Letters From my Daughter’s Teachers

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Email: adeolaakinremi@yahoo.com
With widening statistics of deaths and unending story of new cases of COVID-19, there is a cloud of uncertainty on when teachers will be back to the classroom. But there’s something that teachers can do. They can adapt their strategy.

Let me make a connection to my first class at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) for an illustration. My first class at JHU was not a regular class. A top U.S military General taught us adaptation in war along the line of emotional intelligence—first in a series of intensive classes scheduled for the school year for the International Public Policy cohort.

The real sense this top military officer made the whole of the time was about ability to assess and adapt. In war, military adapt to their enemy’s strategy, operations, and tactical approach. But military adaptation requires the ability to rapidly change equipment, organization and methods. For teachers, this moment calls for adaptation.

This week, as COVID-19 continues its global onslaught as an invisible enemy, and with everyone in its path, including our teachers and the students that they teach, I have received not quite a few letters from my daughters’ teachers that show adaptation.

“I hope you and your family are well, wrote Mr. Kenneth, a science teacher at my daughter’s middle school. “The past few weeks have been an adjustment and the next several weeks will also be different. In the next week, I will be engaging in a number of professional learning sessions to enhance my understanding of distance teaching and learning. I want you to know that I have been thinking about you. I look forward to the day that we can connect as a class, even if it is remotely.”

In another letter, a teacher shared her own family story of engagement in this crisis with encouraging word for the students. “Over the next few weeks, we are going to be putting your Algebra class in an online format. In the meantime, please keep using your brains! I am happy to answer any questions that I can, and forward the others on to the appropriate people,” she wrote.

There are other amazing stories of teachers who are adapting. A math teacher in South Dakota, United States, went beyond and above to help a student with her math homework after schools switched to virtual learning because of the pandemic. After emailing back and forth with a student who could not figure out a problem from a lesson, he taught by Zoom earlier that day, Mr. Chris Waba, a sixth-grade teacher grabbed a whiteboard and walked down a few blocks to meet the student. This teacher spent 15 minutes teaching the student from her front door with the student standing behind a transparent door that separated them.

There are thousands and thousands of teachers going the extra mile for the kids they teach. This is one time when creativity meets curiosity. In mid-March, a math teacher in Milwaukee, United States, used the Coronavirus pandemic in most creative way to teach Algebra by asking his 8th-grade students to calculate the growth rate of the virus with a scattered plot. This teacher did not only improve the students’ knowledge of Algebra, he equally raised COVID-19 awareness in a creative way.

For teachers in Nigeria’s public schools, it is an opportune moment to re-think their roles from merely teaching for reward to teaching for love and being around the students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in flexibility around the world with technology at the center of classroom learning. The tools of learning such as video apps are seeing traffic in downloads. Apps providing video conferencing like Zoom, Houseparty, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, and others have been around for some time, but how many schoolteachers in Nigeria can use it?
Interestingly, the young people they are teaching know how to operate these apps in minutes. It is already on the palm of their hands for as long as they carry an android mobile phone with internet.

Of course, we all know that even before COVID-19, things have gone really bad at our public schools. We know that many teachers do not show up in school regularly, and even when they do, they are either out for petty trading or looking at the time for when it will be the time to leave the staffroom. They just didn’t have the commitment for the job.

I am a realist. I know the government is not motivating the teachers. I know the government owes the teachers more than any other of its employees. I know the government is tardy or in most cases not committed to providing resources to advance education and make learning a serious business in Nigeria’s public schools, but teachers can do their own bit by first learning how to teach beyond the classrooms.

These new possibilities to do things differently will increase access to learning. Of course, for students to be able to gain access to knowledge through a few clicks on their phones, tablets and computers, teachers across Nigeria’s public school needs to hone their own skills in remote teaching.

I would submit that in general, teachers all over the world are also struggling with moving online because it is not something they have done before but their willingness to do it for the students they teach is extra-ordinary.

Oh, yes! I have my skepticism about moving everything online and placing everything in our handheld phone or laptops. But if anything, the chance to learn a great deal about this hybrid model of combining classroom learning with something much more flexible such as prerecorded lectures or message board-style discussions for students could move Nigerian education from backwater to beacon.
For its part, the government will be changing a negative narrative about its lack of commitment to education and nonchalant about the quality of teachers that are recruited to teach at the public schools, if it takes the advantage of this moment.

There are three important considerations why Nigeria cannot allow the children to be home without a connection to their teachers.
Already, millions of Nigerian children are out of school. The out-of-school children are those not attending formal schooling. The statistics for that is disappointing. In July 2019, the current minister of education told the Senate that Nigeria has 16 million children that are out of school. The number was 13 million in 2018. The message is clear that Nigeria is doing little to reverse the trend. This is a sad story!

We cannot dismiss science, the most important environmental factor in children’s early lives, neuroscientists have shown is their interaction with places that offer learning such as school. For example, it is during early years that children develop linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and regulatory skills that predict their later functioning in many domains.

And this, it has been confirmed that Nigerian children do not learn much even when they are in school. In 2018, the World Bank Human Capital Index (HCI), measured the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18. The Index says a child born in Nigeria today will acquire, on average, 8.2 years of school by the age of 18. However, when the years of school are adjusted by the quality of learning, we find that Nigerians are learning the equivalent of only 4.3 years of school.

A research analyst with the U.S Urban Institute, James Ladi Williams explained it in simple terms. According to him, the index “implies that the average child who completes JSS 2 (second grade of Junior Secondary School) would have learned only what a primary 4 student is supposed to learn.

In practice, I have seen the Math, English and Science homework of my daughter, and when I compared the coursework to what is given to her contemporaries in Nigeria’s public school, my verdict is that Nigeria’s public school is down in the dumps.

Is it not a paradox that Nigeria set a policy goal of ensuring “the acquisition of appropriate levels of literacy, numeracy, manipulative, communicative, and life skills needed for laying a solid foundation for life-long learning, ” in its Universal Basic Education Road Map for the 2015 – 2020 Strategy and that goal has gone into extinction without accomplishment.

Finally, Nigeria needs to put resources in school, because we know the students’ relationships with others – both other students and their teachers – and the experiences they obtain in both spontaneous and organized teaching situations make the school a ‘practice ground’ for participating as citizens. So Nigeria’s future depends on how its children develops as citizens to become involved in society.

Quote:

In war, military adapt to their enemy’s strategy, operations, and tactical approach. But military adaptation requires the ability to rapidly change equipment, organization and methods. For teachers, this moment calls for adaptation

Side Effects
SANWO-OLU’S TIPPING POINT
The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has made some serious and impressive moves in recent weeks, coming after the initial perplexity faced by his government—a normal for new executives as they try to figure out what to do with their influence. His swift and coordinated response to two emergencies has made him a tipping point leader. I just like the way he’s turning things around, even when all odds are against him. Sanwo-Olu has so far confronted two emergencies with great leadership. With the way he responded to the Abule Ado explosion, you’ll think he lives there. Of course, the Coronanvirus that put Lagos under watch all over the world has tested him as an emergency leader too. Sterling!

HAILING THE HEALERS
This is not a good time in our world. It is more depressing for health workers. Some of them are on the frontline where they are most at risk. The fact that they see dead bodies like in war situation is bad for their psyche. To doctors, nurses, scientists and many health workers, who are spending the night at the hospitals to take care of COVID-19 patients, you’re not just healers, your act is heroic. Kudos!

ROBBERS ON RAMPAGE
It is an interesting time. Some miscreants also known as robbers are going into people’s home to dispossess them of their food, phones and wallets. Last week, two people that I know personally were attacked in their own homes, despite the lockdown. I have read stories of robbers on rampage in different states too. But I have seen a report that suggests the police are aware of this. It will be a double jeopardy for people to be in lockdown situation and there’s no help when robbers come knocking. Arise!

STUPID SOLDIERS
I am glad that the Nigerian army swiftly arrested two of its men, who threatened to rape women in Warri, Delta State, following the death of another soldier in the town. The viral video has put Nigerian army in bad shape all over the world and punishment is in order. In war, rape of women is often used as a weapon and as a form of attack on the enemy. So, we cannot take the words of these soldiers for a joke. It is simply a stupid thing to say and do by the same men who vowed to protect us. Reckless!