As the world faces the global health crisis necessitating quarantines, self-isolations and shutdown of borders, businesses and educational institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic threatening global economies and infrastructures, serious concerns begin to emerge about Nigeria’s already fragile educational sector.
According to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) in Nigeria, there are 13.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. With 69% of the country’s out-of-school children in the northern part of the country according to the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the region is among the first to carry out the preventive measure of shutting down schools’ due to the global health crisis.
It is also important to note that 75% of the out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls, widening the gender gap further, frustrating girl child education and efforts to bring them to par with their male counterparts thereby trampling years’ worth of efforts to ensure gender equality and equity. Many of these girls now stand the risk of being married off in other to fend for their family and with the illusion that it will make them ‘useful’ in these lonely and isolated time if the pandemic continues.
There is also the concern of the written, graphic and audio visual contents on the preventive measures being shared on various mediums and channels by national and international relevant bodies such as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and media outlets if it is understandable by children in primary and junior secondary levels in the country, let alone those in communities where tutelage in some percentage is carried out in their native parlance.
Following the announcement of the shot down of schools by the Abuja Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) due to the corona virus pandemic which takes effect on the 20th of March 2020, children at the community primary school in the suburban area of Kugbo where dismissed as they chanted the words;
‘we no go gree’
There has since been a nationwide shutdown of educational institutions at all levels including the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme only eight days in.
The concern here is, how well do students in primary and secondary institutions understand in the simplest form what a virus really is? How to safe guard themselves from contracting the Covid-19 virus, what to do and who to talk to if they experience any of the symptoms? Where their teachers before time trained on how to disseminate such critical and sensitive information to them in an understandable manner to evade panic and mass hysteria?
There is also the greater concern for children who require special education such as those with autism.
Many international institutions and online learning platforms have transitioned to teaching and learning online. On the bright side, young people in different parts of the world especially those in places with high occurrences such as Italy are turning the situation around by learning life changing skills online and making efficient use of technology since many of these platforms have become free now that global understanding and solidarity is needed the most. But however promising this maybe, it poses several levels of challenges for young Nigerians.
First, there is the challenge of epileptic power supply or none at all in some regions to provide electricity that will power homes and learning devices such as smartphones, laptops and desktop computers. Tied to this is the issue of high cost of internet data and poor service by network providers in the country who now might be forced to reduce the quality of service due to the outbreak.
The crown of it all is the existing poverty situation in the country. Many families and students will not be able to afford basic needs such as food and clean water let alone the expensive gadgets or resources to sustain them for proper learning.
Following all these concerns, there is never more a time for Nigeria to look to sustainable means of providing quality education and well-meaning individuals, organizations and policies across sectors that will ensure the continuation of learning in the country, ensure gender equality, protect human rights and safe guard human health for posterity’s sake.
Ovinuchi Ejiohuo is a writer, filmmaker, photographer and activist currently working as a Media and Communications Officer/Sustainable Development Goals Ambassador for Yiaga Africa with a background in Microbiology. He tweets @oviidaniel