By Dr. Taiwo Afolabi
It gives me a great pleasure to be here this morning to deliver this keynote address at this year’s conference with the theme: “COVID-19 and the Emerging Issues in Education”. The theme for this year’s conference is just apt for the season as we are all living witnesses to the global impact of the Covid 19 pandemic – a disease caused by a new and several variants of Coronavirus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2).The disease, which started out as an epidemic in a city called Wuhan in China, and rapidly transformed into a pandemic, has claimed over four million lives worldwide.
While the whole world was still battling with the disease’s containment and treatment, various variants of the same disease are already springing up across the world, including Nigeria. Last month, the delta variant called SARS-CoV-2 Delta was detected in the neighbouring Oyo State.
Although different vaccines have been developed to stem the spread of the disease, experts have advised that preventive measures should not be jettisoned, particularly in the third world where the rate of vaccine availability and adoption/acceptance of vaccination is still very low. May I, therefore, use the opportunity of the occasion of this conference to also enjoin us all to, please, continue to adhere to all the preventive measures that have been mandated by the relevant health authorities.
Covid 19 and the Educational Sector
The outbreak of the coronavirus in year 2020 has impacted the world immensely in unprecedented and unimaginable ways. The pandemic has shown the deep vulnerabilities in many sectors of global economies and in particular our nation, Nigeria. It exposed the sorry state of the majority of our key sectors – the health sector with the challenge of poor facilities exacerbated by the shortage of medical personnel and obsolete/non-functional equipment. The economy was forced into another major recession coupled with inflation of goods and services. The educational sector was not spared. In fact the educational sector would appear to be the most hit, second only to the health sector.
Most relevant to this conference, is the emerging issues of this outbreak on education; more specifically, the impact on teaching and learning process in various institutions in Nigeria.
As we are all aware, one of the strategies adopted in the bid to curb the Covid 19 pandemic was the lockdown of states and nations. In Nigeria, the full lockdown was between March and June 2020 while the partial lockdown lasted till September 2020. Schools (and of course businesses) were shut down completely across the world. For education and learning, this birthed a most defining paradigm shift globally to an era of virtual learning and remote delivery. In most developed countries, the concept of virtual learning was not particularly new and this made the transition much easier and faster than the transition witnessed in most developing countries for whom the concept was novel.
A cursory review of our own experience as a nation during this period leaves a less than desirable taste in the mouth. Majority of our students and teachers had no access to digital teaching/learning aids; there were poor or complete absence of network connections in some instances hence learners for the most part could not benefit from online schools. Electricity supply was another issue. Many of our learners had no access to regular electricity to be able to watch or join schools on TV. Public schools students and teachers and some private schools had no opportunity to continue schooling because they had no access to smart phones, laptops and the internet. Remote and online teaching and learning became the privilege of a select few – children of the affluent. Although in some schools teaching did not stop but one cannot guarantee whether learning actually took place. The consequences are part of what we have seen in the mass failure of the last WAEC/SSCE and university matriculation examinations.
But all hope is not lost. It only means that it is now more imperative than ever before, for the government and people in education to consider taking certain bold steps to invest in innovative schemes that can assist the education sector to develop and make positive progress in the face of the new normal. In this regard, I would like to make some recommendations.
First, there is need for a “State of Emergency” to be declared in the Education Sector in Nigeria towards the upgrade of the entire educational infrastructure with particular emphasis on technological infrastructures and skills re-tooling in schools that will support virtual teaching and learning. To this end, schools, colleges and institutions of higher learning would have to engage the private sector working through the alumni associations as well as international funding agencies that support educational development to make this happen. Like the saying goes “self-help is best-help”. I dare say that the bulk of the members of the alumni associations are the captains of all our industries today. They should therefore be enjoined to see this as a way of giving back to their alma mater. Furthermore, the government apart from coming up with enabling policies to support the earlier suggested private-sector-led initiatives, must also consider setting aside “special funds” through any or all of its development agencies to be dedicated to the development of the educational sector technology infrastructure upgrade and personnel training/teaching faculties skills upgrade.
Secondly, we cannot over-emphasize the use of e-teaching and e-learning process in order to ensure quality academic education. Therefore, all faculties, that is teachers and lecturers at all levels need to be developed and also self-develop. They need to be equipped and also themselves with new set of skills such as online presence, online facilitation, online students’ engagement, use of learning management systems among others. This is particularly instructive given the level of technological advancement and sophistication of the current generation of students/learners
– the Gen Zs and Gen Ys. As the saying goes “you cannot give what you don’t have”. Institutions can assist this process by seeking out and building robust partnerships with technology-inclined private sector firms as well as training institutions that can offer free trainings. Again, the members of the alumni association(s) own and run some of these institutions and should be called upon to help. This should significantly reduce the cost burden of the required skills acquisition/upgrade on the institutions.
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In conclusion, the Covid 19 pandemic ravaging the country and other countries of the world today demands wide consultations and brainstorming on the way forward in tackling issues on education. I am delighted to note that the sub-themes of this conference have been designed to adequately address some of the issues especially as they relate to every discipline in the field of education. It is my hope that, at the end of this conference, logical solutions to the impact of this pandemic will be proffered that will ensure that the quality of teaching and learning in our institutions of learning as well as the quality of graduates from these institutions will be such that would be favorably comparable to what obtains in other leading countries of the world.
It is also my hope that the solutions that will be proffered at this conference will be adopted and supported by relevant stakeholders. While the government has a critical role to play in repositioning the educational sector, I urge all other stakeholders, including parents, alumni, alumni associations, wealthy private individuals, philanthropists and corporate organizations to lend a hand in the transition of our educational sector to a 21st century compliant one which foundation is in technology.
Dr. Taiwo Afolabi is Group Executive Vice Chairman, Sifax Group
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