Education Expert and Director of Development, Premier International School, Abuja, Maryam Garba, has called on the federal government to explore digital learning and online examination in other to keep schools safe from the COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the world, instead of keeping out of session for a year.
In a statement, Friday, while responding to a quote from the Nigerian Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu, who said, “I don’t mind Nigeria losing a whole school year than exposing our children to danger”, Garba said, “This decision by the Federal Government means that Nigerian students are being forced to stop their education and consequently their progression as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every year, almost 2 million Nigerian students write the WASSCE. Secondary school students in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia also write this exam and most of these students depend on the result of this exam to proceed to University and Polytechnics around the world.
“The handwriting has been on the wall for several months, starting when schools were shut down on March 20, and the government refused to permit these institutions to resume online.
“This new decision is an additional detrimental step during a pandemic that has already robbed many Nigerian children of their education.
“As it stands, the Nigerian government is open to allowing our children to lose an indefinite amount of learning time because no one knows when the COVID-19 pandemic will come under control.
“How can putting the education of our children on hold be an option in our current information age where economies are built on speed, technology and globalization.”
Garba said, what further worsens this decision by the Federal Government is the fact that it is a total reversal from the announcement made by the Presidential Task Force on June 29, that Schools would be re-opened for examination classes to prepare for and write their examinations.
“This announcement came as a welcome relief to Parents, Staff and Students who have been living with uncertainty for the last five months. Following this announcement, schools around the country began to prepare for a safe re-opening with some even exceeding the COVID-19 safety guidelines set by the government.
“However, in a surprising turn of events, the Minister reversed this decision and cancelled Nigeria’s participation in the 2020 series of the WASSCE exam.”
According to Garba, Youth who are running the Nigerian curriculum will also be the hardest hit by this decision and be put at an extreme disadvantage compared to foreign-based curriculum schools.
“While foreign-based curriculum schools were given the green light to proceed with their curricula months ago through online channels, Nigerian-curriculum schools were asked to stop teaching (including online) since March 20.
“As a result, many schools utilizing foreign curricula have completed their courses and assessments for the school year. Meanwhile, Nigerian students have been forced to stop their education putting them at a National and International disadvantage.
“Foreign exam bodies have also found ways to still benchmark and progress their students. International exam bodies like Cambridge and Edexcel have assessed students using a combination of methods such as, predicted grades, continuous assessments, and also offered deferments, for those candidates for whom this is an option.
“WAEC did not articulate any plans for almost three months and in June, WAEC finally publicly proposed the commencement of exams in August only to have the Federal government cancel this examination for Nigerian students.
“The Nigerian Examination Council (NECO), which would have been the other alternative for Nigerian students, has not shared any plans or timelines for in-person, online, or predicted grade assessments. With all these decisions, what options have we left for those who are meant to be graduating this year and transitioning to university.
“This poor treatment of the education sector models the inattention in the public sector that leads to the failure of our youth in later years.
“Many studies have demonstrated the correlations between out-of-school youth, and challenges, including crime, depression, teenage pregnancy, poverty and permanent dropouts.
“Our primary and secondary school systems are now being run the same way our public institutions are treated, i.e. we are now on an indefinite strike due to the coronavirus. The Government needs to consider that the fall out from its decisions could be worse than the health impact of the coronavirus itself.
“Private schools that have given parents confidence in the Nigerian curriculum by offering the Nigerian curriculum at iinternational standards are now being pushed to offer international curricula because no one knows when the Nigerian education system will resume again.”
“The impact of the government’s stance affects not only the students but also the livelihoods of all who depend on schools to survive, e.g., teachers, cleaners, guards, cooks, and administrators.
“Many private schools have had to slash salaries or lay staff off due to the loss of income. We need to care about these workers and their families.”
Speaking on way forward, Garba said, “while other countries have accepted the reality of COVID-19 and embraced a new normal, Nigeria appears to be waiting for the pandemic to end before our children’s education can resume again.
“The Nigerian education system is already challenging, but now the educational of every Nigerian child is on an indefinite hold because the adults around them cannot seem to figure out the way forward.
“Schools do not need to be physically opened for learning to happen, but we need a flexible model that allows students to progress.
“To ensure this, the government can adopt digital education by allowing schools to commence third term online formally.
“The government can partner with telecommunication companies to provide data for educational needs at a subsidized rate.
“Schools in Europe and North America transitioned their learners to online learning as soon as the pandemic began and such students are already planning for resumption in September. Meanwhile, Nigerian students are still where they were in March.
“Also, they should allow advancement by permitting progression tests online, including interview-based tests, continuous assessments, etc. WASSCE can be administered as a 100 percent Computer based test this year similar to how JAMB exams are written.
“Since, the WASSCE is based on a three-years curriculum, WAEC can also be asked to limit the questions to only curriculum content that should have been taught before February 2020.
“It should also encourage safe examinations by asking WAEC to set multiple batches of exams so that students can come in on different days to write their exams in a safe and socially distanced manner.
“The FG can put strict guidelines in places for the safe conduction of exams such as wearing of face masks, ensuring social distancing, hand washing stations and increasing the number of invigilators.
“The Nigerian government has always encouraged its citizens to ‘buy local’. This is an essential time for the government to show that Nigerian students and their families who either chose the Nigerian curriculum, despite having other options, or found themselves in it through no fault of theirs did not make a mistake.
“Nigerian children losing an indefinite amount of learning time cannot and should not be an option our leaders are even considering at this time.”