What has been the impact of the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic on Nigerian education (and the world at large)? Needless to say, the country has not yet recovered from it, four years running now. Neither has the entire planet for that matter.
Oxford dictionary defines a pandemic as ‘a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease over a whole country or the world at a particular time.’
Throughout known human history, infectious disease outbreaks on a large scale (especially virus outbreaks) have been devastating. There have been several well-known virus pandemics in modern history – at least within the past two centuries.
Entire continents and the world have witnessed severe outbreaks of virus attacks. They include bubonic plague, cholera, influenza, smallpox, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) outbreaks to mention a few. And within days, the human (and animal) casualties have often reached catastrophic scale of several thousands. The Covid-19 pandemic was no exception.
Covid-19 Pandemic: How It All Started
The novel human coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) infection first broke out in Wuhan, China on 31st of December 2019. And it became the fifth pandemic on a global scale to have ever occurred – right from the 1918 influenza pandemic. It started out in China as reported cases of pneumonia (with no known cause) by the World Health Organization (WHO). By the 7th of January, Chinese authorities stated they had identified a novel coronavirus (named 2019-nCoV at first) as the cause.
However, by late February of 2020, the disease had spread beyond China to claim the life of its first non-Chinese victim. This was a casualty in Washington D.C., USA. By this time, WHO had declared the disease a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. And by March 2020, Covid-19 infection cases had reached over 100,000 people.
While the Chinese authorities battled to contain the virus and succeeded, it continued to spread like wildfire across Europe. In Italy alone, 250 deaths occurred between March 12th and March 13th of 2020. By this time, the WHO had declared the Covid-19 a pandemic. The United Nations hastily released the sum of 15 million US Dollars to support efforts in curbing the spread of the pandemic.
The disease rapidly spread across Asia, Europe, and the USA, which put global health authorities and world bodies on red alert. It finally reached Africa; and on the 25th of February 2020, an Italian expatriate flew into Nigeria carrying the virus. By November 30, 2020, well over 1,000 deaths had been recorded in the country.
Covid-19: Closure of Nigerian Schools
The apparent difficulty in curbing the rapid spread of the Covid-19 infection prompted drastic measures worldwide. The major one being enforcing a total lockdown on movements in and out of almost all countries – including Nigeria. Free movement in public spaces was severely restricted. Travelers were quarantined, schools were shut down, work and economic activities were brought to a standstill.
By March 19, 2020, the Federal Ministry of Education gave an order for the closure of all Nigerian schools, up to the tertiary level. It took well over six months for schools to finally return to academic work.
And economic activities resumed rather slowly as well. People agitated and complained for many months, for the government to allow them to fend for themselves. By this time, a lot of damage had been done to the nation’s economy, as well as the entire global community.
How Covid-19 Pandemic Affected Nigerian Education
No doubt the Covid-19 outbreak badly impacted Nigerian education. The necessary restrictions on physical contact and interaction meant that schools could not adopt a physical face-to-face classroom learning for many months.
Unequal Adoption of Radio & Online Classes
Certain schools ventured to use online channels to continue to teach their students. And this was done largely at the expense of teachers, who in the majority were not paid any salary for months. Till date, many teachers suffered financial and material losses, and still have not fully recovered.
At a later time, radio classes were offered under the directives of certain state governments (especially Lagos state) to public school students. But the majority of teachers and learners remained stagnant and disconnected from learning within that period. As reported by Maryam Mohammed Bawa of the Mass Communication Department, Skyline University:
‘…. there was unequal access to education opportunities and skills. Not every pupil had access to gadgets, so there would be unequal knowledge gain or inequality in education.’
Poor School Enrolment, Students’ Performance & Assessment
It was also noted that in places where online classes were possible, school enrolment and students’ performances generally suffered a downturn. There was also serious difficulty in conducting assessment tests, or getting enough scores to properly transition students into the next class.
Disrupted School Calendar & Terminal/Promotional Examinations
The period of prolonged lockdown had stretched into the time when terminal and promotion examinations were meant to have taken place. It led to the disruption of the school calendar, and interference in promotional examinations was unavoidable. It was also markedly difficult to get students ready for WAEC, NECO and JAMB examinations as well.
Also, since many students could not partake of either radio or online classes, conducting standard examinations was viewed as impractical. And promotion to the next class was largely delayed. In private schools, many students were arbitrarily granted promotion to the next class, to allay dissension and preserve parents’ loyalty.
By the time academic activities finally resumed, students were practically rushed through their curriculum, and they suffered poor comprehension. It took some months after Covid-19 restrictions were finally rescinded, for federal and state governments to finally achieve a unified calendar. It was a chaotic transition.
Unavailability of Funds & Salary Disparities
The Nigerian education sector definitely suffered poor cash flow during this period. Many private school owners had and provided little or no funds for their teachers to feed or survive on. It affected teachers (and lecturers) at all levels, including tertiary institutions.
Teachers of government-owned primary and secondary schools, on the other hand, were reported to have enjoyed better treatment. They regularly received a sizable stipend every month. The disparity in payments exposed the barely camouflaged and ongoing exploitation of teachers in the private sector.
Private school owners latched on to an obvious excuse. That parents were neither able to work, nor were they able to pay for tuition at this time. And of course the students were idle at home; to demand for school fees in their absence was unjustified.
Fallout of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Nigerian Education – Lessons Learnt
Has the Nigerian education sector learnt any lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic? Indeed, did the Nigerian education sector recover from the effect of the pandemic?
Increased Adoption of Electronic Learning and the Internet
For one, the usefulness of the internet and emerging e-learning technologies in enhancing students’ performances both inside and outside the classroom became brutally clear. The huge divide between Nigerian students who could afford internet-enabled tablets, smartphones and computers for classroom instruction, and those who could not, was exposed.
In the months following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, adoption of the internet and electronic learning in many schools received greater attention. And that significantly included tertiary institutions.
Greater Gains for Private School Operators
Private schools that attended to their students during Covid-19 lockdown received huge patronage from parents and their wards thereafter. It was positive payback time for such schools. An increased drive by parents to give their children quality education in well-equipped private educational institutions was noticeable. Even if it meant a huge sacrifice on the part of many parents, they were willing to embark on the journey.
However, there was loud resentment amongst teachers. Private school teachers suffered irreparable financial losses, and did excess work to keep their employers afloat during and after Covid-19. Government school teachers, on the other hand, had little or no regrets.
It became painfully clear that the gains of private school education in Nigeria were built on the back of their teachers. Many Nigerian teachers (till today) are poorly rewarded, abused, and disrespected to please students and parents. Teachers in private schools are even forced to lower their standards year in, year out to keep their jobs.
Thus so many of these teachers are mandated by the school authorities (particularly in private secondary schools) to aid cheating in terminal examinations. The students could barely hide their mockery of teachers, following the Covid-19 pandemic. The teachers ran helter-skelter and were overworked, to get their students ready for internal, WAEC and NECO exams in the following years. And many of them were openly threatened by the school authorities to ‘make their students pass’. Unethical ‘assistance’ of terminal students (WAEC & NECO candidates) became clearly inevitable.
A Case for Overhauling Nigeria’s Education System
Till date, the debate on standardization and enforcing ethical practices in the Nigerian education system is still ongoing. Because many Nigerian teachers are shockingly micromanaged, overworked, under-rewarded, and receive little support from their employers and the government. The conditions under which most Nigerian teachers work in general, is a sad tale of abuse.
In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic exposing this malady, there is no significant improvement yet. Because the relevant authorities are yet to focus on teachers’ (and lecturers’) welfare. Nor have they embarked on improving and equipping Nigerian education as a whole with any degree of seriousness as we speak.
There is an urgent need for the overhauling and improvement of the entire education system in Nigeria. That is, if the country is to enjoy advancement in technology, economic prosperity and governance in the years to come.
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