Education sector bogged down by COVID-19 lockdown, strikes in 2020
For the education sector, year 2020 has been a challenging and turbulent one. The first inkling of what the year held for Nigerians manifested in the first quarter when the world woke up to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic that threatened everything the sector held dear. As part of measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Government, on March 23, closed schools and educational institutions nationwide.
The closure, which lasted for more than six months, halted teaching and learning across the country; academic calendar took a hit and almost everything came to a standstill. While private schools switched to online learning, most public schools could not continue learning as they were not prepared, although some states later introduced radio and television teaching programmes.
Candidates for National Common Entrance Examination (NCEE), Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and National Examination Council (NECO) had to deal with the uncertainty of schedules for their exams. After much pressure from many quarters, government, putting in place COVID-19 guidelines, announced a phased reopening of schools, while most states cancelled the third term. Private schools could not meet their obligations to teachers, parents could not pay school fees, while many school owners who had taken loans could not service them. To save the sub-sector, government offered to support private schools with intervention funds, though not much has been done in this regard.
While efforts were on to contain the pandemic, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reported that about 60.2 million teachers and 1.37 billion students, representing more than three out of four children and youth worldwide were out of the classroom due to the coronavirus pandemic. The body said school closures globally have impacted nearly 80 per cent of world’s student population.
A policy paper by the agency’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM), warned that global aid on education might decline by $2 billion as a result of recession caused by COVID-19. This means a 12 per cent drop in international support for education. Aid to education in 2018 reached a record $15.6 billion, an increase of nine per cent from the previous year. From one year to the next, it rose by six per cent for basic; seven per cent for secondary; and 12 per cent for post-secondary education, providing each with the highest amount of aid ever recorded. The report noted that without new measures, aid to education would only reach 2018 level in 2024, which posed a serious threat to the recovery of the sector from unprecedented disruption caused by coronavirus pandemic.
While primary and secondary school managers struggled to continue teaching amid the pandemic, tertiary institutions could not as learning in public universities was halted for over nine months due to industrial action by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). For years, ASUU has been at loggerheads with the Federal Government over improved funding of university education, infrastructural development as well as teaching and learning aids.
The disagreement came into sharp focus this year as ASUU confronted government in battle for the soul of universities. The nine-month strike, which ended last week, paralysed teaching and learning in all government institutions.
The controversial centralised payment platform, Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system (IPPIS), introduced by the Federal Government for university teachers further worsened the already frosty relationship between ASUU and government, which prolonged the strike. Although, ASUU recently suspended strike, stakeholders are waiting to see whether government will scale up its intervention for the sector.
Aside ASUU and government face-off, former Pro-Chancellor, University of Lagos, Dr. Wale Babalakin was twice in the eye of the storm this year. In March, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) branch of ASUU called for his removal following his alleged role in the postponement of the 51st convocation of the institution.
Again, in August, the former pro-chancellor was in the news. He was engaged in a battle of supremacy with the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, which initially led to the suspension of the duo, and eventual resignation of Babalakin as governing council chair, and reinstatement of Ogundipe as VC.
But controversy over appointment of VC was not peculiar to UNILAG alone. The University of Ibadan (UI) and Federal University, Oye (FUOYE), among others, had their share of crises over who should succeed their outgoing VCs at the end of their tenure.
Also, the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), Effurun, Delta State, earlier in the year, took more stringent disciplinary measures against members of staff on issues of cash-for-grades, sexual harassment, insubordination, and other offences.
The Federal Government, during the lockdown, drew the ire of Nigerians when it announced the resumption of the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP). Many kicked against the move by arguing that pupils were at home with their families, hence, feeding them at that period was uncalled for. The President Buhari administration had claimed that at least 7.4 million pupils benefitted from the scheme within the period, which was faulted by many Nigerians, including rights groups.
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, had explained that the programme targeted about 3,131,971 households; with each household receiving a take-home ration (THR) valued at N4, 200, made up of a five-kilogrammes bag each of rice and beans respectively, vegetable oil, palm oil, paste, and seasoning.
She said the distribution of take-home rations to households was a feasible method of supporting children to continue to have access to nutrient-rich foods despite disruptions to the traditional channels of school feeding by the pandemic.
But as much as the year was bogged down by crises and academic activities negatively impacted, there were positive signals that the sector would overcome and bounce back despite setbacks.
For instance, in April, Lagos State government, considering the pandemic and continued closure of schools, adopted the use of multiple media, including radio, television and Internet to reach students. Government said it had worked on a device loaded with the Nigerian curriculum that students could use while at home. With this device, students would be able to continue learning, test themselves and send materials to their teachers who have been equipped with the device.
To kick-start the process, the state Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) developed daily lesson programmes on radio and television for Senior Secondary School Students as well as interactive radio instructional programmes for primary school pupils. Government equally directed that all state-owned institutions be shut because of the pandemic and to commence online learning.
Lagos State University (LASU), for instance, partnered with Envivo (an online application whereby materials would be shared, lectures would hold and quizzes would be done) to achieve it.
Almost all the private universities switched to online learning in the wake of the lockdown, where they held lectures and conducted exams.
In July, Mind Smith, the first full-time online school for children was launched in the country. The school, specially launched as an online learning centre, offers comprehensive and affordable online learning for primary and secondary school students. This is using social media to improve the minds of children across the country.
Classes hold everyday on various digital platforms and the school offers two subjects per day for now, all at a hugely discounted fee of N5, 000 monthly. Its lessons are real-time video classes. Students and teachers get to see and interact with each other. Each class is recorded and, upon request, is sent back to children for revision and assimilation.
In the same month, some institutions admitted freshmen through virtual matriculation.
Students and staff of Ladoke Akintola University (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, may now heave a sigh of relief as the ownership crisis, which had rocked the school for years has been resolved, with Oyo State government taking full control of the university.
As the pandemic rages, Nigeria and 38 other countries benefited from the United States of America’s $250m funding announced by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) for developing nations. The funds will help developing countries mitigate both the immediate and long-term disruptions to education caused by the global pandemic. GPE in June raised beneficiaries to 67 and augmented the fund by another $250m.
Also, the World Bank Board of Directors approved $500 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) for Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE). The project’s goal is to improve secondary education opportunities among girls in targeted areas in Nigeria.
Speaking on how the sector has fared in the outgoing year, Dean, School of Transport, LASU, Prof. Samuel Odewumi, said despite the negative effects of COVID-19, the pandemic forced the sector to explore virtual learning. Prof. Odewumi said the sector would not return to wholesale analogue teaching.
The scholar described year 2020 as a year of new reawakening for human kind. He said 2020 gave those who could reflect a reason to re-examine values, goals and priorities. “It gave brain reset to those whose minds are not totally blocked. It teaches that some of the things we waste time and resources on could be done differently: burials, weddings, birthdays, worshiping God and so on. The question is, are we wiser or we will return to our old ways?”
An education consultant, Julius Opara said the outgoing year started with a lot of promises for the sector, but COVID-19 disrupted learning process. He said government at all levels, parents, stakeholders and ministries of education were forced to review their plans.
“What became more important was the strategy to adopt in order to continue educating the children and the sector as a whole. The monster in the face of every school owner, including government, was finance for salaries and infrastructural development to meet new learning needs. The question of whether the school calendar was going to be extended had a common answer from everyone involved in the system.
“As negative as the pandemic is, it availed some students the opportunity to have laptops, android phones, radio and television in some cases, and some other ICT devices as parents were forced to make them available for their wards to enable them move with the new normal, which has provided innovation in the form of online classes,” Opara noted.
He observed that teachers, school owners, and governments at various levels adjusted to the new normal by swiftly embracing the new tech devices for teaching and learning. Another major low in the sector was the issue of payment of staff salaries as most private schools could not pay because parents did not pay school fees, which usually is their source of revenue. Opara lamented that the situation brought untold hardship on teachers who ordinarily would have survived with Private Practice (PP) or Private Lessons as it is commonly called.
“Some schools didn’t survive the lockdown period as rents went by without income to pay, banks were not lending and government isn’t in a stable position to give subvention to private schools, considering the looming recession brought about by the pandemic. This rather precarious situation led to the closure of many schools across the country, thereby increasing the number of out-of-school children in the country,” he said.
Opara also noted that ASUU strike has impacted negatively on the sector such that most students have gone to the streets for survival.