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Home Opinion Annihilating an Entire Generation? The Nigeria’s Covid-19 Pandemic Approach and its Implication on Education
Annihilating an Entire Generation? The Nigeria’s Covid-19 Pandemic Approach and its Implication on Education

Annihilating an Entire Generation? The Nigeria’s Covid-19 Pandemic Approach and its Implication on Education

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Annihilating an Entire Generation? The Nigeria’s Covid-19 Pandemic Approach and its Implication on Education 

By Nuraddeen Danjuma, PhD

Like most nations of the world, Nigeria has been hit by the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic since the emergence of the first case of an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos on 27th of February 2020. According to NCDC on Friday, February 28, 2020 the case was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital alongside a Nigerian who had contact with the index in Ewekoro, Ogun State.

Following an updated advisory on the COVID-19, by March 18th 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria restricted entry into Nigeria for travellers from 13 countries with high incidence including China, Italy, Iran, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, United States of America, United Kingdom, Netherlands & Switzerland. It also suspended the issuance of visa on arrival to travellers from these countries with immediate effect. By March 21st, twenty-two (22) cases have been confirmed. The rising rates of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria necessitated the shutdown of borders, lockdowns, ban on interstate travel, closure of offices, clubs, and services considered to be non-essential; and of the nation’s airspace and land borders on the advice of Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. All mosques and churches as well as markets with exception of markets selling drugs, food items and other essential commodities were also closed till May 2020. By June 1st and July 1st 2020, the federal government announced the relaxation of the lockdown imposed on Kano State and the ban placed on banking operations for a period of four weeks as well as on interstate travels. Also the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 announced the relaxation of the previous ban placed on religious settings and the re-opening of schools for only graduating students respectively. Thanks to the President and leadership of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. However, Nigerians face myriad challenges particularly economic hardship, ill health owing to collapse of health system and decay of education resulting from continuous closure of schools.

Over four months; since governments in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, ordered the shutdown of schools (primary, secondary, and university levels), life hasn’t come back to normal. While it is risky to open the schools without due preparations, the pertinent questions here (believing that education is paramount to Nigeria’s sustainability) is what is Nigeria doing to tackle the burden of a Covid-19 on education sector and what is the negative impact of school closures on students and teachers?. According to Taibat Aduragba Hussain- Master of Development Economics student at SOAS University of London and published on World Literacy Foundation website while government efforts in the health and economic sectors must be commended, ignoring the education sector would be disastrous. UNESCO also emphasizes that the temporary school closures come with high social and economic costs, with severe impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nigeria has the highest number of out-of school children in the world (13.2) million and 4 out of 5 aged 15-24 are unable to read a full sentence. Since school closures, many families in Nigeria are unable to keep track with the education of their children. The result is continued deprivation of young children and youth as well excluding them from acquiring essential skills to survive the 21st century terrors. Undeniably, Covid-19 is exacerbating education inequality in Nigeria in many ways. In particular, while the children of the rich are enjoying online classes and having access to massive open online courses (moocs) because they can afford high-speed internet services, the poor man’s children are roaming the street and looking food to inflate their bellies. The difference is clear!. The ‘harm reduction’ programmes such as School Meets the Learner Approach (SMLA) (uploading and sharing the lesson content through various channels) is not for the poor but for the ‘Abuja breed’ those children of ‘the soak with oil money parents.’ Remember that “in-equality makes everyone unhappy, the poor most of all; and that is well within the remit of the state. More money gives less extra happiness the richer we get, yet we are addicted to earning and spending more every year” (Polly Toynbee).

Covid-19 is also worsening social vices in the country also. A report by Multi-sector Joint Support Framework-COVID-19 on Northeast Nigeria suggested that the persistent absence of students from schools cause disproportionate increase in the risk of exploitation for forced labour, sexual harassment, and early childhood marriage among girls. According to Awolowo” The children of the poor you failed to train will never let your children have peace”. And Nigeria is no novice to this famous prophecy.

Unfortunately, also, lack of synergy and sincerity from those handling the education in Nigeria is adversely affecting the sector especially during the Covid period and beyond. A news paper editorial opined that the most glaring lack of coordination in the contradictory stances of Nigeria’s Senior and Junior Ministers of Education on the reopening of schools poses tremendous effect on the education sector in Nigeria. For instance, on July 13, 2020, Nigeria’s Minister for Education (state) announced that secondary and primary schools would be reopened for graduating students to write their exams. To my disappointment, the strongman who was vocal in 2013 against continued closure of universities came out in frustration to say that he wouldn’t mind shutting down schools for only God knows when. Worryingly few days after the speech of Donald Trump in which he said “let us stop this political nonsense”, the Federal Ministry of Education announced that schools will reopen for graduating students of only primary and secondary schools. I reflected in confusion and ask myself what befell us, a onetime optimist and activist turned …?. I am really horrified by the way education is mal-handled in Nigeria. Is it only in Nigeria and at present that a top government official will announce a decision today and retract it tomorrow?. A beg where is the synergy?. Is the public service a personal affair?.

Let me be clear to the Federal Ministry of Education and Northern Governors Forum that the era of ‘copy-copy’ is over. In the words of an American philosopher, Eric Hoffer “in a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.” The northern governors should NOT copy Lagos or the Southwest – they are bold like a lion and great like an elephant through hard work. Despite highest number of cases (18,173) and fatalities (202) in Nigeria, the centre of excellence is reopening schools (all primary and secondary schools in the state are to resume full academic activities from September 21, while the tertiary institutions are to re-open for academic activities from September 14, 2020). What will annoy someone is that the northern governors will soon mimic like kindergarteners. They should be innovative!. At this juncture, I salute Governors Yahaya Bello for telling the fat belly guys that there aren’t any udders to milk from in their states. According to Sangma Manna “education is a modern nuclear power, if we make a mistake imparting the outcome is devastating and becomes later root cause of every social evil”. Amid increasing political tension in Edo State, EdoBest initiative was conceived to leverage on modern digital technologies to address high learning poverty in the state. North were is our own?.

In order to reduce the risk of students losing essential components of their education and going into melancholy and petty crimes (as well as big ones) and to rule out possible suspicious from the continuous locking down of schools (while top government functionaries attend funerals and political campaigns in mass number and people go to markets), there should be:

Rethink on the restrictions imposed on schools to give equal rights to the rich and poor children with a view to bridging the inequality gap brought by the pandemic. Government should develop some radio school programmes, self-learning programmes, and community-based education activities as alternative mechanisms for equal access to all Nigerians during the closures.

 

The Federal Government of Nigeria social safety net and welfare programmes should step up their commitment for mobilizing resources to be better improve and/or scale up COVID-19 interventions on education. At the moment nothing is happening.

According to Herrman J. Steinherr “education matters for those who want to contribute to a society, for those who want to bring about a change and for those who want to be an example”. So I ask Mr. Strongman and the PTF team do you want to leave your footprints for others to walk in and continue the revolution?. Remember today is an ephemeral ghost!. Vera Nazarian says “use this day to do something daring, extraordinary and unlike yourself. Take a chance and shape a different pattern in your personal cloud of probability!”

Nuraddeen Danjuma, PhD

Bayero University, Kano

31/08/2020

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