COVID-19 and Education in Nigeria: Why we should be Worried

In the best of times and for many reasons, the average Nigerian students hardly learn anything worthwhile in school. This statement is especially true for the majority of children from poor and low-income homes, which forms a large proportion of Nigerians who attend public schools across the country. In a broader sense, though, there are many out-of-school children in the country.

For decades, the disparity in the quality of education received by the majority who attend public schools and the minority from rich and middle-class homes in private schools has widened. But until the COVID-19 era, students from poor homes could still go to school and get whatever little education there is amidst the often awful conditions they must endure. This has largely changed.

One of the inevitable outcomes in the fight against the current pandemic is the closure of schools. For instance, in Oyo State, there are more extreme measures like the cancellation of a whole school term for primary and secondary schools. However, this is not an evenly distributed outcome. While for the majority of children in Nigeria, the last six months have been about staying at home and washing their hands – for those who have access to soap and clean water to do so, many carry on with their learning via e-school platforms, private tutors, and through online learning.

Now, do not get me wrong. I have no problem with how private schools have responded to the pandemic and have innovated to keep learning going for their children. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with individual parents doing what they believe is right for their children as regards education and safety.

However, with education, just like in many other areas of our society, COVID-19 has not only rendered visible but has also widened the sad level of inequalities, chief among which is in the differences in access to education and new learning media. 

As the pandemic pushed learning online with private schools mostly responding with a transfer of classes to Zoom, WhatsApp, and other e-classrooms, government departments in charge of education policy and public schools are still largely flat-footed. For those months, public school students have done nothing more than staying at home and waiting.

What that implies is that the traditionally advantaged students from affluent homes who pre-COVID-19 had access to better education, are also those whose families can afford the luxury of online learning. This has only further enlarged the disparity in access to education.

Also, among the major security challenges the country is grappling with are adduced by various commentators to decades of low investment in education, unequal access to quality education, and the inequalities of opportunities that come with that. This has created, for over a decade, fertile ground for the recruitment of young citizens into extremist groups and violent ideologies. 

As a result, exploring the likely impact and possible future trajectories for education across different regions in Nigeria based on this current systemic disruption and other potential ones in the future should be of importance to policymakers and citizens who understand the important role of education. Sadly, not much attention or spotlight is being given to this issue and its likely impacts in our public discourses of late, and that is why we should all be worried.

Oluwabunmi Ajilore is a founder and lead partner at Pharos Advisors. He is also a director at the Centre for Development Futures.

Emmanuel Walusimbi via Iwaria