The spread of the coronavirus initially spared Nigeria, like many other African countries, with zero recorded case as of January 2020. This luck, however, did not last. By the 28th of February, Nigeria reported its first case; a Nigerian UK returnee. Nearly two months, 343 confirmed cases, 91 recoveries and 10 deaths Nigeria has a pressing cause for concern.
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The Federal Ministry of Education announced the temporary close-down of all schools in Nigeria, effective March 23rd, in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Considering the state of Nigeria’s education sector, pertinent questions arose: Do schools in Nigeria have the technology to cater for the 46 million students affected? Do households have the facilities to engage their children in remote learning? Do teachers have the resources to deliver live lessons or record a massive open online course (MOOC) styled lessons?
Unlike other countries, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education’s school-closure directive did not come with any clear-cut policy measures on how to mitigate learning disruptions for children or how to address the digital divide.
It follows that education is not paramount to the Nigerian government at this time. The only well-documented response is the Nigeria Education in Emergency Working Group (NWiWwg) Strategy published on April 7th. The objective of the strategy is to mitigate the negative impact of school closures on students and teachers in North-East Nigeria.
While government efforts in the health and economic sectors must be commended, ignoring the education sector would be disastrous. As emphasised by UNESCO, temporary school closures come with high social and economic costs, with severe impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Children on the higher end of the socio-economic spectrum may experience less disruption to their learning because their private schools are well-equipped with ICT infrastructure and they can afford remote learning resources at home. The majority that would be left struggling are the students from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not have access to computers and other devices outside school. In many cases, these children live in communities with poor or non-existent internet connectivity and unreliable power supply. Inevitably, this digital divide will exacerbate the learning disparities among these children.
Temporary school closures mean educators, funders and policymakers are rethinking the way education is delivered and accessed by students. In China, for instance, governments are providing computers to students from low-income households and offering mobile data packages and telecommunication subsidies. In France, efforts are being made to lend devices to students who do not have access to computers. Similarly, Portugal is partnering with postal services to deliver working sheets to students who do not have access to the internet at home.
In Nigeria, state governments (e.g. Ogun and Lagos) are adopting local media channels such as radio programmes to reach out to students in remote communities. The quality of such educational programmes, however, is not within the scope of this article.
The government could further mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on education by providing solar-powered educational devices, pre-loaded with offline academic resources, to students in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, such as the tablets used in Sun Books project.
The Nigeria Education in Emergency Working Group (NWiWwg) Strategy could also be scaled-up to include other regions in the country. Of course, these policy measures would require significant financial investment, but such investment is worthwhile for the progress of the economy in the long-term. Looking ahead, it is pertinent to ensure #LearningNeverStops during this pandemic.