The COVID-19 pandemic has brought immense pressure to almost all segments of life in Nigeria as it has in other countries of the world.
The health, education, business, social and religious sectors have been hit by the pandemic, but a recent report has revealed that the global health crisis has presented Nigeria an opportunity to rethink the policies of one of its critical sectors — education.
The report titled ‘The Virtuous Cycle: Opportunities to Advance Education in Nigeria’ by AACS International Consulting , says notwithstanding the many debilitating challenges, of which poor access is chief, the country could latch onto the new trend of virtual learning to make education available to more Nigerians.
According to the consulting firm, headed by Dr Ayo Abina, taking advantage of this opportunity would bring benefits which would eventually go beyond the bounds of education to provide more employment opportunities and help professionals acquire more skills.
The report says in part, “Implementing supported online learning could help increase access to education for millions of Nigerian youths, create new employment opportunities for skilled graduates, and lead to upskilling of professionals.
“If managed properly, online learning could lead to a virtuous cycle where improved quality and access to education creates apprenticeship and upskilling opportunities and leads to economic empowerment in Nigeria.”
AACS warns, however, that care must be taken to fix underlying challenges of the sector to avoid a situation where already existing challenges would lead to more.
“The challenges facing Nigeria’s education system are well known, and while online education may yield some benefits, without addressing underlying gaps, it may further exacerbate the divide between privileged and underprivileged students.”
Of the challenges, poor funding is prominent. UNICEF recommends that developing countries like Nigeria should allocate not less than 15 per cent of its annual budget to education, but Nigeria has consistently failed to do this. The closest it came in the past five years was in 2015 when 12.3 per cent was allocated. But, sadly, it has been on a steady decline since then.
According to data from BudgiT’s report on ‘2020 Budget Analysis and Opportunities’, only 9.2 per cent was allocated to education in 2016; 7.3 per cent in 2017; 7.1 per cent in 2018; 7.1 per cent in 2019 and 6.5 per cent in pre COVID-19 2020 budget.
AACS stresses that “Innovative approaches to supported online learning could help increase access to education for millions of Nigerian youth, create new employment opportunities for skilled graduates, and lead to upskilling of professionals. According to the late Harvard University professor Clayton Christensen, innovation and disruption have better chances of success and achieving a high impact if they emerge at the periphery without posing a direct threat to the status quo”, it revealed.
Nailing down its recommendations, the report says: “to succeed in transforming education in Nigeria, disruptive ideas will have to start small, iterate, and expand strategically.”
It then asks government and stakeholders in the education sector to “form partnerships involving government, existing schools and private employers; deploy a mix of tech and non-tech innovations with locally developed adjustments to overcome any difficulties; experiment with different options in localized pilots – one size does not fit all – with continuous evaluation and adjustment before scaling and look for opportunities to provide direct pathways from education and skills attainment to employment opportunities.”
These recommendations suffice because, the report says, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the ways humans live their lives and is digitising the global economy. And for Nigeria, of which most of its 200 million population are young, to be relevant in the emerging global digital economy, not just students but teachers must have digital literacy skills. And, of course, the digital literacy skills required for success in the digital economy are the same skills that allow teachers to move online and manage their virtual classes. Hence, children must learn these skills to survive in the economy of the future, and it is critical that educators and policy makers find ways to make this happen.