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Stakeholders canvass protection of students, teachers

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Audrey Azoulay

• Seek new strategy to revitalise sector
With the disruptive impact of coronavirus pandemic on education, this year’s International Day of Education serves as an avenue for stakeholders to critically examine challenges confronting the sector, and how to better reposition education to meet 21st century demands.

Without inclusive and equitable quality education that enhances opportunities for all, breaking the cycle of poverty and achieving gender equality may remain a big challenge for the country.

According to the UN, 258 million children and youth worldwide, still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic mathematics, while less than 40 per cent of girls in Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out-of -school. The situation is grim and effort geared towards changing the trend has not yielded the desired result.

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This year’s celebration, with the theme, “Recover and revitalise education for COVID-19 generation,” is seen as an opportunity to revive the sector by stepping up collaboration and international solidarity, to place education and lifelong learning at the centre of recovery.

Director General, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, said the world is celebrating the third International Day of Education with the greatest disruption in history to the lives of students, teachers and the entire educational community.

Azoulay said as the pandemic picks up speed again, half the world’s learners continue to face interruption in their schooling and learning.

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The UNESCO Chief reminded that at the peak of the pandemic, schools were actually closed to 91 per cent of learners, representing 1.5 billion pupils and students.

“It then became apparent to everyone that education is a global public good and school is more than just a place of learning. It is also a place that provides protection, well-being, food and freedom,” the UNESCO chief stated.

According to her, reopening schools, and keeping them open, should be priority, cautioning however that such should be done while fully protecting the health of teachers, pupils and their families. She called on government and international community to consider teachers and education support staff as priority group for vaccination.

Professor of History, University of Lagos (UNILAG) and Pro-Chancellor, Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, while speaking on the theme for this year’s celebration, said to revitalise the sector, stakeholders must understand that education, like every other sector of the nation’s economy, requires planning – short, medium and long term.

Olukoju said the planning would entail consultation, analysing facts, identifying who will do what, when, at what cost and at whose expense, as well as setting of priorities.

“The first thing to do right now is to audit what we have and lack, identify gaps to be filled in the short and longer terms, and prioritise as resources are available. This calls for objectivity, commitment, sincerity and accountability. In this collaborative endeavour, there should be coordination of Federal, state and local Governments, alongside private sector initiatives.

“Facilities, teachers and learning environment are key issues. Each should be provided – new or upgraded facilities, trained and re-trained teachers. In the peculiar circumstances of this pandemic emergency, we need massive and urgent investment in facilities and personnel to handle blended virtual and in-person teaching. This should be done systematically, steadily but circumspectly, Prof Olukoju stated.

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Examining how the nation can mobilise intellectual and financial resources to overcome challenges posed by COVID-19 disruption, the former Vice Chancellor of Caleb University, Imota, said federal universities, shut in the wake of the pandemic and strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for over nine months are the worst-hit.

According to him, members of staff and students disconnected for that long should be reconnected, equipment and learning environment should be spruced up, while adjustments made to the new normal of virtual teaching should be expedited. For starters, Olukoju said academic calendar should be adjusted to suit current realities and anticipate exigencies.

He called on government to make special financial provision for this emergency, even if by way of a supplementary budge.

Olukoju added: “There should be exchange of ideas among institutions and stakeholders; and a willingness to adopt and adapt better practices from other institutions, especially private universities, and from other countries in the global south, who are at our level of development.”

Speaking on the increasing number of out -of -school children, Prof Olukoju said Federal Government should lead the process, while states, acting alone or in collaboration with their neighbours, are greater stakeholders.

Olukoju said: “The various tiers of government should mobilise resources in their domains – political, communal, religious, gender and cultural- to achieve set targets. An incentive system that accords with local cultural practices should be devised to reward parents and communities that achieve steady, measurable success in school enrolment of out-of-school children. There should also be support services to reach out to fresh intakes the way agricultural extension workers work with farmers to promote good practices.

Soweto

NATIONAL Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Soweto emphasised that funding is key to revitalising the sector. He stated that if government can fund public education adequately, there would be positive changes.

He said: “By funding, I mean massive investment by government to repair, restore and provide adequate infrastructure for teaching and learning; in addition to worker-friendly policies that would guarantee better living and working conditions.

Soweto disclosed that the first step towards addressing funding challenge is by ending official corruption in government circle; particularly outrageous wages and allowances of political office holders, inflated contracts and security votes among others.

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He said: “These are the many ways through which official corruption takes place. Security votes of many state governors are enough to fund public education; same goes for outrageous salaries and allowances of political office holders.

“The second step is through recovering our collective wealth stolen by the rich few. Over 80 per cent of Nigeria’s oil wealth is held by less than five per cent of population; we need to recover this wealth before we can make headway in the area of funding public education, healthcare, job creation and others, Soweto added.

ON his part, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Lagos State chapter, Adedoyin Adesina noted that budgetary allocation to education should be in line with UNESCO’s recommendation of between 20 and 26 per cent.

Adedoyin added that funding should not be left in the hands government alone, and tasked philanthropists, old students and other multinationals to take up developmental projects within and outside their areas of operations.

A non-governmental organisation, Skool Media tasked education handlers to put in place necessary measures to protect students and teachers as they resume academic activities amid rising cases of second wave of COVID-19 pandemic.

The group called on government at all levels as well as school owners to ensure that students and teachers are protected from the scourge, which has become a threat to teaching and learning the world over.

Head, Corporate Communications of the organisation, Mr. Sola Oluwadare said this is the first step towards sustaining students as they struggle to cover lost grounds.

The organisation reminded that education sector, which serves as anchor of future generation must be safeguarded to raise leaders that would usher Nigeria to its desired destination.

“Skool Media believes that, while it is necessary for schools to reopen for teaching and learning activities, it is therefore crucial for stakeholders to support safe school environment.

As we all go through second wave of the pandemic and readjust to new normal, education managers must take necessary steps towards protecting all concerned,” Oluwadare added.

IN his contribution, Lagos lawyer and public analyst, Tony Odiadi, said COVID-19 brought with it, a lot of lost time in learning delivery.

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“Most obviously, syllabuses were not covered while online learning became the new normal. What to do then is to deepen instructions across cadres, from elementary through secondary to tertiary levels. Students must be given additional work, homework for juniors, independent topical information assignment to secondary students, series of rigorous research on essay types assignment for tertiary students. This is an all stakeholders affair, so parents and guardians must be involved,” he said.

To mobilise intellectual and financial resources to overcome the challenges, Odiadi said there must be extra-budgetary appropriation for the sector.

He noted that a lot of infrastructural support is needed to align with the new normal, particularly in the rural areas, adding that private sector can mobilise funds to invest in education trusts.

He said: “Sectoral allocations in budget or pre-budget streams may be tinkered with at this time with funds redirected to education. Development partners can be persuaded for support. Local government officials must rise to the occasion to deal with these gaps of capacity at that level.”

To aid reduction in out-of-school children, Odiadi urged government to partner with parents to comply with enrolling children in school, while also putting in place legal and penalty backing for violation.

Besides, he called on government to create support systems where poverty is a factor and also provide incentives to motivate parents (fees rebate or free tuition) and pupils (through food, sports and recreation) to remain in school.

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