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Virtual teaching widens learning disparity between rich, poor Students

By Ujunwa Atueyi
21 May 2020   |   3:13 am
A quick look at the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown and its attendant challenges showed that it is currently expanding learning inequality in the country.

A quick look at the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown and its attendant challenges showed that it is currently expanding learning inequality in the country.

With virtual learning now being adopted by many schools across the country following the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, pupils/students from poor homes are being deprived of learning opportunities.

The Guardian checks revealed that while the highbrow schools with their technological expertise and refined online learning equipment are keeping their pupils on a pedagogical trajectory, some in the middle-class category is still at consulting and experimental stage; the low-class schools are struggling and liaising with unwilling parents on WhatsApp forum while those below the poverty line are just there.

The Federal and State Governments had in separate addresses announced that schools would remain shut though the lockdown has been relaxed in some states. They encouraged school managers to engage their students through online educational programmes. While some schools had since commenced their individual e-learning programmes, others reawakened immediately after the president’s last address, as it dawned on them that the lockdown might not end anytime soon. But the process had not been easy.

Top in the list of challenges identified by school managers so far in their online learning journey included lack of e-learning facility, high cost of data, poor internet connectivity, lack of information and communications technology (ICT) knowledge on the part of teachers and students, and unwillingness on the part of parents.

This probably explains why most schools made their e-learning programmes optional. Since fees are involved, “most parents are not willing to comply,” said a school director who doesn’t want her name in print.

In fact, a letter sent to parents by a Lagos school stated: “Dear parents, following the Lagos State letter on the need for schools to go virtual, we have concluded that we would commence online schooling starting with our SS3 students. This message had already been sent to you stating that we are starting for JSS1-SS2 on Monday, May 4, 2020.

“As it is the routine when starting a new term, the school expects payment of school fees for your wards. We advise parents who want their children to participate in online learning to please pay their fees so that we can maintain the programme.”

A source told The Guardian that some of the highbrow schools were offering optional services, as some parents consider their charges exorbitant.

Narrating how his school was engaging its pupils and students since the lockdown, Proprietor, Starfield School, Iju, Mr. Chris Eigbe, stated: “We started online schooling on Wednesday, April 29, after waiting to see what the ministry will do. We reached the conclusion that the lockdown for students may be for a long time and decided to start e-learning for our SS3 students.

“The other classes will start off next Monday for the third term scheme. To effect this, we have built a portal for our school from primary to secondary. We will cover the third term scheme through the platform and when the lockdown is lifted we will continue from where the teacher gets to and start revision. We are involving all teachers and we have trained them on how to handle students to our standard. Hence we have appealed to our parents to pay the third term fees so we can get funds for data, facility and teachers motivation. We hope they support us; some are doing so already.”

Eigbe stated that the programme for SS3 was going on seamlessly but disclosed that the major challenge was cost of data. “Some of the students do not have the tools required and cannot afford the required data to download the appropriate apps and learning materials,” he added.

Proprietress of New Life School, Abaranje, Mrs Esther Emiebor, on her part, said the school informed parents via the WhatsApp platform how to academically engage their children.

“They were enjoined to follow the provision made by the state ministry of education on radio and television. However, online teaching was organised for SS3 students and it commenced since March 30 at no charge. The challenge is that majority of the students are not participating for various reasons such as no access to android phone and lack of data, among others.

“Only a very few responds to assignment. The response from the parents WhatsApp page is not different from this. A good number of parents hardly comment but some have been very active on the page. However, some of our teachers have undergone training on teaching online but we will want to observe the trend of events next week before we know how to effectively implement teaching online considering the response of parents.”

Speaking on behalf of Lagos Preparatory School, Lois Isemede, said the school had always utilised e-learning tools to educate its students.

“Pupils from year three are used to the Google classroom platform and have always used it to engage with their teachers, upload and carry out tasks both within and outside the classroom.

“Since the lockdown, we have extended this platform to the younger students and also introduced Google hangouts meet, a live video conferencing app that allows our teachers to engage with the students multiple times in a day. The students in primary and secondary school have the tasks for the day uploaded on google Classroom and their lessons are delivered on Google Hangouts Meet,” Isemede said.

She added: “For our youngest students in nursery, we use Google hangouts meets to teach them each day for shorter periods of time and equip parents adequately with fun tasks and activities to occupy them throughout the day and to ensure they are meeting their milestones.

“In these unusual times, the school has had to offer parents a discount on fees as we recognise the impact the lockdown is having on businesses and the increased cost that they have to incur to enable their children to learn from home.”

School Administrator, The Foreshore School, Oyin Egbeyemi said the school has been using Zoom, Google classroom, Edmodo and active learn to reach its students.
On whether parents were cooperating with the school, she noted: “It’s an adjustment for everyone. But I think that we are all coming around.”

Speaking on behalf of Caleb British International School, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, declared that the school had put virtual engagement in place before the lockdown, hence switching to remote learning was smooth.

He said: “Parents can access their wards reports weekly online and via email. Microsoft teams are used to engage students even during the holidays outside the four walls of classrooms far away from their different homes. So the switch to remote learning was so easy for members of teaching staff and students during the lockdown.

“Teaching and learning did not stop at Caleb British International School even as the doors of schools were closed. Member schools of Caleb Group of Schools use MS teams to effectively hold virtual teaching, share documents like lesson notes, give assignments and assessments. Other digital tools used to engage the students in collaborative works and inclusive learning at a distance are Flipgrid and Wakelet. So virtual teaching takes place from morning till afternoon, Monday to Friday but platform engagement is 24/7. Students can log in at any time to view and submit their assignments, download class resources like videos, notes and other learning aids.”

For low-income pupils/students and teachers, their topmost priority at the moment is how to ensure that they get their daily bread not how to gain knowledge.