School Closure and Fate of Children

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By Becky Uba-Umenyili

The recent system of education administration in Nigeria has assumed the status of ˊhe who pays the piper, dictates the tune´, no thanks to the outbreak of COVID-19 and governments’ inability to manage the system appropriately so as to accommodate all interest groups in a manner devoid of class distinction cum discrimination.

The academic calendar, especially for the secondary schools are structured to run in terms of 12 to 13 weeks per term. However, due to the outbreak of the virus in the country in February this year, most state governments, especially Lagos ordered the closure of schools to prevent the spread to children; leading to some schools shutting down before the end of the second term without organising the term’s examination although some schools hastened to hold their examinations before the final order by government to close down.

By the end of April when schools ought to resume the third term, the stipulation from the FG ordering the ease-off of the one-month lockdown, which followed the outbreak of the pandemic, didn’t include schools, religious bodies and some business establishments for preventive reasons. At that instance, some schools (mostly primary and secondary) resumed teaching their students and pupils, using the online method, a development in Nigeria, hitherto uncommon, while tertiary institutions still await the lifting of their closure.

After two months of the practice of online studies, it has been noticed that not all schools are offering the e-learning programme, largely due to reasons of high cost of internet data consumption by both schools and parents.

Consequently, this has led to a system where some children in the country are presently disposed to academic learning, while so many of them are left to the fate of the COVID-19 closure!

It is discovered that some parents spend not less than N5,000 or N10,000 monthly for the purchase of internet data (and more in most cases), to enable each child have access to the e-learning facilities, notwithstanding the fact of providing android phones to the children (of which some families have more than four kids), so enrolled for this system of learning, which is mostly interactive in practice and requires each student to participate with his/her phone at the same time with other students and teachers in the group’s platform of their respective classes.

This interactive mood enables the students have a feel of classroom study during the sessions since they are disposed to type their questions and other contributions on the subjects’ tutorial and therefore could chat with the teachers concurrently during each subject. Additionally, a separate e-platform is registered to enable the students chat on friendly ground during break time as if they were on break in the school premises.

It was discovered that in some families, some children use the android phones of their parents to hook up for the e-learning process. However, following the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown in May, such parents resumed work and this necessitated the provision of another android phones for their children (an option which is not cheap for some homes of low income standing).

Another option is for children from such homes to wait for the return of their parents from work to have access to their phones in order to copy notes of different subjects taught earlier in the day which eliminates the interactive mood for the children and pose some challenges for them especially with regards to certain subjects like mathematics and sciences, which require interaction to enable children have better understanding of facts of solutions associated with such subjects.

Some schools started this online system early at the resumption time in April, while some started very recently having seen that the scare of COVID-19 may affect the resumption of schools early enough.

Further enquiry, reveals that some parents simply opt out of the system due to inability to meet up with the cost of running the programme, even while some schools do not yet demand tuition fees as required, from them.

Additionally, while some schools decided to run the programme on litmus test basis for the time-being in order to keep their students busy with studies to prevent a protracted lapse due to the closure and therefore not demanding the usual school fees from parents yet, some have asked parents to pay a token to support the e-learning communications of their schools.

As regards the novelty of the programme and its possible cumbersomeness, Mrs. Rosaline Nduka, the Director of Multivariate schools in Citiview estate, Ogun state, near the Lagos border, says that the system “is a better option to prevent the students from idling away and possibly turning to mischief. Our experience thus far has proven that the students seem to be at ease with the system.” What then is the fate of those children whose parents can’t afford the online study and/or whose schools are not running the online programme?

Lady Augustina Okonkwo, a teacher in Virable primary school located in Ojodu, Lagos simply said “some teachers are engaged on paid private home lessons for some children in schools that can’t afford the huge expense of online studies”. As regards the possibility of spreading the virus through such situations, considering the visit of teachers to children in homes, Madam Okonkwo says that the teachers are cladded in their facial masks and try to maintain reasonable distance from the children during such visits, although occasionally, the rules are relaxed over time.

In the home lesson arrangement, the students have the opportunity to interact with their teachers one on one while on the online programme, parents are tasked to render assistance to the children; a charge which leaves so much wanting as children’s familiarity with their parents make it awkwardly difficult for them to pay attention to their parents.

Inspite of all these, there yet exist the group of children not captured in any of the above interests and are many in number. Perhaps, the television and radio study programme established by the Lagos state government, may prove very helpful. The programme offers tutorial for these subjects: English, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Literature in English, Economics, Financial Accounting, Civic Education, Basic Sciences and Yoruba language.

The designated media channels are: radio Lagos FM 107.5 from 9am till 11.55am and Eko FM 89.7 from 10.30am till 1.05 pm for primary 1 and 2 as well as 3, 4, 5 and 6 classes respectively, running from Mondays to Thursdays.

The Media channels for secondary education are NAIJA F.M 102.7 from 12noon till 1pm for all classes of JSS students; WAZOBIA F.M. 95.1 from 11am till 1pm for all classes of SSS students as well as WAZOBIA Max television on DSTV 259 or GOTV 98 from 2pm till 4pm, all running from Mondays to Fridays. Also, Startimes and Lagos state Television (LTV), offer similar programmes; all with interactive options using phones numbers announced during the presentation of each subject.

While these efforts made by the Lagos state ministry of education are commendable, there still exists a gap in meeting up with certain educational needs of children from low income homes, who can’t have access to these basics of radio and television educational programmes owing to lack of constant power supply from PHCN or inability to afford certain support amenities needed for study like standby generating sets with constant provision of fuel.

There is no doubt that some children so affected in this category are very brilliant, but helpless in the wake of the tide of the effects of closure. This necessitates the need for government to critically look into factors militating against constant power supply in the country with a view to normalising provision of power, even if it is in a constructively rationed form, locality by locality, to ensure even distribution.

A notable snag associated with the e-learning programme is the administration and supervision of high-stakes examinations, especially ones that determine admission to higher levels and institutions. Invariably, disruptions associated with such examinations often results in stress for students and their families and even the supervising authority and in most cases trigger postponements, disengagement and/or change of school.

In a recent news release by the Director General of UNESCO, Lady Audrey Azoulay, it was emphasised that prolonging the closure of schools can lead to child labour and abuse, engender social ills including sexual immorality and abortions, early marriage and domestic violence, inefficient administration of schools caused by increased pressure on schools’ administration over pilled up work that accumulated during closure, rise in drop-out rate caused by pressure on children from financially distressed homes who abandon academic learning to work and many more.

As regards the indisposition of children from humble background to have access to e-learning skills, the DG warns that these children are marginalized and continued closure could lead to unprecedented risk to children’s education and wellbeing particularly as children from such low income homes rely mostly on their respective schools’ amenities for their educational, health, safety and nutritional support.

Although the closure is noted as relevant to prevent spread of corona virus, the agency advises on the importance of employing safe strategies to enable schools reopen. Thus, government is urged to access the benefits of classroom-based instruction which provides a more equitable reach to all children disposed to academic learning as compared to remote learning and the risk factors related to prolonged closure of schools.

UNESCO therefore listed six guidelines necessary for the reopening of schools which are: policy reforms on health care systems and emergencies; financially strengthening educational system for recovery and resilience with reference to COVID-19 pandemic; ensure safe operation mood for good hygiene and security of the children; focus on learning processes that compensate for lost instructional time, especially to affected children; wellness and protection mechanisms with provision of essential school-based services, viz healthcare and school feeding and lastly adopting school policies that can make positive impact on the marginalied group like previously out-of-school children, minorities, displaced and/or migrant children.