The Effects of Coronavirus on Education in Nigeria: The Negative and Positive

The Effects of Coronavirus on Education in Nigeria: The Negative and Positive
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had serious global impact on human life as we know it. Virtually nothing is the same as no sphere of society and human interaction has escaped the direct or ripple effect of the novel coronavirus; from healthcare to aviation to food production and security; from arts to sports to banking to manufacturing to event planning/management and on to education and whatnot. All sectors of life across countries have obviously been affected in one way or the other, and our nation Nigeria is not left out.

Here in Nigeria, one of the sectors which has suffered the most resounding impact of the dreaded virus is the educational sector. COVID-19 has unprecedentedly changed the face of education in Nigeria and of things returning to normal anytime soon, no one is even assured. Stakeholders in the sector (learners, tutors, care givers, parents/guardians, proprietors, researchers, investors as well as government) have had to deal squarely with the realities before their faces, and all hands have been on deck to achieve the safest way out for the sector. Let’s take a brief walk through as we examine the negative impact of this outbreak.

As unfortunate as it may sound to you, dear reader, what you are reading in this piece is nothing short of the truth. The pandemic has, without the least challenge, laid bare the ill-state of the Nigerian educational sector. Under the watch of successive state and federal governments, the sector has been poorly funded and lowly prioritized. The natural outcome of this is poor output.

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Within the last one month, here in Nigeria, learning has moved to the internet. As a result, learning has become a privilege, no longer a right for the average Nigerian. Learning has become the sole activity of the “financially comfortable” and of the rich in society. The average Nigerian child remains at home and has no access to formal learning. This is a major problem as majority of Nigerian families cannot afford the gadgets, data and other required accessories for their children/wards to engage in online learning. Power supply poses even a greater challenge for this process to be successful. A good number of learners also may be battling learning disabilities as they are accustomed to the classroom physical learning process and have not been trained on effective utilization of the tools and procedures for online learning. Truth be told, only about 20% of luxury private schools that can afford this online learning process are up and running. Government schools aren’t even a topic to be mentioned as regards online learning, including higher institutions. Though unpleasant, it is the Nigerian reality. Another serious challenge is the abrupt truncation of learning and of research being carried out by learners.

Not only has learning been disrupted but major examinations like the Common Entrance, WASSCE, NECO, GCE, including the examinations of higher institutions have been suspended indefinitely. Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, this had never happened in the history of this nation.

We also cannot ignore the fact that millions of teachers have gone without salaries for months, being unable to fend for themselves and for their families during the period of lockdown and the stay-at-home order issued by the government. This is a very difficult time for the sector and may prove to be even worse if, at the end of this pandemic, experienced and dependable hands have left the system, having gone ahead to seek alternative means of survival.
Furthermore, while the educational sector lacks basic technological aids, decent infrastructure, funding for operations as well as research, it continues to choke under the weight of the economic downturn also caused by the pandemic. The revised national budget for the year 2020 records major cuts to the tune of N320 billion, bringing the budget to N10.27 trillion as against that of N10.59 trillion initially passed by the national assembly. The educational sector bore a large piece of the cut and, as is expected, this does not foretell a future any better than the available for education in Nigeria.

While some students are stuck in the educational window and cannot graduate, others are disillusioned as it concerns the future of education in Nigeria and the fulfillment of their dreams. When schools eventually reopen, a lot of costly adjustments and modifications would be a necessity for all stakeholders, a measure that comes across as unavoidable for all.

While COVID-19 ravages the world at large and, as well, takes its toll on the educational sector, the minds of the vast majority of the world’s population naturally tilts towards the negative impact the virus has wrought on our individual lives and collective modes of living, most prominent of which is our freedom of interaction and socialization in diverse contexts. While we all agree that a lot has changed (which we are not very comfortable with) and mourn the demise of our absolute freedom and smooth-sailing lives, can we all pause for a moment and look deeper to see the wheat in the midst of the chaff? In life, drawing from historical happenings in society, we’ve seen good come out of extreme unpleasant situations and we’ve seen great tribulation engender massive positive change. People have made a fortune over and over again from the ups and downs of life; ideas have been born and given expression and standards have shifted as established methods and systems said yes to new approaches and modifications, all in a bid to mitigate challenges or to even get problems permanently solved. It hasn’t been and wouldn’t be any different with this pandemic: the coronavirus disease 19. Although the damage may be indeed colossal, it will nonetheless engender the emergence of positive change.

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This is a call on the Nigerian people to look into the educational sector, a precious opportunity for reforms and for various streams of pedagogical diversification to be made. While the ills of the system have been exposed, it is not just for the viewing. It is for the doing. Action must be taken in all facets of the sector to put it where it ought to be in this time and age. If the government and indeed all stakeholders deliberately move to do the needful at this time, Nigeria would succeed in refurbishing and handing herself a national treasure that will be celebrated for many years ahead; one we will be grateful to have left for the intellectual benefit of our children.

COVID-19 is here to push the educational sector higher into technological advancement where primary school pupils can be exposed to/and actually use the computer at an early age, prepared for higher fields of endeavour and amazing careers. It is here to make virtual learning work. Honestly, not all lectures in higher institutions must hold in a building. The world is far gone past that point, and it is high time we also moved here in Nigeria. The virus is here to decongest our lecture halls and conference rooms that aren’t even large enough to comfortably host the conferences for which they were originally intended. It is here to change the face of General Studies (GST or GNS) courses in Nigerian universities and to put an end to classes being comparable to the typical congested Nigerian maximum security prisons.

A vast majority of Nigerian parents/guardians who earlier did not subscribe to virtual learning or any Information Technology (IT) related solution for learning have been made to accept I.T. as the way out. People are becoming more aware of the opportunities for better education which the internet offers us. More people have been exposed to the truth that people can stay at home almost all through student-time and actually finish courses and be certified without any/or much physical meetings.

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The hygiene level in schools is another shameful topic. School accommodation has become halls of shame. Typically seen as general property, students tend to only their own spaces. General areas like common rooms, toilets and bathrooms are usually not places to visit. Likewise, rooms are usually full above capacity with additional occupants squatting. If we all must stay healthy, all of this would have to change now that life has taken a different turn. The virus has increased consciousness of personal and environmental hygiene, and as time passes, we hope to see changes made as we move to adjust to living safe with the virus around.

While we make necessary moves to improve the educational sector, we can only hope that with the discovery of a vaccine (which is still not certain), caution is not thrown to the wind and we don’t return to business as usual, as is typical of the vast majority of groups in this part of the world.

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