BEVERLY HILLS, July 31, (THEWILL) – It is very heartwarming that school children in Nigeria are set to return to classes, though in phases, after about five months at home. The Federal Government, through a directive by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had shut all educational institutions on March 19 following the outbreak of deadly COVID-19 in the country.
What initially appeared to be a short stay-at-home eventually turned into a prolonged and forced holiday for school children as the country went into a series of lockdowns and shutdowns in the face of the threat posed by the deadly virus that was spreading like wildfire across the world.
Though not totally over as efforts to prevent further spread of virus continue with the government opening up the economy gradually, the need to reopen the schools became pertinent, especially to enable students in the exit classes write their final examinations and move on.
While many thought it was not yet safe for the reopening, the government, after many considerations, had to roll out some safety guidelines, just as it did for other sectors of the economy, to ensure that the decision would not result in a spike of infections.
As the schools are set to commence academic activities, once again, to prepare students in the exit classes for examinations, including those organised by the West African Examinations Council, among others, THEWILL believes that the time for a total overhaul of the nation’s education system is now.
This is so as the world is fast adapting to the new normal in every facet of life, including the education sector, and Nigeria cannot just sit idle but use the opportunity to rethink its education system. The present situation therefore presents our policy makers with a good opportunity to come up with a sustainable model.
Without any iota of doubt, the global health challenge and the disruptions that followed have not only brought out the strengths and weaknesses of educational systems globally, it has really exposed the inadequacies of the system in Nigeria.
The need for a rethink in Nigeria becomes necessary in view of the unenviable record it has as home to about 10.5 million out-of-school children, according to a UNICEF report, with the country contributing about 20 per cent to the global out-of-school children population.
It is also important to have a total rethink of the education system, especially with the increasing poverty in the country, a situation that has been compounded by job losses in virtually every sector of the economy as a result of the coronavirus.
The resultant effect is that the number of out-of-school children will automatically increase, as many parents would no longer have the means to meet the needs of their children in school under the present harsh economic conditions.
Also, the fact remains that many of the students, especially girls, who have already been impregnated just within this stay-at-home period would not be returning to school, thus compounding the already bad situation.
A 2019 Nigerian Bureau of Statistics Executive Summary on Poverty and Inequality had classified no fewer than 40.1 per cent of Nigerians as poor. The figure must have been widened by the current reality on ground, moreso, as the country is believed to be the ‘poverty capital of the world’.
THEWILL believes, just like other well-meaning Nigerians and organisations, that the best way to fight the increasing poverty in Nigeria is to invest heavily in the education sector. Quality education for the Nigerian youth has become more important now than ever in view of the emerging new normal that places greater emphasis on technology and other modern methods of impacting knowledge.
The role of the government thus becomes important, as the reality on ground now has necessitated the urgent need for a total overhaul and reform for the sake of our children. While countries in the developed world quickly responded to the challenges posed to their education sector as a result of the coronavirus by quickly switching into online and distance learning methods without much hassles, the case in Nigeria was quite different.
Though some states such as Lagos and a few others tried to introduce online classes to keep the students, especially those in public secondary schools, busy during the lockdown, the challenges of the efforts were just too glaring for all to see.
Aside the attempt to use the initiative to score some cheap political goals, which shouldn’t have been so in the first instance, the infrastructure challenges, especially electricity, made the effort ineffective. Though a little bit of efforts were made to make an impact, it is very doubtful if that could be sustained over a long period of time as is being done in advanced climes.
The initiative also brought to the fore, once again, the already widening gap and growing inequalities in the nation’s education system with children and pupils in rural and underserved communities being shut out as they lack the wherewithal, facilities and equipment to help them transit into the new learning system.
The inequalities were so glaring as students in private secondary schools and private universities across the country were having their lectures online and attending to assignments from the comfort of their homes while their counterparts in public institutions were just left to their fate.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government that should have risen to the challenges by coming up with a sustainable policy to help the students was looking the other way as its top officials were busy helping themselves with the funds that should have been invested in the future of our youth.
While Nigerians were being fed with bogus news of some humongous amount of money being spent on programmes such as the home school feeding initiative, it was obvious that these have no direct impact on the majority of the students who unfortunately face a bleak future under the present situation.
THEWILL therefore calls for a total overhaul of the education sector with a view to preparing our teeming youth with modern skills that would usher them into the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution. Just as most Nigerians have now realised that survival in the present circumstances depends really on the combination of some relevant skills for the labour market, our education system should prepare the students for that.
The new system should be able to give the students more visibility to the working-world in such a way that high school students should be made to go through some apprenticeships for them to have a feel of work-life before leaving school. This model is working fine in Sweden and Germany where education is given top priority as a tool for development.
Just as the COVID-19 has taught Nigerians to have new skills for survival, the students and the younger generation must not be left behind. While they must be made to go through vocational and technical institutions that are well-equipped and fully funded so as to prepare them for more job-ready skills, new courses such as robotics and coding should be introduced early in our education curriculum to prepare the students for jobs of the future.