REPORT ON RANDOM ACTS OF CHARITY (RAC) 2020

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh & exciting – over & over announcing your place in the family of things.” Mary Oliver

There were a thousand and one things you could have chosen to do with your resources. Yet you believed in the cause of charity and took action to support it. RAC—Random Acts of Charity 2020 has come and done what it ought to do. Its impacts remain.

 

RAC 2020 REPORT

School children planting trees on World environment day

World Environment Day (WED) is an international day of environmental awareness and action that happens on 5th June each year.

Started in 1974 by the United Nations, each year WED is hosted in a different country, with events focusing on a central theme. World Environment Day 2021 is being held in Colombia, with Biodiversity as the central theme.

Who takes part in World Environment Day?

Ever since its creation, the United Nations has emphasised that WED should be seen as the “people’s day” for doing something to take care of the Earth, whether that be something as small as picking up litter or planting a few flowers, or organising a more large-scale event in your local school or community like a clean-up campaign, a tree-planting drive, or a recycling drive.

Ways to protect biodiversity

Since 2021’s World Environment Day theme is biodiversity, you might wish to mark the occasion by organising an event or initiative for your children and/or students that is more specifically aimed towards protecting the local biodiversity where you live.

Here are some suggestions for fun, biodiversity-supporting World Environment Day activities:

  • Plant local/native flora for the bees: bee populations are dwindling all over the world, and ensuring that they have plenty of native flowers and plants on which to feed goes a long way towards helping populations thrive. Perhaps you could organise to have a small section of the school grounds roped off for classroom wildflower planting.
  • Walk or Bike Ride: you could encourage your students to walk or ride their bikes to school that day, perhaps by promising them a reward if they do it.
  • Make compost: composting is an amazing and entirely natural way to create nutrient-rich soil for any land that is being gardened or farmed. As you and your students set up compost bins, you can teach them that using compost for gardening will eliminate the need for artificial fertilisers and pesticides, both of which can harm local biodiversity.
  • Educate: the best way to ensure that your students will do their bit to protect biodiversity not just on this international environment-focused day, but every day, is by educating them on the importance of biodiversity. As it happens, we happen to have several resources available that can help with this.

When children plant trees, it is an obvious sign of hope for the future. It is a sign that the future of the earth and the environment in general is green. On World Environment day, ERICS campaigned in primary schools in Port Harcourt the need for children’s participation in caring for the environment. The two-acts programme had a lecture and a tree planting exercise.

ERICS believes that vocational education is a very important tool to reducing the huge inequality gaps in society. By training youths and women in skills, ERICS not just reduces knowledge gaps but improves livelihoods of youths and women.

 

International Literacy Day

“Literacy is not just about educating, it is a unique and powerful tool to eradicate poverty and a strong means for social and human progress.”

International Literacy Day, designated by UNESCO in 1967, is an annual awareness day which marks the importance of literacy to all countries and cultures. It takes place annually on the 8th September.

International Literacy Day 2021 will focus on Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, with a focus on the role of educators and changing teaching practices. This means that this year the day is more relevant than ever to teachers and the challenges of teaching literacy that COVID-19 has brought, and future-proof approaches to teaching that might be adopted.

On International Literacy Day, ERICS assesses functional literacy of youths in Gada Sokoto state.

Functional literacy can be defined as when a person  engages comfortably in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective function of his or her group and community.

This implies that the individual can continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his or her own and the community’s development.

There have been so many occasions where individuals can read and write but can hardly use such skills to improve themselves.

Education in Nigeria

This education profile describes recent trends in Nigerian education and student mobility, and provides an overview of the structure of the education system of Nigeria. This version is adapted from earlier versions by Jennifer Onyukwu, Nick Clark, and Caroline Ausukuya, and has been updated to reflect the most current available information

 

INTRODUCTION
Almost one in four Sub-Saharan people reside in Nigeria, making it Africa’s most populous country. It’s also the seventh most populous country in the world, one with ongoing growth. From an estimated 42.5 million people at the time of independence in 1960, Nigeria’s population has more than quadrupled to 186,988 million people in 2016 (UN projection). The United Nations anticipates that Nigeria will become the third largest country in the world by 2050 with 399 million people.[1]

The country is of growing economic importance as well. In mid-2016, it overtook South Africa as the largest economy on the African continent, and was, until recently, viewed as having the potential to emerge as a major global economy. However, a substantial dependency on oil revenues has radically undercut this potential. Frankie Edozien, director of New York University’s Reporting Africa program, recently noted in The New York Times that crude oil “is responsible for more than 90 percent of [Nigeria’s] exports and 70 percent of its government revenues.” A sharp decline in crude oil prices from 2014 to early 2016 catapulted Nigeria into a recession that added to the country’s already long list of problems: the violent Boko Haram insurgency, endemic corruption, and challenges common to many Sub-Saharan countries: low life expectancy, inadequacies in public health systems, income inequalities, and high illiteracy rates.

Severe cuts in public spending following the recession have affected government services nationwide. In the education sector, the situation has exacerbated existing problems. Ongoing student protests and strikes have rocked Nigerian universities for years, and are a symptom of a severely underfunded higher education system. Austerity measures adopted by the Nigerian government in the wake of the current crisis further slashed education budgets. Students at many public universities in 2016 experienced tuition increases and a deterioration of basic infrastructure, including shortages in electricity and water supplies. The crisis also dried up scholarship funds for foreign study, placing constraints on international student flows from Nigeria.

Despite these constraints, the country will likely remain a dynamic growth market for international students. This is largely because of the overwhelming and unmet demand among college-age Nigerians. Nigeria’s higher education sector has been overburdened by strong population growth and a significant ‘youth bulge.’ (More than 60 percent of the country’s population is under the age of 24.) And rapid expansion of the nation’s higher education sector in recent decades has failed to deliver the resources or seats to accommodate demand: A substantial number of would-be college and university students are turned away from the system. About two thirds of applicants who sat for the country’s national entrance exam in 2015 could not find a spot at a Nigerian university.

Edtech redefines learning during Coronavirus pandemic

Before the 14-day COVID-19 lockdown was enforced to also include the typical roadside sellers and small-scale retailers in open markets, schools and churches were the first institutions to be put on lockdown. These, by far, are the biggest places to find a gathering of more than 50 people.

As part of the earliest preventive measures that were adopted, the Lagos State Government enforced an indefinite shut down of schools, which became effective on the 23rd of March 2020.

The number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in Nigeria as of today is 276. As the number of cases skyrockets, the country is slowly grinding to a halt, causing a frantic restriction of movement with companies implementing a remote work structure.

As scientists work to find vaccines for the virus, it persists and records fatalities. But life must go on. This is why many technology companies have been exploring ways people can virtually continue their their daily activities without much disruption. Their efforts range from telemedicine, with techies building platforms where people can determine whether or not they have the Coronavirus symptoms, to EdTech  where an opportunity already lies with over one billion learners being affected globally.

There are also virtual meetings with corporate offices and clients, employees and employers, through platforms like ZOOM and other video conferencing apps which have been greatly normalized. Platforms like uLesson and eLimu are also making virtual learning the new normal.

The pandemic is indeed giving EdTech a massive upscale with everyone stuck at home with their devices – smartphones, IPads, laptops, e.t.c. In an atmosphere of uncertainty over how long the shutdown would last, it might turn out that virtual learning will be what the Nigerian educational system needs in order to be better.

Is this a short-term commercial opportunity?

This is probably the main  question to ponder on. With the pandemic disrupting our lives, will schools be revolutionized by this experience or will they revert back to their former learning processes?

In just four weeks, uLesson has recorded about 40,000 app downloads. ULesson is an Edtech startup that was founded by Sim Shagaya in 2018. It’s a digital subscription-based learning platform mainly for secondary/high school students. While it has been available in Nigeria and some African countries such as Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Gambia all along, the COVID-19 lockdown has helped it to expand even further across Africa, Europe, and even North America.

Virtual learning may seem like a short-term commercial opportunity for EdTech startups, as trends come and go. Moreover, the pandemic will not last forever. But with over a billion students currently out of school and attempting to learn online, this may be an opportunity to reshape the way education is perceived in this generation. This has been a great reveal that there is, perhaps, another better way to learning other than physical interaction between the teachers and students.

Are there shortcomings?

Even though EdTech is connecting students who are at homes with online tutors, there are limitations to virtual learning. Evidently, there are pros. It is a solution not many people took note of until the crisis happened.

With e-learning, students can wholly take charge of their learning, understanding how they want to learn, where their interests lie, and what support they actually need from personalization to time management.

However, a complete online shift of students’ education can expose some inadequacies:

  • Not all kids have smartphones or reliable internet connections, and uLesson saw this foresight long before the pandemic.
  • High internet costs can discourage streaming educational content online.

Beyond tech, classrooms existed because of the interactions that enabled physical coaching and the ease of monitoring of a student’s performance. However, innovations  are bound to happen in any field. For Edtech, this period may prove to be a golden era. The question, however, remains whether this experience will change the way education is done after the COVID-19 pandemic or not.

Rethinking Inclusive Education

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.

Going Forward 

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.

Education

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.

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