Daily News

COVID-19: How Niger govt bridged learning gap

0
covid-19:-how-niger-govt-bridged-learning-gap

The gap between schoolchildren in urban and rural areas and those in private and public schools, has always been there. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has further widened this gap. In this report, Justina Asishana analyses how the Niger State government has tried to bridge the digital gap during the pandemic and if the efforts worked.

Sadia Adebisi, who was among those who wrote the just concluded Senior Secondary School Examination (SSCE), had to keep herself busy during the closure engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. All schools were closed March 23.

Sadia said she had forgotten everything she was taught and was grateful for the one week tutorial classes they had before they wrote their final examinations.

Another student, Habibat Adamu, said when the schools reopened in Niger State she had forgotten all she learnt in school.

Jamila Gabriel, Rosemary Sunday, Fausat Akerele and Abigail Godfrey all live in the Nkangbe area of Bosso local government area of Niger State. They are all around eight to nine years and in primary three and four.

Although Nkangbe is a rural area, there are, however, opportunities for some of the children to attend private schools outside the community. Parents, who are unable to, send their children to the public school or the private schools within the community.

While Rosemary Sunday and Fausat Akerele go to different private schools, Jamila Gabriel and Abigail Godfrey go to Nkangbe Primary School in Bosso local government area.

Rosemary Sunday attends the privately owned El-Amin Secondary School in Minna. During the closure, her school organised online lessons for its students. . They had written their examinations online under the supervision of their parents who provided a tablet or laptop for the classes and examinations.

But for Fausat Akerele who also goes to a private school, in Nkangbe, it was a different kettle of fish. Her school did not organise any online classes for them. They were left to their own devices and the pupils whose parents could afford lesson teachers, paid for such services.

Both Jamila Gabriel and Abigail Godfrey, did not have online lessons or lesson teachers, as the public schools did not organise any of these. This is just as the majority of the parents of pupils in the school cannot afford N2,000 or more to get lesson teachers for their children.

Access to Data and Internet

According to the Digital 2020 Global Overview Report published in January 2020 by DataPortal in partnership with We Are Social and Hootsuite, about 60 percent of Nigerians are not connected to the internet. The statistics for mobile phones, which could also be used as a learning medium, are more hopeful. According to the report, around 169.2 million people (83 percent of Nigerians) have access to mobile phone connections.

The report states that of these, 50 percent (around 84.5 million people), reside in urban areas. For the population with access to data, the proportion of those with access to data is skewed towards high socio-economic households and urban households. This is as an overwhelming majority are children from wealthier backgrounds, who already have a learning advantage over children from economically disadvantaged homes.

For Jamila and Abigail, there was no learning during this period. All they did was sleep, eat and play.  Abigail sometimes was in her mother’s tailoring shop in the afternoon, where she helped to sell sachet water.

Digital divide as an impact of the closure of schools

The drastic escalation of Coronavirus would not only affect learning, but also compound the pre-existing education inequalities in Nigeria, with vulnerable and disadvantaged children on the receiving end.

Majority of wealthy families could afford private schools.  To this end, the closure of schools did not disrupt learning of their children because some of the private schools were equipped with ICT infrastructures and they could afford remote learning.

However, children from vulnerable and disadvantaged communities do not have access to computers or an internet enabled phone. In most of these rural communities and some parts of the urban areas, there are no internet services while others experience frequent power shortages.

Bringing these two together, the digital divide has exacerbated learning disparities among these children and created a huge gap between the education of the children.

In a rural area like Nkangbe, the community only has electricity for about four to six hours daily while in some cases, they do not at all. This made it difficult for the children to listen to the radio and phone-in  programme formulated by the state government.

The Niger State Basic Universal Education Board (NSUBEB) started the e-learning programme which is a radio programme where all subjects are taught for primary and secondary schools in the state.

The 30-minute programme for each subject is done every day. On Saturday, a revision and test is done with the children given the opportunity to phone in to ask questions or answer questions.

Most private schools made use of platforms like Zoom and Whatsapp to give lessons and assignments. Pupils did this under the supervision of their parents.

Meeting these girls separately, the reporter observed that Rosemary and Fausat could identify Whatsapp and Facebook. Rosemary could also identify Zoom.  Abigail and Jamila could not identify these apps because, according to them, they have neither used nor seen their parents using them.

For Rosemary, her parents needed to buy her an educational tablet in order for her to attend lessons. For Fausat, her lesson teacher came three times every week, while her parents got her new textbooks to use.

Also, Radiat Ibrahim who is in SS3 in a public secondary school was enrolled for extra-mural classes because she had to write her final examinations.

Using radio programmes to address digital divide

When the lockdown was announced, the Federal Ministry of Health issued a Coordinated Education response to the COVID-19 pandemic and after some period, it further published another documented response ‘the Nigeria Education in Emergency Working Group (NWiWwg) Strategy’. This report was published on April 7 and aims to mitigate the negative impact of the school closure on learners and teachers in Northeast.

The NSUBEB Chairman, Dr Adamu Isah told The Nation, that the programme was able to achieve teaching the children for one complete term on radio. He said it was formulated to reduce idleness among the children while they stay at home.

Isah expressed optimism that the radio programme made a lot of impact stating that the Board went overboard to ensure that the programmes are designed for the students according to their curriculum and the lectures were delivered by selected teachers.

One of the parents, Mr. Uchenna Uba, said his children required supervision to enable them listen in the programme adding that before the lifting of the lockdown, he ensured they listened in and sometimes call in with his mobile phone but after the lockdown was lifted, he was not sure if they were faithful in listening to it.

Another parent, Abimbola Idris, said her children only listened to the programme when there was electricity in the mornings but they never participated by calling in to ask or answer any questions.

Explaining the fact that electricity or access to radio service or network may have been a problem, Isah said they recorded these programmes and sent them on Whatsapp to education secretaries who in turn tried their best to make sure communities get these recorded sessions to enable them listen in and learn.

The Niger State radio e-learning programme was targeted at all students and the programme was designed following the curriculum of the students; currently, the state government said that it could not assessed the number of students who listened to the programme but a review is being conducted by the Reading and Numeracy Activity (RANA) project.

Ministry of Education Permanent Secretary Abubakar Aliyu said RANA is reaching out to 20,000 pupils and parents across the state to find out if they actually listened to the programme and what they thought about it.

Some of the teachers in public schools in Chachanga local government area, who spoke anonymously, said they never received any of these recordings.  They also said the recordings were not posted in their Whatsapp group, as the majority of them did not belong to any Whatsapp forum because they were not using internet enabled phones.

The teachers think the government should have provided data incentives for them or additional allowances to enable them get data to access this information and disseminate them to the students.

For other countries in Africa, like South Africa, the telecommunications networks had zero-rated learning sites. This means materials can be downloaded for free.

In Burkina Faso, a Non-Governmental Organisation, Save the Children, distributed 550 radio kits to vulnerable households to equip children to follow their classes remotely.

A Senior Secondary School 2 student, Rahman Wuse, said that she did not listen to any of the radio phone-in educational programmes. This was because most of the explanations were not clear to her, especially as she is a science student and majority of the subjects are explanatory. Something the radio programme could not do, effectively.

The Niger State Chairman of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Mr. Femi Alalade, expressed his doubt over the impact of the online classes. He said that even in the private schools, a lot of parents did not engage their children in the online classes.

 What more can the government do?

Taibat Hussain, a Masters student of Development Economics student at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in her report ‘Education and COVID-19 in Nigeria: tackling the digital divide,’ suggested that the government could have invested in the provision of solar-powered educational gadgets, pre-loaded with offline academic resources to learners in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.

“The Nigeria Education in emergency Working Group (NWiWwg) COVID-19 Response Strategy should be scaled-up, to include other regions in the country. Of course, these policy measures would require significant financial investment, but such investment is worthwhile for the progress of the economy in the long-term.”

  • This report was supported by the Africa Women Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

Ronaldo recovers from COVID-19 infection

Previous article

Filmmaker, Odera Ozoka takes new Nigeria campaign to US

Next article

You may also like

Comments

Leave a Reply

More in Daily News