CNB News – Did education in Nigeria have a bad year in 2020? Generally, things didn’t go as planned. School calendars were badly altered or literally shredded due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the ASUU strike (for public universities). Well, the former didn’t just affect education, but every sphere and sector. Covid-19 almost brought the world to a halt, and education in Nigeria was not less affected.
Before 2020, basic education in Nigeria, which is the focus here, had been grappling with many problems. None of such however has suddenly threatened its course more than the disruptions witnessed in 2020. For almost half of the year, primary and secondary schools all across the nation were shut largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertainty it brought disoriented all stakeholders in education (students, teachers, parents, school owners, education boards and ministries etc.). And by the time the reality (of how unprepared the country was in having education beyond the classroom walls) set in, the negative effects of the long school closure due to the lockdown and its aftermath began to hit, with pains really difficult to bear.
Perhaps, the pains were felt more regarding finances, human resources and planning. In the private school setting, the school closure meant no income for the school which implied no teachers’ salary for most or all of the months of closure. Many private school teachers were.not able to feed their family as they should as a result The school owners themselves were in deeper mess, with their assets (school buildings and vehicles) becoming liabilities, and with many of them in debt and being chased by creditors, who are bent on recovering their loan capital with interest.
The situation didn’t so much change after resumtption, as many schools and their teachers are still struggling to meet up with bills because many parents were unable to pay school fees due to the financial pains and pressure they were experiencing as well. Regarding planning, the several shifts in date for resumption and examination affected logistics by schools and exam bodies and then the psychological preparedness of students.
Apart from the chronic financial pressure the closure caused in the education space, there was also the huge problem of coping with learning. In the public school arena for instance, engaging the larger number of students was difficult as most do not have access to digital learning facilities. Though many state governments resolved to offering education on radio, the offering of just few hours per day was not comprehensive enough.
In many cases also, irregularity or non-availability of electricity became an issue for many students that had no other choice of remote learning than radio. Thus, some of these students were at home between March and September without much gainful learning, a situation that constituted more work for teachers to refresh their students’ knowledge by the time schools eventually resumed. But there was much less time to do that because most schools were mandated by the government to run two shifts for the sake of social distancing. Less number of hours to deal with backlogs and introduce fresh topics across the subjects? That might have proven to be too many things to juggle at once for many teachers and schools And with the debate of ‘first term and third term’ ensuing between parents, schools, and the ministry of education, the best many school teachers were able to do was patch-up instead of catch-up.
It also wasn’t so easy on the Ministry of Education,, saddled with the responsibility, among other things, of ensuring that the Covid-19 precautions and protocols were observed and followed in all schools, a development that would have stretched its staff dedicated for that assignment. Several events to aid education that had been planned for the year by the different ministries and boards were put on hold indefinitely, or held in a low-key manner. Some education arms and offices even claimed to have had allocation cut due to the pandemic, meaning less funds to carry out their duties.
In all these, are we supposed to just lick our wounds, or cringe under the weight of the challenges, or tell tales of woes about how 2020 had been such a terrible year for education? Maybe not! Looking at things from the positive angle, there are many gains that have accrued to education in the country as a result of all the disruptions of 2020. One is the gain of empathy regarding the need for education, which could impact positively on different aspects in the near future, such as school enrollment, teachers’ welfare and rewards, sponsorship and extermal supports for educarion etc.
In the northern part of the country for instance, the communal health hazard constituted by uneducated children roaming the streets in groups was clearly seen. Empathy was also gained in the area of public-private partnership as more corporate bodies see the need to take education as part of their corporate social responsibility. It was reported that First Bank of Nigeria, as a CSR initiative, gave thousands of preloaded tabs to students in Lagos through the Ministry of Education. Such was rare in the Nigerian education space before now.
Maybe as a result of empathy as well,
the government seemed to have stepped up on rewarding students and teachers. The Plateau State government late in the year awarded a female student, Sylvia Ulan Andrew, who was clearly outstanding in the year’s WAEC Exam, a scholarship to any higher institution of her choice in the whole world. Also, Lagos State is about to dole out 13 cars to 13 outstanding teachers for the year 2020. Regarding renumeration for teachers, the Federlal Government on Teachers’ Day announced a proposed new salary structure for teachers, and increasing the years of service from 35 to 40. There were also talks about helping private school teachers with grants, which the different associations of private schools can engage the government and other intended benefactors on. All these unprecedented gestures in 2020 — gain for education indeed if such momentum keeps building.
In addition,, certain inconveniences brought about by the pandemic are only to help create greater efficiency among educators. Students having to spend less hours in school should make teachers and school heads better managers of time, and to be more effective in teaching delivery. ‘No school assembly’ due to social distancing should necessitate a more effective information dissemination within each school. Different inconveniences and disadvantages therefore only call for the right skill or acumen via training and capacity development that will turn each into an advantage. Even observing Covid-19 health protocols like regular hand washing and wearing face masks should make the school environment cleaner and safer, and keep the average student more hygienic and less prone to sickness. All the ‘worse things’ of 2020 regarding education can actually be for the better. All the pains can come out as gains!
For parents and school owners particularly, there is the gain of vital lessons. If there is anything to learn from the lockdown with its financial implications on family income, it is to cut one’s cloth according to one’s size. Parents should stop trying to impress anybody, themselves inclusive, in putting their children in a school that its fees are above their income or what they can afford. With the general financial constraint after the Covid-19 2020 episode, it pays to keep or save as much money as possible while still prioritising the children’s education.
School owners on their part should know that increasing school fees at this time may be a no-go-area considering the pockets of parents. Instead of increasing fees, schools should increase the value they give to ensure students are retained and more students come through referrals by exisitng parents and students. Thus, In 2021, we may see more schools giving parents better value for their hard-earned money, as there may be no other way to keep good number of students.
More importantly, school owners must develop a saving culture that will see that the school has reserved income at each point in time to take care of the unexpected. They should also approach banks and finance houses, if they ever have to, with a lot of caution. Many private school owners, in the bid to expand their school facilities, take big loans, which, with an unforeseen situation like Covid-19, will be difficuult to pay. School expansion is great and will always be needed, but it can also be gradual and according to a very reasonable financial plan.
Perhaps the greatest gain of all to education in Nigeria in the year 2020 is the move towards remote learning, which the lockdown necessitated. Yes, we haven’t gone all digital yet because of the constraints of resources, but we may have consequently moved 3 to 5 years forward in the quest for conceptualised and digitalised learning as many more students and teachers are now open to the use of digital tools and platforms for learning, from low-tech radio to hi-tech fully automated gadgets and devices.
The leap experienced may have brought us to a point of no return regarding e-learning, where we can no longer afford to have teaching and learning done in the physical classroom alone. Government for instance should from here build a 24-hour radio and TV station dedicated to education to greatly augment what is being taught in the physical classroom. Individual schools also should keep exploring digital tools and avenues to aid remote and online learning. It is no longer school as usual as a new normal has dawned on us all — for better delivery in education. Covid-19 may have caused much disruption and pain in the education space in Nigeria, but it has also brought unique gains and taught vital lessons to relevant stakeholders.
In the final analysis, the pandemic seems a blessing in disguise. In a rather unpalatable manner, 2020 may have only prepared us better ahead 2021and years to come, if educators and education policy makers can proactively engage current challenges with an open mind and from the positive perspective that the challenges have only come to make us better. As a catchy phrase goes, ‘No pain, no gain’.