The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt affected every sector; economy, health, social activities amongst several others. Its impact on the education sector cannot be overemphasised.
And while the lockdown is being lifted and relaxed in some states across Nigeria, school activities have not resumed. As such, many schools have been deploying different measures to ensure that students learn effectively during this period. Some private schools have opted for online teaching while some state governments have embraced teaching on radio and television for the purpose of children in public schools.
However, how do these measures affect the curriculum and scheme of work that should be covered in an academic term and how well can students concentrate without being in an academic environment? The option for online learning seems to come with some sorts of blessings for some people and a curse for others.
Some parents who could afford to provide electricity and internet facilities for their children might enjoy the luxury of the online teaching while those who cannot afford it have to stay glued to teachings on radio and television, amidst other programmes that would be disseminated on these channels.
Children in slum communities
For children in slum and urban poor communities who do not have access to internet facilities, they have resorted to staying at home and reading old books pending the time the lockdown is lifted and activities return to normal.
In Monkey Village, a slum community in Ikeja, Lagos, students are staying at home and are learning from the radio lessons, taking notes, and reading through.
Aisha Saleh, a 15-year-old girl, who resides in Monkey Village, explained that she and other children in the community tune to the radio to listen to the classes. She explained that they don't have access to the time table but they usually tune in to the radio and they follow the teachings even if it is for a different class.
She buttressed that, “the goal is to learn, so we ensure that we take notes and we read the notes after, most times they are for different classes but since we won’t sit by the radio throughout the day, we have to take advantage of the ongoing lessons.”
Saleh said the teachings have been explanatory but noted that the challenge is with having access to the radio and distractions from friends, parents, and guardians.
“The radio I use is rechargeable or from my small phone, so if the battery runs out and there’s no electricity supply, it would be difficult for me to catch up with the lessons. Also, because you’re home, some parents expect that you do house chores and send you on errands almost every time and this could be distracting,” she added.
Emmanuel Agunze, founder, Makoko Dream, a floating school for children in Makoko, a waterfront community in Lagos Nigeria confirmed that the pandemic has so much affected the education of children in slum communities, especially without access to internet like other children who are considered ‘privileged’.
He explained that the Makoko Dream School has made provision for children, in higher primary, to come in batches to learn with the iPads twice a week.
“We have already installed Apps on the IPads that are educational. With this, we can still achieve a form of education in this period.”
“We really can't afford to provide internet or data for them to learn every day. So, they go in batches to their teachers' houses which are within the neighborhood, and to ensure they adhere strictly to the social and physical distancing order,” he added.
Children with disabilities
Children with disabilities, CWDs are faced with a double challenge during times like this because of their accessibility and inclusivity needs. The online platforms are not accessible to children with visual impairment and teachers do not take cognizance of the various learning dispositions of learners with intellectual disabilities.
Lawal Adebimpe, an advocate for inclusive education, decried how the government has left out children with disabilities, CWDs in its planning for alternative means of education during the pandemic. Lawal explained that “most children with disabilities are enrolled in school at a very advanced age and are already lagging, this means the lockdown is affecting them the more.
“Looking at the channels the government and schools are using to educate these children from home, they are not inclusive. The classes on the radio are not descriptive for blind students, the TV classes are not signed or subtitled for deaf students, and children with intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome and autism are automatically left out.
“The teachers taking the classes are not special teachers and cannot teach these children. Online platforms are also not coming cheap for parents of CWDs”, she added.
Lawal stressed that if the government had planned for CWDs when designing alternatives during the lockdown, they would have been adequately catered for.
“The government has kept us on one side, most of the things they do for us is an afterthought, if you're planning about education, they should think about PWDs.”
She recommended that inclusive practices should be inculcated into programs, plans, and policies of government ab initio so that PWDs can be catered for.
Parents’ reactions to online teaching
Lawyer and social sector advocate, Enitan Ibironke, who is a parent, explained that she has had to support her children during the online teachings and also designed a semi-structured learning timetable at home so the children can learn despite the closure of schools.
Ibironke explained that online teaching is coming at an extra cost for the family but it has to be sustained. She buttressed that “there's the buying of data for internet connectivity to get the work done and the purchase of learning aids at home from stationary to supplementary items like laptops and laptop parts.”
Speaking about the sustainability of online teaching even when schools are eventually re-opened, “there are definitely good sides of the model and it would be good to have a mixed bag of online learning and physical school. It also helps willing and able parents to be involved in their children's lives and to become more technology savvy.
Adeiye Oluwaseun-Sobo, Founder Intentional Teachers Network, explained that the education sector has been affected especially as the academic calendar has been disrupted by the pandemic.
Oluwaseun-Sobo explained that “the pandemic has really affected the education sector, some private schools have children doing online classes while some schools that do not have the capacity for online teaching had to call parents to take their children’s notes and textbooks so they can read while at home.
“In public schools, you have children staying at home and not learning anything, and staff are affected because they are not earning any income because there is no enrolment in schools.”
She noted that online teaching is coming at extra cost for parents as they have to make payments to the school, which doesn’t include the cost of internet subscription and electricity.
Online teaching: The new trend?
The online teaching platforms have been some sort of ‘saving grace’ for learners, who have access to the Internet. Nigeria as at the end of December 2019 has 126,078,999 persons with active internet subscriptions, providing only 63% of the population access to the internet. Lagos State has 16,660,953 of its population with internet access, leaving over one million people without internet and thereby limiting their access to online teaching.
Ayodeji Ololade, a data consultant, explained that online teaching might be the new trend, however, the shortfalls need to be addressed.
Ololade noted that “Stakeholders (Management, Principals, Teachers, Students, Parents, and the General public) need to address the challenges that students are being faced with.
“Some of the challenges being envisaged are the availability of technological gadgets such as data-enabled mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and (or) desktop computers to facilitate online lessons for students in their respective homes.
“Data subscription which enables connectivity of facilitators (teachers) and students to online learning platforms, adequate power supply in various homes as well as comfortable and convenient workspace, quiet enough for learning to take place.”
On her part, Adeiye Oluwaseun-Sobo, Founder, International Teachers’ Network, noted that “the online teaching is good but might not be sustainable after the pandemic because parents are required to provide support for their children.
She buttressed that, “the reality of online learning is that it is challenging because if you have to work, you won’t be able to provide the required support for your children.”
Students in tertiary institutions
A student at the University of Lagos, Raphael Ikuyinminu explained that his institution has adopted the online platform to teach them but it seems cumbersome for the lecturers to cope with.
“Well, I like to think that universities and schools are trying to march on because it's not easy adapting to this new system after being used to the formal system for decades. I believe we'll all get through this in one piece”
He explained that the different learning styles of students have not been targeted by the online teaching, “Well so far, indulging in E-learning and virtual education, schools are trying but they can actually do better. I think they should also take into consideration that children have various learning patterns.
“Some children are visual learners (videos and pictures), some learn by reading texts (we call them the efiwes a.k.a geniuses), others learn by recitations. All of these should be put into consideration even in the virtual learning system.
He added that online learning might be the new ‘normal’ but “I think it'll be quite difficult for tertiary institutions to adopt the E-learning system due to the large crowd trying to access the site per time. And not everyone has access to the internet which is a problem that should be addressed.
Oluebube James, a student of UNILAG explains that “I miss the classrooms and can't wait to resume, but my friend that attends Yaba College of Technology complains about the online classes, how they have numerous voice notes to listen to and form their notes.”
She added that it could be difficult for many students to cope with and most especially the added cost of data.
Lessons for the government
Emmanuel Agunze of Makoko Dream believed that there are lessons the government can learn from the pandemic regarding the education of children in slum communities so that in cases of emergencies, they won’t be left behind.
He urged the Lagos State government to create catchment centers and support NGOs who work directly in impoverished communities so as to ensure that educational gaps can be breached in situations like this.
Oluwaseun-Sobo, an educationist, opines that if the government had been working towards the attainment of SDG 4 which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” perhaps there would have been adequate planning for education during emergencies.
She stressed that “the government needs to be prepared ahead of emergencies so that we are not caught unawares just like what we are facing right now and we can see that it is having ripple effects on our children.”
On her part, Ibironke, a parent, noted that “the government needs to have a more robust and technology-driven educational system. There is also the need to train, retrain, and equip teachers with knowledge and equipment to function better.”
Data Consultant, Ayodeji Ololade, advised that school management in private and public schools need to address the challenges that students are currently faced with and decide the best option at this critical time. He added that such would ensure that children do not lag in their academics as a result of the pandemic.
Regarding children with disabilities, inclusive education advocate, Lawal Adebimpe, recommended that the state government should partner with relevant disabled peoples’ organizations that are willing to support the existing learning programmes with teaching aides and facilities for CWDs.
She also noted that “teachers that are taking the classes on television and radio need to be trained on how to be disability sensitive in their teachings, if possible, special teachers should be engaged to take the classes.”
Reopening of schools
The Lagos State Government has not disclosed when schools will resume but it says efforts are ongoing to develop protocols on how schools will operate after the resumption.
The state’s Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo, said on “we are working with development partners and ministries of education across the country to come up with a series of protocols on how we will be able to manage when we open schools. There are many things we are thinking of; we are thinking about pupils not coming to school every day so that we will be able to spread the children across the whole school. Pupils don’t have to be in their class to learn; they can learn in a room with tables and chairs.”
To reopen schools, it is important for stakeholders to adhere to the recommendations outlined by the World Health Organisation for administrators and staff to implement social distancing practices including “staggering the beginning and end of the school day; canceling assemblies, sports games and other events that create crowded conditions; when possible, create space for children’s desks to be at least one meter apart; and teach and model creating space and avoiding unnecessary touching.”
WHO also highlighted that schools should “create a schedule for frequent hand hygiene, especially for young children, and provide sufficient alcohol-based rub or soap and clean water at school entrances and throughout the school. Enforce the policy of ‘stay at home if unwell’ and waive the requirements of doctor’s note to excuse absence”.
In addition, schools should “consider daily screening for body temperature, and history of fever or feeling feverish in the previous 24 hours. Ensure physical distancing at school and adopt tele-schooling”.
“If tele-schooling is not possible, invite students to take text-books home or arrange to deliver assignments. Consider radio or television broadcasts of lessons, arrange a buddy system for homework with older siblings at home, or with friends by telephone.”
Appropriate and adequate measures should be taken by the government and all relevant stakeholders before reopening schools, and the current practices of online and tele-schooling should capture the needs of all students either poor, rich, or with disabilities.