COVID-19: The Revival Must Start With Education By Seun Awogbenle

If there is ever a time that we require national reflection on the failure of Nigeria’s educational system to meet global standard and new reality, the present closure of schools as a result of COVID-19 appears to be that one time opportunity that we badly need to rethink what is presently called education in Nigeria.

Aside that there are more than 13 million out of school children in Nigeria, a figure that is unequalled anywhere else in the world, our current inability to aid learning and instruction with digital technology and the lack of quality teaching across the board are some of the factors that presently cast a shadow of doubt and despair on Nigeria’s educational system.

Our academic curriculum from elementary to tertiary education is another factor that leaves me deeply worried. It is archaic and completely out of touch, so much that it is only a rehash of answers to past problems. Here, I find the intervention and thoughts of one of Nigeria’s leading light, Japheth Omojuwa, quite profound. In his book, Digital: The New Code of Wealth, Omojuwa observed that “we need to collectively understand that we cannot solve some of today’s challenges with the ideas of yesterday. Too many times our challenges need new solutions, but we remain focused on the old ways”. 

I find this apt, particularly at a time when COVID-19 has forced a new normal on teaching, learning and instruction globally, both at the foundational and tertiary level. What is however sad, is that Nigeria appears unprepared for the new normal.

Since the commencement of the lockdown directive and movement restrictions in Nigeria, schools have been shut indefinitely while students have been left to sit at home and in some cases wander helplessly, causing severe disruption in learning and academic activities in Nigeria.

In other countries where similar restrictions have since been introduced, academic activities rather than stall have flourished and progressed without any hindrance. Several countries are consolidating on the strength of their educational system and maximizing digital technology to deliver teaching and instruction to students at home to avoid a potential disruption in its academic calendar despite the temporary closure of schools.

In the United States where similar restrictions have been in place since late February, students in elementary, mid and high school similar to Nigeria’s primary, junior and secondary school are about to conclude their 2019/2020 academic year through the help of digital and distance learning that has long been mainstreamed.

Teaching and assessment have all been conducted using teleconferencing tools and other platforms. A poignant reminder that the same cannot be said of Nigeria where students in elementary and secondary schools cannot even say in specific which term they are presently or what to expect on resumption. Total confusion!

I hear some persons say but government has introduced TV and Radio learning, but we all know that the makeshift has been ineffective as it Nigerian government itself. Matter of factly, most of the students in rural communities are not even connected to the national grid, for those in urban population, the high cost of data has also impaired the flow of this makeshift classes. Our knee jerk response was never going to work anyway!

The confusion is even more palpable for students in tertiary institution, as at Thursday March 19 that the Federal government ordered the immediate closure of tertiary institution, the Academic Staff Union of Universities were already on a nationwide strike, the fallout of negotiations with government was already keeping university students at home even before then.

I can imagine the cloud of uncertainty and despair over most students particularly those in their final year, at a time their colleagues abroad are concluding exams, moving to another level, concluding their academic programmes and even attending virtual graduation programmes. In fact, my friend who is presently studying for her masters at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, only just concluded her second trimester last week. For the most part, the trimester was conducted online, including her assessment, coursework and examination. Such difference!

I may not be surprised, since only three Nigerian universities are among the top 1000 in the world, according to the times Higher World University Rankings. What makes our situation even more depressing is that nothing at the moment point in the way of reforms or reinvention.

Government is unbothered and carrying on like all is well. Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education that should lead this charge and call for revival has shown remarkable incompetence and demonstrated his lack of grasp and capacity for the demands of that office. In an administration where incompetence has been normalized I am not surprised the President has kept him there that long!

It is clear that whatever we presently call education in Nigeria is not working, including the products of the system. We all have a duty to urgently interrogate this system that is constantly setting people up for failure and regret.  The revival must start with revisiting our academic curriculum to reflect the new realities of innovation, creativity and enterprise. In this time of skills disruption, where technology is changing work culture and skills required to remain relevant, our curriculum must evolve with the times and equip students with the needed skills.

To overhaul the curriculum, we must start with the age long system that has placed a burden of choice on young people particularly at the senior secondary level. The segmentation into the three sub-division at the senior secondary level should be done based on identified cognitive ability.

The present system is a disaster, many young student make this important decision without insight, exposure or guide. This burden of choice has destroyed too many lives, made most of our graduates unemployable and has caused us serious skills gap. It is the reason everything is completely lopsided to say the least. We need to reengineer our educational system, this one as it is not working!

We must also improve funding, successive government have underfunded education in Nigeria. The national and sub-national governments must immediately commit to funding the educational sector, our population demography must reflect the needs of our people, with a growing young population, after health, education must become the next priority of government.

Technology must be at the heart of our new reforms, including improving access to the internet and ensuring that data is affordable for the greatest number of our population. One of the numerous impact of COVID-19 is that all over the world, teaching and learning won’t remain the same and Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind.

If we must regain our position among the pantheon of great nation, the revival must start with education.

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