Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria already had about 10.2 million out-of-school children, mostly in the North-East region. However, the nationwide school closure declared by the Federal government has increased the burden of continuing education on policymakers, school administrators, teachers and parents across the country. At The Education Partnership (TEP) Centre, we have been monitoring some of the emerging and homegrown educational responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Nigeria. We are also using our new podcast, Education Unscripted, to promote knowledge sharing and learning in the wake of the pandemic.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, the state government has launched interactive radio and television lesson broadcasts for students in junior and senior secondary schools. This initiative is implemented in partnership with a non-profit that runs a similar model in other parts of the country. Other states like Ogun, Edo and Anambra have also rolled out similar broadcasts through their state-owned media platforms. It is important to note that most of these initiatives prioritise students in transition classes who have to prepare for high-stake examinations such as the West African Senior Certificate Examination (WASSCE). There also seems to be a mix of both traditional and new media in some of these initiatives, such as having YouTube versions of television broadcasts or providing real-time assistance for parents on mobile platforms.
Private sector initiatives
Beyond state-driven efforts, there have also been private-led/supported initiatives, especially through EdTech and online learning. Some schools are exploring platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom to continue instruction. Homegrown solutions like Mavis Computel’s “talking” books and pens, deliver learner-centred content through audio-enabled digital pens and colourful books. Platforms like 9ija Kids and EXPO are promoting learning through animated lessons for primary and secondary school levels respectively. While others like Gidimo use gamification and social learning to promote mastery of curricular subjects.
The pressure on parents and schools to keep students engaged has not only increased the demand for these tech-driven solutions but also fostered empathy-driven innovation. The Head of Corporate Strategy and Operations at Mavis Computel, Chizaram Ucheaga, shared that most of the schools they serve loaned out their talking books and pens to parents until schools reopen. They have also designed “Emergency Learning Packs” to support parents in delivering home schooling to their children. Platforms like 9ija Kids, EXPO and Gidimo have also demonstrated a commitment to social impact by either providing free or discounted access to their content.
There have also been a number of partnerships among public, private and civil society stakeholders in addressing the education disruption caused by COVID-19. The aforementioned Lagos state radio initiative is based on a partnership with a non-profit, and a media company that has provided free airtime for all the lessons. In another partnership, a financial service provider is partnering with the Lagos state government to move one million students to Roducate, an e-learning platform that is also accessible offline.
Although most of these initiatives seem to cater for primary and secondary levels, the federal government recently directed tertiary institutions nationwide to activate instruction through online learning. While the feasibility of implementing this is still questionable, given the large scale that tertiary institutions would require. The National Open University of Nigeria could offer a useful model on how higher education can be delivered through Open and Distance Learning (ODL). Given Nigeria’s high mobile penetration, another option could be decentralising instruction across university departments and levels through existing platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. In a viral video, a lecturer from a Nigerian private university delivered a lesson using Instagram live. There are also platforms like EduTech working to digitise tertiary education in Nigeria.
Amidst all these exciting innovations, there are still a number of concerns regarding the readiness of our traditional school systems to adapt swiftly, keeping up with regimented school calendars and high-stake examinations, persistent infrastructural issues like power supply and data costs, sustainability strategy for ongoing interventions, and scenario planning for post-COVID-19. There is also the equity question and how some of the tech-driven solutions could potentially widen existing socio-economic and digital inequalities. Many students rely heavily on school infrastructure for access to computers/learning resources, nutritious meals and conducive learning environments.
The gaps between high-fee and low/no-fee schools are already evident in terms of the availability of online learning systems and technological know-how. Moreover, there is also the challenge of parents’ ability to support distance learning, especially among uneducated parents. Elite schools like Greensprings (primary and secondary) and American University of Nigeria were able to move instruction online, with the parents likely able to support the learning of their children at home, but the same cannot be said of low/no-fee schools and their pupils.
In all of this, COVID-19 is showing us the importance of planning our education systems to be better prepared and resilient. A major way to achieve this is ensuring that learning resources and infrastructure are no longer limited to the four walls of the classroom. Homegrown distance education systems should be developed alongside traditional in-school instruction in a way that is not only complementary but also allows a seamless transition from one to the other. After all, only adaptable education systems can effectively teach students to become adaptable in this constantly-evolving world.
TEP Centre will continue its study of how education stakeholders are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, how innovative interventions are scaling in this period, and how learners and their families are navigating and utilising these innovations.
Oyindamola Adegboye is a Management Trainee at The Education Partnership Centre where Utibe Henshaw is an Assistant Programme Manager in the General Consultancy workstream