How COVID-19 Pandemic is Increasing Educational Inequalities in Nigeria

How COVID-19 Pandemic is Increasing Educational Inequalities in Nigeria

 

Bukola Amao Taiwo is a Doctoral Researcher in the Department of Educational Management,  University of Lagos, Nigeria

 

 

It was Friday, the Twentieth of March,2020 and the school bell rang in an unusual way. This time, it was neither for the daily assembly, nor the typical brunch break the children were accustomed to.  Almost every pupil could decipher that something was wrong. ‘’We are going home’’ and we do not have information on the next day of school, said Mrs. Romo. The headteacher. As she announced this, the children became more puzzled. Apparently, this was the latest development on the Coronavirus Pandemic they have been hearing and learning about. Wasn’t it enough that they were barred from hugs and play about a week ago? Now they have to go home to face an uncertain future devoid of teachers, friends and the fun that characterise the school community.

 

The drama relayed above played out and created a blue atmosphere in many schools on March 20,2020 when the Nigerian government mandated school closures as a pre-emptive measure against the spread of the corona virus. The school closure was later to become a nationwide total or partial lockdown, with those providing essential services being exempted.

COVID-19 pandemic presented a drastic decline in pathways for learning. Leaders in the educational sector became saddled with the task of providing remote learning systems and homegrown solutions to ensure that learning continues during the school closure.  With remote learning, students and teachers can remain connected and engaged to share curriculum contents albeit from their homes. Adopting this strategy however poses its own challenges for all stakeholders including parents, teachers and children.

At the national level, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education (FME) website has been upgrade with expanded scope and functionality and a dedicated webpage as the umbrella e-platform for Nigeria education sector response to COVID-19. Individual states in Nigeria have also provided structured lessons for children on TV and radio stations. This is in addition to the school feeding program that was restructured to ensure meals are delivered to homes of students in selected public schools. Coupled with initiatives from private schools and parents, these efforts were geared at ensuring that the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic on learning was minimal.

However, the efforts geared at ensuring that children continue to learn from home seem not to be fully inclusive, especially for families with lower socio-economic status. Doyle (2020) averred that many households lack the physical resources necessary to support children’s learning. Apparently, the inhabitable living conditions, poverty, epileptic power supply, parents’ literacy level and low level of preparedness and support for remote learning by teachers and parents has further intensified the stress, psychological and health problems arising from COVID-19, thus making it more difficult for learning to continue. While some children continue learning, others are unable to do so. The identified inadequacies of remote learning appear to further widen the educational inequalities that has made Nigeria home to over 13.2 million out-of-school children.

Remote learning has also presented several disruptions that had significant impact on instructional delivery, pedagogy and assessment. Beyond the download of resources and applications, teachers became responsible for the delivery of engaging online lessons thereby revealing a skills gap that might have been overlooked before COVID-19 Pandemic. To acquire these skills however, teachers needed to return to the classroom to learn how to deploy technology effectively for remote learning. While the government was able to provide professional development opportunities for their teachers, only a few private schools could afford the bills required to retrain their teachers. Incidentally, a World Bank report in 2015 revealed that the major educational providers in highly populated states like Lagos are private schools.

Additionally, with the incessant power outages, costly internet and very limited access to digital devices, having remote learning activities substitute offline learning experience is posing to be quite difficult for many families. It is obvious that a significant number of children do not have opportunity to access the online resources required for learning remotely therefore have been kicked out of the virtual learning space for want of digital devices, data or even a skilled teacher to facilitate learning. Furthermore, there are also concerns about how remote learning can be used to teach subjects that require laboratory time. It was certain that some subjects will be left behind till school is able to reconvene in physical classrooms.

Therefore, all stakeholders need to collaborate in reducing educational inequalities. This does not necessarily mean the sudden adoption of sophisticated technological devices that are inaccessible to many children. Exploring technology that will support the provision of devices that utilise renewable energy sources, encouraging telecommunication corporations and donors to provide free internet service and access to e-learning platforms; and deliberate effort by parents to leverage on the numerous TV and Radio lessons are some of the ways we can maximise opportunities embedded in remote learning at this time. For online learning, teachers can leverage on Whatsapp audio, video and text messages which are more affordable means of engagement pending the time engagement will be possible with Google classrooms, Edmodo, Microsoft teams and other applications that makes learning synchronous. Also, the school feeding programme can be expanded to provide learning devises to children in the most precarious situations.

The keyword is simplicity, creativity, innovativeness and shared responsibility. With a willing mind of a passionate teacher, a supportive community of parents and a sincere government, inequality in the educational space can be reduced to its barest minimum.

 

References

Doyle, O. COVID-19: Exacerbating Educational Inequalities?. Retrieved from http://publicpolicy.ie/papers/covid-19-exacerbating-educational-inequalities/

 

 

 The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria


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