As Schools Reopen


Adeola Akinremi

After months of no school activities due to COVID-19, school children and college students across the country are now set to return to school. Many of them are on automatic promotion from one class to another. What does this mean for teachers and students?

It is a time to retool and adapt strategy. Teaching can no longer take place the way it used to be. The students can no longer wait on their teachers the way it was before the pandemic.

For students, learning is now a personal effort with four-star rating as a requirement. Catching up on all learning loss due to COVID-19 won’t be easy, so effort is required. There’s automatic promotion and that means normal whole school curriculum for a period is missed. Believe me, that drains the brain.

I am worried about our primary and secondary school students more. I am concerned that many of them will suffer from mental retardation due to disruptions to learning. For teachers, social emotional learning is going to be important for the classrooms. The old cliché that “whether

a student learn in class or not does not affect the salary of a teacher,” should be last thing on the mind of any teacher. These students have gone through the trauma of COVID-19 just like everyone of us and there will be that need to understand, empathize and embrace them rather than creating further gap through adverse responses to their behaviors. Many of them have been part of families that experienced job loss, death, economic hardship and health distress.

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 and emotional intelligence. I know there are thousands and thousands of teachers going the extra mile for the kids they teach. This is one time when creativity meets curiosity.

For teachers in Nigeria’s public schools, this 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? So when it comes to spacing hours of learning or combining virtual with physical till we get the vaccine, teachers are expected to be prepared to handle this change.

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 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 teaching during crisis.

I would submit that in general, teachers all over the world are also struggling with teaching during crisis like this one because it is not something they have done before but their willingness to go the extra mile 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, neuroscientistsv 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 an irony 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: These students have

gone through the trauma of COVID-19 just like everyone of us and there will be

that need to understand, empathize, and embrace them rather than creating

further gap through adverse responses to their behaviors. Many of them have

been part of families that experienced job loss, death, economic hardship, and

health distress.