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How to save education from disruptions, pandemics, by experts

By Adelowo Adebumiti
17 December 2020   |   3:01 am
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted about 94 per cent of education world over, with nearly 1.6 billion people affected across all continents.

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted about 94 per cent of education world over, with nearly 1.6 billion people affected across all continents.

Recently, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament converged on Lome, Togo for a meeting. Members were drawn from the Joint Committee on Education, Science and Technology; Telecommunication and Information Technology; Political Affairs, Peace and Security, as well as Infrastructure. They were saddled with the responsibility of charting a new course for the sub-region in handling pandemics with regards to education in West Africa.

For the parliament, the goal was to develop Information Communications Technology (ICT)-based solutions to distance learning so that West Africans can learn remotely without being in one physical location. Having battled the greatest disruption in the education sector with coronavirus; they stressed the need to plan ahead so as to ensure that learning is not disrupted.

Speaking on the impact of COVID-19 on learning, educational administrator, Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Emmanuel Taiwo Akinola said research by UNICEF as at September 30, showed that about 1.077 billion learners were affected as a result of school closure in response to the pandemic.

According to him, the lockdown resulted in several cancellations and eventual postponement of the Senior Secondary School and promotional examinations; exposure to social vices and difficulties coping with online alternatives to learning, especially in Nigeria, due to non-availability of internet learning facilities.

But the Provost, Corona College of Education, Agbara, Ogun State, Dr. Martin Obinyan said a few schools were ahead of the curve because, after the Ebola crisis, which came as a shock to Nigerians, they decided to take precautions to avoid being taken unawares in subsequent health crises.

“A handful of private schools immediately swung into action by adopting new methods of learning. They used technology and online learning platforms to teach the curriculum. For Corona Schools’ Trust Council, blended learning has become an integral part of every child. The pupils began a combination of both in-person and online education,” he said.

Obinyan noted that the Corona Secondary School, Agbara, has conducted series of world-class lesson deliveries and on-line assessments in UTME Online Mock Examinations, termly and sessional assessments, S. A. T Practice sessions, and CE-Learn Programme.

According to him, the E-Learn platform, known as CE-Learn, is an initiative of the Corona Schools’ Trust Council to deliver virtual learning to young learners from creche to secondary school-aged children. He said it is a subscription-based learning opportunity for students in any part of Nigeria and beyond, provided that the person has access to the Internet.

He said despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Corona College of Education had a seamless session when all other colleges of education were in lockdown, simply because the students were engaged in virtual school. “On the other hand, many families and schools could not afford to purchase the technology required; they were not equipped to adapt or transition to new methods of learning.

“The public schools, following the government’s directive sent the children home, hoping that the pandemic would be over in a few weeks and then pupils would return to school. Few weeks turned a term, and then two terms. There were partial learning online in at least, Lagos,” he observed.

Obinyan, however, noted that the pandemic has exposed substantial inequalities in the education sector. “The rich few took advantage of the widespread digitalisation to continue their learning process while children from poor families lack conducive home-learning environments with an internet connection. All hands must therefore be on deck to bridge this divide.”

A staff of Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Blessing Saka said the risks faced have grown as the world becomes increasingly interconnected. He said the pandemic has not stopped at national borders but has affected people, regardless of nationality, level of education, income or gender.

“But the consequences have hit the most vulnerable the most, with education being no exception. This pandemic has exposed the many inadequacies and inequities in our education systems – from access to broadband and computers needed for online education, enabling environment needed to focus on learning, and misalignment between resources and needs,” Saka added.

While educational communities made concerted efforts to continue learning during this period, Saka noted that children and students have had to rely more on their own resources to continue learning remotely through the Internet, television or radio. Besides, he said teachers had to adapt to new pedagogical concepts and modes of delivery of teaching, for which they may not have been trained.

“In particular, learners in the most marginalised groups, who don’t have access to digital learning resources or lack the resilience and engagement to learn on their own, are at risk of falling behind,” he lamented.

Another staff of the college, Mrs. Oluwatoyin A. Oyebamiji, said the country’s educational system has been scrambling for direction on how to operate since the outbreak of coronavirus. According to her, COVID-19 has resulted in one positive thing-a greater appreciation for the importance of schools. As parents struggle to work with their children at home during the lockdown, public recognition of the essential caretaking role schools plays in society has skyrocketed. As young people struggle to learn from home, parents’ gratitude to teachers, their skills, and invaluable roles in students’ well-being, has peaked.

For Nigeria to avoid getting caught if another pandemic reoccurs, Oyebamiji said it is imperative to look beyond these immediate concerns to what may be possible for education on the other side of COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is hard to imagine there will be another moment in history when the central role of education in the economic, social, and political prosperity and stability of nations is so obvious and well understood by the general population. Now is the time to chart a path for how education can emerge stronger from this global crisis than ever before.

Oyebamiji added, “Ironically, the pandemic has done education policymakers a favour, showing them a path to preventing panic if there is a subsequent COVID-19 outbreak or another kind of emergency that disrupts schools. Another way to prevent being caught unprepared is emphasising on our history. COVID-19 is not the first world pandemic. A lot of people had to go and research about other pandemics and how it was dealt with. The Spanish Flu lasted from 1918 to 1920 taking millions of lives. When we become very familiar with our history, we will be prepared for such occurrences,” she said.

Lagos State Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), Kazeem Labaika, said for the country not to be caught unawares again, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) should always be at alert and put measures in place to be followed by all stakeholders.

On his part, Akinola said adequate preparations should be made by the government, research agencies and world organisations to prevent another pandemic. He called for adequate funding of the health sector to provide appropriate immunisation programmes across all levels in the society, as well as the creation of robust early warning systems that will alert citizens to new diseases.

He added that government should adequately invest in research and encourage researchers, while also focusing on provision and development of surveillance systems for data collection and adequate forecast policies.

Saka said implementation of genuine vaccine initiative programme and institutionalisation of solidarity systems to support and prevent the unexpected outbreak of another pandemic must be enshrined. To ensure other pandemics will not disrupt learning again, he added that higher education institutions should seek to use technology, offer online classes and learning experiences as a substitute for in-class time.

Labaika advised the government to always take prompt action to curtail the importation of any pandemic. “Whenever we hear of any pandemic in any country of the world, we should take action by introducing stringent measures at our borders so that people will not be affected in any way,” he said.

On her part, Oyebamiji said students and families should be prepared for online learning and engagement. “The Internet has been a powerful tool for connection and engagement during this time of uncertainty. To ensure that the next transition into online teaching is seamless, education professionals must learn the needs of all students because not every family will have access to computers or Wi-Fi.”

She said once the needed digital tools are in place, educators should prepare for the very different experience of leading online classrooms. According to her, teachers need to adapt curricula to an online format and think of how to solve problems during the crisis.

She added that assessment standards must be redesigned with an equity focus since testing students would not be fair to those struggling with human loss, unclear expectations and uncertain outcomes from schooling in a time of educational disruption.

Akinola, however, urged government at all levels to make adequate preparation to modify curriculum for online learning and educate learners on the need to embrace e-learning.

Speaking on how to save education from disruption and pandemics, Oyebamiji said responses to COVID-19 crisis would vary depending on every education system’s capacity. She said such would depend on whether the government has a robust emergency plan in place and whether technology is fully embedded in the system. “The response is likely to expose deep education inequalities within a country’s education system,” Oyebamiji stated.

She said the response should focus on most at-risk students, accessible technologies and methods, preparation for immediate steps once the crisis ends, education technology and mobilise education networks to disseminate life-saving public health messages.

Besides, the scholar said government at all levels should learn from COVID-19 experience and strengthen their education systems to withstand future crises, whether from disease, conflict or climate change.

“This pandemic has shown that few governments have invested in their education emergency response, or have tested their capacity to manage disasters’ knock-on effects on education. Given the expectation of further shocks, this is not just desirable, but imperative to protect children and youth’s rights to education during unstable times,” she said.

For Obinyan, the government should take the lead in terms of investing in educational tools of the future alongside a total revamp of the sector.

“The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is helping to improve the quality of and increase access to education for poor children in underserved communities. Their intervention would go a long way to lower the teacher/student ratio of 1:83. This will reduce the burden on teachers who are currently ill-equipped to handle this ever-burgeoning class sizes.

“Governmental reforms in the national curriculum post-pandemic would also help bridge the gap. Courses such as coding and robotics should be added to the curriculum. These courses can usher students into the era of the fourth industrial revolution and prepare them for future jobs. Government or other private organisations can also assist in the provision of portable solar radios to help support poor families who cannot afford electricity.”

This pandemic has exposed the many inadequacies and inequities in our education systems – from access to broadband and computers needed for online education, enabling environment needed to focus on learning and misalignment between resources and need.