Throughout history, we have seen that for every event that affects our lives, there are several unintended consequences. Over the past months, the world has grappled with the impact of COVID-19. Primarily a health-related issue, its impact is far-reaching and one area which has been significantly affected is education. All over the world, schools have been forced to close, and Nigeria is not left out.
The Realities We Find in Nigeria
Prior to the pandemic, there have been efforts geared towards addressing educational inequity and ensuring that children everywhere are learning. One of such is the Inclusive education program.
Inclusive education, as identified by Inclusive education Canada, is about ensuring access to quality education for all students by effectively meeting their diverse needs in a responsive way. It is about how we develop and design our schools, classrooms, and programs so that all students can learn and participate.
But can we estimate how much the COVID-19 pandemic has affected education? Are the estimated 46 million students forced to stay at home in Nigeria still learning? With the uncertainty regarding how long the shutdown will last, there have been several interventions to ensure that students are still learning.
In line with global trends, highbrow private schools in the country have adopted a virtual learning model. However, a significant number of students in the Nigerian educational system are found in public schools.
For this category of learners, what happens to them? Also, some state governments have introduced television and radio learning but one can observe that almost 70% of states in the country have done nothing to meet the learning needs of these students. Again, we see education take a back seat.
Furthermore, in a country like Nigeria with an epileptic power situation, another reality hits. Do all homes have access to electricity to view television programs and how many homes have access to a television? This is vital as approximately 44% of our population is living in extreme poverty, according to the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
As a teacher in a public primary school in Kaduna, Muktar is faced with this reality. Among the 154 students in his class, 40% of them lack access to either a television or radio while 55% lack access to a consistent power supply. This means that the chances of more than half of his students not accessing any of the educational programs is very high. How do they learn during this pandemic?
Whilst we agree that radio is a good fit for reaching a wide audience, the question is, how many subjects can be effectively taught over the radio? In responding to this, we need to remember the learning styles of students, the time it takes to understand what is being transmitted, and their different learning environments.
Would Sule in Minna have the same learning experience as Hajara in Osogbo? One thing we can be certain of is, as it stands, the educational inequity gap would be further widened post-COVID-19.
In attaining inclusive education, nutrition plays a crucial part. Fundamentally, the homegrown school feeding program was introduced to meet this need. However, with the absence of school meals, a lot of students nationwide, even with access to learning opportunities, may be learning with little or no food intake thereby impeding the learning process.
It is also becoming clearer that we cannot completely tech our way out of the current situation. Although technology plays a huge role, we need to start addressing the fundamental issues in our society- one of which is the quality of teachers in the system. Can the existing teachers run a fully functional education technology system?
Also, what infrastructure can be put in place to cater to all students in the system irrespective of location? As an offshoot of the above, another reality still remains that the rate of internet penetration is not evenly spread across the country and the cost of data is still relatively high.
It has become obvious that going forward, there will be a call to re-evaluate our educational system to truly achieve inclusive education. In doing this, there is no one size fits all strategy. However, the first step in proffering any solution is to know the people for whom the solution is meant. It is high time we had real data about the diverse population in the country. We need to understand the different types of learners in the country, where they are, and their learning needs.
Also, our learning methodology needs to be revisited. Our institutions and methodologies are being tested; it can no longer be business as usual. We need to act and the time to start acting is now. We need to start putting the right infrastructure and personnel in place in our educational system.
In conclusion, these words from Bill Gates summarises all we have said; the disease is both a symptom and cause of inequity. Today, it is COVID-19; tomorrow, it could be another pandemic. But in all, they are all fuelling the inequity gap.