that the feedback mechanism employed by the teachers is a wilful release of their phone numbers to the students while on air. The students are to get in touch with their teachers for further clarification on subjects treated.

The choice of radio for tutorials for public schools is commendable though because the majority of her students are children of poor income earners who cannot afford smartphones, laptops, and data.

However, this means has its challenges because of the timing; most of these children are seen in the markets working as barrow pushers and/or hawkers just to make ends meet and at close of market, get home knackered, and in no mood for any form of academic exercise.

While some are unaware of the program, others are distracted with house chores and the likes. Some do not have the luxury of constantly buying batteries to power their radio and the electricity distribution company cannot be relied on, hence the vicious cycle of drop-outs continues.

The case is different in private schools as parents of the students here are enlightened and in better financial positions to afford gadgets and internet connections, and this informs their mode of learning.

Nkeiru a school proprietress revealed, “I buy data for all my teachers weekly to enable their WhatsApp. Phone numbers submitted by parents for such purposes are assigned to groups according to students’ classes.”

“The students are taught using voice notes and a snapshot of their written assignments sent back to the teachers through WhatsApp; the hard copy will be collected on resumption of school”, she said.

On the students’ part, it is a case of different strokes for different folks; the very poor are happy because they now contribute to their family’s income by doing menial jobs.

Children of middle class complain of missing their friends and school activities but for those in higher institutions of learning, fear of losing an academic year is their major challenge.

As expedient as school closure is, its attendant risks are high and no concrete date of reopening yet since the total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Nigeria keeps increasing.

This is a huge concern given our high population, interstate travels despite ‘closed borders’ and state of our healthcare system.

♦ Ulasi is a Regional Correspondent and Columnist with the WAP

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