How Nigeria’s Years of Mistakes Present a Tough Future for the Education Sector Post-Covid-19
No one envisaged that five years after world leaders agreed to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities by 2030 — as part of the Sustainable Development Goals — governments will be forced to shut schools over fear of COVID-19 spreading.
Data are not looking good for global education. As of March, schools in 168 countries have been shut. While more than sixty million teachers had to stay at home, nearly 1.5 billion children across the globe – or 87 percent Earth’s student population – have stayed away from school due to the pandemic, according to Washington Post citing the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, said the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and if prolonged, could threaten the right to education. It would be a challenge to ensure children and youth return and stay in school when schools reopen after closures. Dropout rates rise in protracted closures, UNESCO stated.
“Even brief interruptions in education can have a devastating impact on retention and learning, compounding an already, urgent learning crisis in many countries,” Subrata Dhar, Senior Education Specialist at the Global Partnership for Education, told the West African Pilot News. “Millions of children are now going without a daily meal, a safe place to play, access to protective services and emotional support.”
Some speculate that worsening economy resulting in poverty coupled with prolonged school closure in the wake of the pandemic, may roll back progress made in school enrolment and spike school dropout figures in poor countries.
Mr Dhar said the cut off from lifelines caused by school closures may lead to a lifetime of poorer learning and health outcomes and lower future earnings.
In developing countries, coronavirus-induced lockdowns have implications that extend beyond economy to education. Some speculate that worsening economy resulting in poverty coupled with prolonged school closure in the wake of the pandemic, may roll back progress made in school enrolment and spike school dropout figures in poor countries.
In Nigeria, all school levels were hurriedly closed as more cases of the virus were detected. They have been shut down for two months. Although the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 said guidelines for school re-opening would be released, some doubt how re-opening schools would workout considering that the virus is not slowing down and has degenerated into community transmission.
People who oppose re-opening schools in Nigeria, cite the situation in France where – inspite of its advanced education system and infrastructure — 70 COVID-19 cases were recorded one week after the country allowed children to return to school. They say the education sector in Nigeria suffers from poor infrastructure which would make physical distancing difficult to practice in classrooms which were overcrowded even before COVID-19.
“I am particularly concerned about the social distancing. How do you tell children in nursery and primary schools to not touch each other or play with each other?” asked Mrs Daramola, a teacher and parent.
Mrs Daramola told WAP News that re-opening schools at this time could lead to more cases of COVID-19 in the country.
“The decision to re-open schools is complex,” said Mr Dhar. “Governments must make decisions taking into account the best interests of children and overall public health considerations – based on an assessment of the associated benefits and risks to education, public health and socio-economic factors.”
The solution, some say is virtual learning, but challenges, including poor technology infrastructure and poverty in Nigeria makes virtual learning a luxury many cannot afford. Realising the challenges, some state governments initiated learning through the mass media. But the apprehension by some is that radio and television may be unaffordable for many, especially in rural areas and for those who can afford them, without supervision, students may drift to entertainment contents.
Amina Inuwa, an Administrative Head at the Girl Child Concerns – an organisation which improves the lives of girls by providing them with improved education – told WAP News that poor electricity and inadequate gadgets, including high capacity phones and laptops are some of the obstacles to virtual learning.
Although the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 made primary and junior secondary school free and compulsory, the 2018/2019 annual school census in Nigeria, revealed that there are 10.2 million out-of-school children in the country. There are concerns that prolonged school closure may worsen the figures. The success of education policies, including the National Strategy to End Child Marriage, 2016 – 2021 is threatened.
Ebola crisis shows that girls who were excluded from school were more vulnerable to gender-based violence, early marriage and teenage pregnancy.
“Studies show that the longer children are out of school, the higher chance they have of falling behind in their learning or dropping out entirely,” Mr Dhar said. “Evidence from the Ebola crisis shows that girls who were excluded from school were more vulnerable to gender-based violence, early marriage and teenage pregnancy.
Nigeria has never had a consistent increase in budgetary allocation to the education sector — never exceeding 9.94 per cent — findings show. Since the Structural Adjustment Programme in 1986, funding for education has been below the UNESCO recommended 15 to 20 per cent of the budget. In some cases, allocated funds to education do not have impacts due to corrupt acts, including inflation of contracts, abandoned projects and diversion of funds to frivolous projects.
Analysts believe the pandemic exposes the weaknesses of the education system in Nigeria which has been compounded by lip service successive governments have paid to the development of the sector.
“Governments with lower levels of investments in their education sectors may find it more challenging to allocated the necessary resources to respond to the disruptions to education caused by the COVID-19 crisis and prevent loss of learning,” Mr Dhar remarked.
Years of bad policies in education cripples the sector’s ability to adapt to the looming new normal.
With COVID-19 rattling education just as it shocked economy and health in Nigeria, the country is in a precarious situation. Years of bad policies in education cripples the sector’s ability to adapt to the looming new normal.
The current government is faced with the decision of re-opening schools and risking public health crisis. Whatever it does, eventually, will highlight a lesson on the importance of consistently formulating and implementing development-inclined policies and preparing early.
Mr Dhar noted that if governments recognise how critical education is to getting the economy running in the short-term and economic growth in the long-term, the pandemic may provide an opportunity to reallocate resources to institute reforms.
”The COVID-19 pandemic could pave the way for Nigeria to rethink how it invests in education for years to come,” he affirmed.
♦ Oladipupo is an Assistant Editor with the WAP
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