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Opinion

COVID-19 reveals The Rot in Nigeria’s Education System

Abba Kyari died. He was the Chief of Staff to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and he died from complications from COVID-19. Just like ants eating into flesh, the loss hurt Mr President so deeply that he referred to the late CoS as the best among us. Many believe this tragedy could have been averted if international borders were open or if the pandemic was a regional menace that was only ravaging African countries.

The global pandemic occasioned by the novel, Coronavirus disease, COVID-19 has exposed the rot in the fabric of many countries across the world, especially in African countries. Findings on how African leaders have been trapped by the health care systems they have neglected for decades are trooping out.

A few days ago, a leading online news outlet in Nigeria told the story of the rot in the Nigerian healthcare system. The report exposed the decadence in the health sector, taking the lead from a statement credited to the Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria, Boss Mustapha. In one of the series of debriefs by the federal government task force on the COVID-19, Mustapha had unwittingly owned up to the government’s lack of knowledge in the affairs of some sectors in the country. According to him, the government was unaware that the health sector was in such a sham situation until this novel virus hit.

In other words, the challenge that COVID-19 has presented has enabled him to understand the need for a serious overhaul in the sector. This may equally mean that the lack of the knowledge was occasioned by the country’s ruling class’s incessant abroad medical trips for their personal healthcare not minding the shamble that was becoming the health care system in the country.

Same Fate for the Education Sector

While a group of people are still mystified by COVID-19, the realities brought about by the novel virus have made other sections of people consider it a necessary evil because even in the face of its unceasing menace, it is helping to expose the rot in other sectors of the country, including education.

The pandemic has grounded activities in all the government-owned schools, from primary to tertiary. According to UNESCO, the impact is being felt by more than two-thirds of the student population, globally, with Nigeria having the lion’s share in the region. The unaffected are very few in number and are mostly in privately owned schools, which are being aided by the deployment of modern technologies.

In the effort to cushion the effect and to ensure continuity even as the crisis persists, a platform domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Education, in collaboration with Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), was created. The platform is responsible for the coordinated education response to COVID-19 pandemic, to provide information, guidance, and resources for the continuation of education and individualised learning of children at home.

This coordinated response strategy, however, has further exposed the ineffectual state of things in the country education sector.

Closure of Schools

To key into the advice and recommendations by UNESCO, the Federal Ministry of Education, in late March, ordered the closure of all schools nationwide. This was in a bid to curtail the spread of the virus and hinged on the fear that public gathering posed a high risk of transcending the disease to a communal menace.

Subsequently, the Nigerian University Commission, on the 22nd of March, released a circular relaying the approval from the federal government to shut down all the universities in the country for a period of one month, starting the next day.

Migrating To Virtual Classrooms

On Thursday, the 2nd of April, the minister for education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, in a teleconference with all Nigerian university Vice-Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts, directed universities to work out modalities of taking their classrooms to virtual ones. In his words: “We need to take advantage of technology like the case in other parts of the world. We cannot shut down all schools when we have other means to teach our students. We cannot be held down by COVID-19, we have to deploy all e-platforms to keep our universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other schools open…we have to create a virtual learning environment.”

Indeed, as announced by UNESCO, this directive of Mallam Adamu is in line with best practices in other parts of the world, specifically in the West and Asia. For instance, soon after the pandemic hit the nerve centre of China, the education system did not lose any time before switching to online classes.

More instances of this dramatic switch are visible in the United States of America. Earlier this month, March 10 precisely, in a statement, Harvard University asked its students not to return to campus after its spring break, but rather to turn to its virtual platform to continue their learning. The statement explained that the decision is informed by the need to curtail the spread of COVID-19. “…the goal of these changes is to maximize the need to gather in large groups and spend prolonged time in close proximity with each other in places such as classrooms, dining halls, and residential buildings,” the statement reads.

Availability of Facilities to Enable e-Learning

While the teleconference with the Minister of Education lasted, it was reported that the Vice-Chancellor, Federal University, Dutse, accentuated his university’s readiness to migrate to a virtual classroom. VCs of private universities also showed their readiness to adopt online learning as they were already equipped. However, the silence from the representatives of other public institutions gives the impression of complacency. Additionally, the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) held no breath to describe these leaders as ‘millennium jesters‘.

A statement on this from the ASUU notes: “We have been struggling all these while that they should make certain facilities available for teaching and learning, and they have refused, this is one of the reasons why ASUU is on strike, suddenly they now realised that we can no longer move forward without those things, is that not self-indictment? Who is going to be responsible for the e-learning? Is it the students or the lecturers if those facilities are not there?” quoted in a recent feature report.

Government intervention for the growth of the sector

The worrisome budgetary allocation to the education sector in the country is culpable in the dwindling output of the education system. his explains why it may appear difficult for the tertiary institutions to migrate from the physical classroom to virtual ones. To do this, obviously, there are needed facilities that must be on the ground to facilitate the migration.

UNESCO recommended an appropriation of not less than 15% to 20% of the fiscal budget to education in all developing countries. Contrary to this, the country fund allocation to education for the last 10 years or so is a paltry 3.9 trillion out of appropriated 55.19 trillion. In 2019, just 7% of the total budget was allocated to the education sector. The year 2020 allocation is nowhere better than the previous year’s.

The failure can also be assessed within the structures of tertiary institutions. The yearly government tertiary education intervention, under the auspices of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), has little effect in the maintenance of infrastructures (not to talk of developing) it in most public institutions in the country.  is largely due to the misappropriation of these funds or the lack of foresight in the utilisation of it.

An author published on The Cable explains that “TETFUND was created as an intervention agency to provide supplementary support to all levels of public tertiary institutions. It is funded by two per cent education tax paid from assessable profit of companies registered in the country. In the last three years, these public institutions have received around N309bn as intervention funds. In 2017, they shared N67bn and N134bn in 2018. In 2019, the Federal Government approved N208bn for them. Each university got N826.6m; polytechnics got N566.7m each while the colleges of education got N542.2 each last year. This is aside from the Special High Impact Intervention of N1bn each given to 18 institutions across the six geopolitical zones comprising six universities, six polytechnics and six colleges of education. How can anyone excuse these institutions for not having something as basic as online platforms or common toilet facilities?

Appeal and support by Association of African Universities

Aside from UNESCO and other international aid groups, the Association of African Universities (AAU) in a release on March 19, appealed to its over 400 members to migrate to the online education platform in order to save and reduce the effect of disruptions to their academic calendars.

The association further collaborated with a couple of organisations that are household names in the business of digital education to expedite the process of migration.

All of these efforts, however, are yet to manifest positively as education, especially in higher levels, remain shut down. The fear of many, however, is the fate of the university students who have been trapped by this systemic fault of the government.

A couple of days ago, a report emerged that South Korea conducted elections amidst the pandemic. If this pandemic had occurred during election times IN NIGERIA, there is very little doubt that the government would have stepped up to find a way around it. Unfortunately, it appears that for the government to thrive, only political activities must go on, not education or the health system.

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