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Educationists, parents raise concerns over learning quality as states cancel third term

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Makinde

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to disrupt policies and systems and its latest victim is the cancellation of third term for primary and secondary schools in Oyo and some other states, which may further worsen the quality of education in the country, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL

“I’m going to Primary Five!” Akinfemi announced gleefully to his parents at their Academy home in Ibadan, Oyo State. “I’m going to JSS Two!” her sister, Feyisara, joined in the jubilation.

Academic progress could not have been more cool to the young scholars who do not have to study or labour hard to gain promotion to the next class in school. It was such a glorious moment for the kids when they heard the news that the government had gifted them “automatic” promotion.

It may, however, turn out to be a Greek gift depending, to some extent, on the home they come from.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Nigeria’s education hard. As of July 31, 2020, millions of primary and secondary school students have been prevented from returning to school following a lockdown that began in March. However, the news that there will be a gradual reopening of the schools has been received with delight and relief. That reopening may come at a price for some students.

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To put it in a context, the Commissioner for Education in Oyo State, Olasunkanmi Olaleye, recently announced that there would be no third term for primary and secondary schools this year, citing the coronavirus crisis.

Olaleye said based on the approved calendar, the third term 2019/2020 session has been cancelled and promotion of students, for all affected classes, would be determined by the first and second term continuous assessment.”

It was also reported that the Lagos State government was considering the option of using first and second term exams’ results or the continuous assessments to promote students to next classes.
In fact, on July 29, there was a report that teachers in the state supported the government’s proposition to cancel the third term for public primary and secondary schools.

The chairman, Nigerian Private School Teachers Association (NIPSTA), Peter Dugbo, when contacted, said: “I think it is a welcome idea. The Lagos State government has taken into cognizance the fact that school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the loss of an entire term.

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“In order to meet up with the regular school calendar, which runs from September to July, the best option is to cancel the third term by getting students and pupils in public schools promoted with their results of first and second terms. In terms of promotion from one class to the other, private schools should be left to decide what assessment instrument to use.”

He argued that some private schools “actually conducted the end of term examination online during this period of lockdown” which could pass as the third term exam.

While the touted cancellation of third term might be an ingenious idea in terms of convenience, the collateral damage would likely come back to haunt a nation whose education system is believed to be challenged.

Today’s students could be the COVID-19 generation who will bear the brunt of a widening gap of education deficiency in Nigeria and the proposed cancellation of third term would result in them being substantially behind, especially in Mathematics with an attendant toll of frustration for both students and their teachers.

For example, educators and schools, especially in the public sector and some private schools that could not provide an answer to the puzzling COVID-19 disruptions, to make up for an unconsidered syllabus or curriculum when students find themselves in an entirely new class.

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To calculate, in real-time, the cost of a missed term can be far-reaching, especially for students from poor households. From anecdotes, not many primary and secondary students signed up for the so-called radio and TV schooling organised by some states in Nigeria in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, having no capacity to provide alternative learning opportunities for the millions of students who will likely return to school and be promoted without a third term, and with the government and educators presenting no policy on how the third-term gap will be bridged leaves one with a staggering thought.

Adverse impacts of forfeiting a term are difficult to estimate and many of them extend beyond the education sector. One is interrupted learning, as under-privileged students who tend to have fewer educational opportunities outside the school will suffer even more than before, academically. They will be far behind their peers who can afford the ‘luxury’ of online classes during the school closure.

It will also be a sorry situation for teachers since they will be under tremendous pressure to help the students connect to untaught subject topics in a missed term as per what they will learn in their new class.

In the event that the third term is cancelled across the nation, as was done in Oyo State, the government and stakeholders have a duty to fashion out the best way to deal with the troubling scenario.

Adefisayo

Lagos State Commissioner for education, Folasade Adefisayo, had stated that while students in SS3 and TEC 3 would have the privilege of sitting for their examinations, the state government is considering the option of using first and second term examinations or continuous assessments to promote students in other exit classes.

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She explained that the consideration was in line with the current realities occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, and as part of the state government’s measures to protect students from the scourge by cancelling third term, which was disrupted. This would allow students to resume for a fresh academic year.

However, for private schools, cancellation of third term would mean no funds for the schools, which are already behind on salaries, rent and other financial obligations.

Many private schools have been running various forms of e-learning programmes since the outbreak of the pandemic.

But parents kicked against payment of fees for third term since the Federal Government announced that the third term had not commenced.  To encourage parents to pay for the e-learning classes, some schools started charging monthly.

Some private schools across Lagos confirmed to The Guardian that they were running third term content online for parents whose children subscribed for it.

Proprietor of Happy Children School, Gbagada Lagos, Mr. Tomisin Oluwanimi, said the school was ready for a new session. He said it is unrealistic to run the third term because the time it would take to complete all the public examinations would leave little for the term.

However, chairman of National Association of Private School Owners (NAPPS) and also the proprietor, Lagooz Schools, Agege Lagos, Chief Yomi Otubela said the third term should not be cancelled, rather government should adjust the number of weeks to be spent in the term left and the next session.

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He said, “Government should allow the third term to hold but have it shortened. Besides monetary, we may not fully charge for third term again, we can find a balance between third term and the new session so far the weeks are reduced. It is not about what we are going to get from parents alone, it’s also about what the children need to know before they move to the next class.”

Otubela

Otubela warned that the cancellation would make education inaccessible and unavailable for Nigerian children because most schools will close down.

According to the NAPPS chairman, most school owners will not be able to sustain the school because they have no other source of funding except from the school fees.

“And there is no way you can tell workers in private schools who have worked for four months that there would not be any salary for them, it is going to be a whole lot of issue. Currently, they have lost some of the months due to the lockdown, they are now back in school and you have to cancel expected income, it would also affect some of the overhead we need to take care of,” Otubela added.

Rather than cancelling the term, Otubela urged the government to shorten the weeks and make some adjustments in the interest of all concerned.

“For instance, there is an average of 12 weeks per term, and some of the holidays is four weeks, while some is about 8 weeks. So if you reduce this holidays, the long vacation can be reduced from eight to three weeks, while the short holiday, which is often four weeks can be reduced to three. The normal term can also be reduced from 12 to eight or nine weeks. If we get those done, that means we can reduce the number of weeks done in each term to make up for the lost weeks. With that, we won’t lose any academic term.

“Besides, some of the children did not do anything and had no access to alternative learning during the period of lockdown according to our research and we have seen the level of gaps that exist between what they knew before the lockdown and what they know now. If you now push such a child into the next class, that means in the next four, five years, we will be pushing those who are not prepared for the next class,” Otubela warned.

Proprietor of De Joyland School, Onike, Yaba, Mrs. Abimbola Osagie, also agreed that the third term should formally proceed so they can get income for fees to pay bills.

Mrs. Osagie said she was having a hard time paying teachers, rent and other bills because many parents in her school defaulted on monthly payment for e-learning classes.  She said parents should be ready to pay for third term online even if it would be discounted.

“When schools return to normal, the government will not conduct examination for us; we will still be the ones to teach them and conduct examination. My own mindset is: let us run a standard online school and give back to these children and run exams.  Once we are done, if it is not safe to resume, the children remain at home and are safe.  Meanwhile, they will not lose the session; they will not repeat because they are not physically in school.

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“If schools physically resume, parents must pay school fees; that is the truth.  The only thing the school can do is to give you discount.  Do you know how many platforms I am using?  We are using Google Classrooms; Zoom and WhatsApp – not just WhatsApp, it is WhatsApp video calls. We see our children face to face. If I am giving you value, you must also return value. I told them to pay school fees and we write exam. Some people bought in, they paid. Some did not pay, I am not forcing them. When schools physically resume you pay your full school fees,” she said.

Mrs. Osagie lamented the cost involved running these classes and urged the government to come to the aid of proprietors.

“Do you know we still go to parents’ homes to teach the children? If your child requires attention and you permit us to come we will come and give that child extra attention.  If I am now asking you to pay, have I not tried enough considering the situation on ground?

“I even read that the Minister of State for Education said private schools exist by school fees and we must charge for third term.  Because that is the only way we can survive.  They should pity schools and teachers.  If you say you cancel third term, our entire house rent that is running, how are we going to survive? I had to borrow to pay my teachers because I do not owe.”

Principal, Bright Hope International College, Ketu, Mrs. Kathrine Ejoor said many pupils of the school did not participate in the school’s online classes.  She said the third term should not be cancelled.

“Our school has been online but most of the students are not online with us due to financial challenges, and we cannot force them to partake in the classes because the decision is from their parents.  Many of them are not fully involved in the scheme of work.

“The Federal Government should understand we are ready for the third term. I believe we need the third term to grade the students because the third term plays a significant role in students’ grades and promotion,” she said.

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Proprietor of Woodentots Nursery School Ikoyi, Mrs. Yinka Awobo-Pearse, said her school was done with third term and was ready to start the new session in September.

“As a school, once we started online learning we engaged our pupils with third term curriculum content and continued this till we stopped online classes a few weeks ago.  Technically, we have completed our third term online. so we will be starting a new session,” she said.
When asked what would happen to children who did not join the online classes, she said: “Children that did not subscribe for e-learning will move to the next class with everyone else (for mental health).  However, the school will work with the parents and children on steps to catch up on critical skills.  The focus will be on skills not knowledge.”

Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) in Lagos State, Adedoyin Adesina said although teachers are not happy with the development, when academic activities are disrupted, continuous assessment can be used.

He said, “Blooms Taxonomy of learning domains is based on cognitive, assertive and psychomotive domain, it is not only on cognition. You have to look at the knowledge, attitude and practice.”

However, some parents are not ready to pay third term fees if the school does not open for that purpose.  A parent, Mr Owolabi Jimoh said he opted out of e-learning classes and had taken a private teacher for his wards.

“I cannot pay for third term when they did not participate. Where is the money?” she asked.
Another parent said schools should consider that everyone has been affected by the pandemic, not just them and should not make such demands.

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“We are all in this together.  It is not only teachers that are suffering.  I cannot pay for third term online. I do not have the money,” the parent said.

For an educationist, Dr Joel Faramade, there would be need to fashion out an approach that would merge, in an uncomplicated way, vital subject topics of the third term with those in the new class. It can be done, he said but it requires the will power and a carefully planned approach by all involved.

Besides, Faramade said students have to be told about this reality so that they can prepare their mind to work harder at their studies. Parents too must be involved and helped to understand the COVID-19 realities of a cancelled third term.

“Otherwise, the rot will stink to the high heavens when students promoted to the next class by the fiat of basing performances on either the first two terms or the last continuous assessments,” he warned.

It could also be argued that for students who could have used the third term to have better grades, having failed to do so in the first two terms, asking them to repeat the class may be an injustice. Well, it is unlikely that any student will be asked to repeat a class amid the COVID-19 crisis.

It is apparent that the career of these students might be severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as they have already experienced major teaching interruptions and in their assessments. On the upside, bypassing a term is, in a way, an economic reprieve for their parents. The parents do not have to incur any expenses for a third term.

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