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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Columnist: Nora Agbakhamen

Revolutionising Nigeria’s educational landscape in a Pandemic

“Only the educated are free”

– Epictetus C. 100 C.E

From Mali to Mexico, Japan to Jamaica, education has been widely acclaimed as the clearest path to lasting freedom. Indeed, Epictetus who penned those poignant words quoted above was himself a slave who acquired education, empowered himself and eventually rose out of an impoverished state.

Recognising the role of education in peace and development, in December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed January 24 as the International Day of Education. This day seeks to enlighten the public on issues of education, mobilise public and private sector cooperation as well as celebrate and reinforce educational milestones so far attained. This year, the day was marked on Monday, January 25 with the theme: “Recover and revitalise education for the COVID-19 generation.”

Education has been a key player in poverty reduction, greater equality, improved standards of living and the elimination of prejudice. Thus, without education, nations would be neck-deep in poverty and mortality rates would be at an alarming high, not to mention widespread anarchy.

To ensure that every child has the right to education and self-development, various legal frameworks have been set up in this regard. These include the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26 of this Treaty states: “Everyone has the right to education.” It goes further to say that education is to be focused on an individual’s full development and it be directed at promoting respect for human rights, understanding among peoples of the world and peace among nations.

Similarly, Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children and young people have the right to education no matter who they are: regardless of race, gender or disability; if they’re in detention, or if they’re refugees. It further says that primary education should be made free and compulsory to all. This Treaty has been ratified by almost all countries of the world.

In spite of these frameworks, UNESCO reports show that some 258 million children and youth still do not attend schools, 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math, less than 40% of girls in the sub-Saharan African complete lower secondary school and over four million children and youth refugees are out of school, which violates their right to education.

Another report from UNICEF reveals that one in every five of the world’s out-of -school children is in Nigeria. This represents a staggering 20% of the total global out-of-school population.

The situation in Northern Nigeria is a lot bleaker as a number of socio-economic and cultural factors hobble the education system there. Factors such as insurgency, early marriage, poverty, child labour and gender further serve to widen the divide.

Early last year, as government and various bodies were trying to ensure quality education, Nigeria’s educational system experienced a disruption. On March 19, 2020, the Federal Ministry of Education directed the closure of all schools in a swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bleak as it might have seemed for Nigeria’s educational landscape, this move birthed more innovative methods of learning as a number of schools adopted the digital and online methods of teaching.

In Lagos State, for instance, the Ministry of Education released a schedule of radio and television lessons for students in public schools and a number of private schools used applications like Zoom, WhatsApp, Telegram, Skype and other video-sharing platforms to ensure continued learning.

These innovative methods of learning will continue to be in use during and beyond COVID-19, as they are obvious reminders that education should not be paused. In the midst of a pandemic, education has given hope, support and employment to students as well as educators.

The gains of education during this pandemic cannot be over-emphasised. No wonder it is at the heart of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4. This goal aims “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Indeed, it is believed that with education, over four million people could be lifted out of poverty.

Despite the revolution in the digital learning space, a number of children and youths are left behind as they are not fully equipped to transition to the new methods of learning. A huge number simply do not have the financial strength to purchase, or have the technical know-how to use, the tools needed to learn online. These include television and radio sets, computers and Internet connection often needed to hook up to LIVE training or lectures.

This brings to the fore the need to revitalise education by adopting policies and frameworks that will target the challenges facing the system.

While there is no telling when the pandemic will be over, all stakeholders can and should ensure that education is not paused. Every contribution towards revolutionising educational systems should be viewed as a huge investment in human capital development because education will remain a potent tool in personal and societal development.

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