By Agunloye Adewunmi Bashir
When on 19 March, 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced the unexpected closure of all schools, both public and private, for the safety of the children and to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, little did the parents and other stakeholders know that the schools would still remain closed in the month of July until further notice. No doubt, the closure of the schools has brought untold hardship and burden on the education of the children, with the academic year interrupted. The Government, however, insisted that the lives of the children are very important and everything must be done to safeguard them.
Though there are a lot of options left for the children so that they do not remain idle during the pandemic, the majority of them are faced with the problems of connecting with these available options. One such option is online/virtual classes, which provide non-physical interactions between the teachers and the students.
The COVID-19 pandemic is revolutionizing digital and online education globally but kids in rural and underserved communities in Nigeria, who are in the majority, are being left behind as they are not equipped to adapt or transition to the new digital methods of learning.
The environment is not conducive for this method of learning. A 2019 Executive Summary on Poverty and Inequality by the National Bureau of Statistics says 40.1% of the population in Nigeria, is classified as poor. That is, on average, four out of 10 Nigerians have per capita expenditures below $400. In a country where the unemployment rate is on the high side, coupled with the economic hardships caused by the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown, the costs of the virtual classes are high for most parents to meet. For a child to attend the online class, he or she must have a good Android mobile phone with considerable data to run the hours of class time everyday. Maintaining this comes with costs that are too high for an average parent to meet in the face of other domestic burdens.
While contextualising their response to the closure of schools due to the pandemic, some states in Nigeria, especially Lagos and others, released a schedule of radio and TV lessons for students in public schools. Even if a family has a radio and TV set, the intermittent power supply is another problem parents and children will face in trying to use this educational service.The pandemic has unmasked substantial inequities in the education sector and the poor in Nigerian society are badly affected.
The same scenario is playing out with the students in tertiary institutions. The advent of virtual education is still very young in this part of the world and this comes with its teething challenges. Out of many universities and colleges in Nigeria, very few of them can boast of managing the effects of the pandemic, as most of them have no platform to activate the virtual classes for their students except some of the privately-owned institutions.
The resultant effect of the above is that the students who currently cannot keep up with their peers because of the lack of access to digital tools may never catch up and will continue to feel the effect of this gap long after the pandemic is over. This may result in a severely diminished pool of young adults who have not garnered the necessary skills to stay ahead in the future.
With Nigeria already behind in preparing its young people for the workplace of the future, the effects of the pandemic portend a grim outcome.