On Friday April 3, the Federal Ministry of Education announced that plans were underway to kick-start a radio and television education broadcast in the country due to the closure of basic and secondary schools in the country as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is a lofty step in the education sector and it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic has finally woken up the Information and Communication Technology component of our education system to its responsibility.
But realities on the ground show that the country may have to work much harder to realise such ICT-driven education in the country.
While explaining how the educational television and radio broadcasts would run, the ministry’s spokesperson, Mr Ben Goong, said the decision of a watch-and-learn-from-home schooling was reached to bridge the gap in education caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent stay-at-home order.
“The radio and television education broadcast was the outcome of an extensive video conferencing meeting between the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, and relevant stakeholders in the education sector on April 3.
“Plans are underway to kick-start a radio and television education broadcast in the country to bridge the gap created by the closure of schools at all levels, occasioned by the outbreak of the pandemic. A committee to work towards the realisation of this objective is to be named in the coming days. The minister at the end of the second online meeting for the sector stated that the arrangement became necessary in view of the fact that no one knew when normalcy would return in the country.
“Participants were unanimous that the radio and television broadcast programmes for our pupils and students to learn from home are the way to go especially in the face of the current COVID-19 debacle,” Goong explained.
However, some experts say the education policy would not be impactful nor effective as Nigeria had not yet put the needed socio-economic and technological infrastructure such as stable electricity in place.
“We have thousands of rural communities nationwide where electricity is a luxury or not available at all, and people cannot use their TV sets except with generators. How many children will then be affected if knowledge is being disseminated and lack of electricity had cut off half of their population?” one of the education experts, Kanmi Odukale, explained.
Power generation and distribution is still a challenge in the country with only over 4,000 megawatts generated daily to serve 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, according to a factsheet on power from the United States Agency for International Development.
Analysts opined that schoolchildren from several rural communities might be caught off from such broadcasts, a situation which then defeats the essence of the programme.
Earlier on March 27, the Minister of Education, Adamu, had held a video management meeting with heads and chief executives of over 50 agencies of the ministry where he noted that the national education broadcast would assist in tackling the problem of out-of-school children ravaging the country.
It was an unusual video meeting, no thanks to the coronavirus pandemic as over 50 chief executives took part in the online conference with the minister. But it helped to prepare their minds that the Federal Government was working towards learn-from-home education broadcast on national radio and TV.
About 18 days later, the minister announced that the government was going to commence the basic primary school classes on the national media; the Nigerian Television Authority and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, to enable pupils to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic break.
During the Presidential Task Force daily briefing in Abuja, Adamu said the government planned to sustain the audio-visual classes on the NTA and FRCN, even after the coronavirus pandemic break.
He said, “On how we have been giving the necessary support to children who have been out of school, yes, the ministry has been planning this even before the COVID-19 break. But it is just that now as a result of COVID-19, more people know about it.
“Some of the tertiary institutions have already been giving their lessons online. The ministry is working with the NTA and FRCN to start giving lectures online, not just because of COVID-19, but I hope this will become a permanent feature of our educational system. So lessons will be given online. They are for basic and primary schools.
“Last time I met with the vice-chancellors, I directed institutions of learning to also give lessons from home. I am aware that there are some private institutions which are already giving lessons online. So, it is already efficient.”
But education experts are asking whether when conventional basic and secondary schools resumed after the coronavirus break, the school on television and radio would still be appealing and impactful or it would only remain a mere ritual to expend government’s resources.
“Most private basic and secondary schools particularly already have an audio-visual means to reach their pupils during the coronavirus break and would sustain them, because they don’t want to lose their pupils. They want to keep them engaged. For the public schools, will the government education broadcasts still be useful when schools resume and pupils are clamped in school from morning till afternoon? Will the programmes not remain only a ritual of one of the ways of siphoning government’s resources?” another education expert, Felix Ajayi, queried.
The Federal Ministry of Education has tried to provide answers to the grey areas of many education stakeholders, but its answers seemed to rather raise more questions.
The Director of Press at the education ministry, Goong, in an exclusive interview with our correspondent, said a timetable would be drafted for the national television and radio education broadcasts.
He noted that there would also be a possibility of taking an examination after the nationwide audio-visual classes.
Goong said, “We are taking the next step. There will be a radio component and a television component. We plan to create a different network on the FRCN so that we don’t break into the established listening schedules.
“The broadcast will run from morning to night, covering all subjects such as Mathematics and English. We will segment the programmes into classes. What we plan is to bring the best hands from our schools to take the subjects. We will use the best in specific subjects. The issue of inability to deliver well will not arise.
“Two, the broadcast will be uniform. What is being taught in Jigawa, Sokoto will be watched in Lagos. There will be a series of subjects in a day for different classes. There will be nothing like, our teachers didn’t come to school today.
“When it is time for exams, you register in the centre nearest to you and you sit for your exams, class by class. It will be impossible with these broadcasts for children to still be regarded as out-of-school children. We are likely to bring the request letter formally from the ministry in the coming week to the FRCN. Due process must be followed.”
The ministry’s spokesman noted that the broadcasts would eradicate the problem of rising out-of-school children currently put at about 10.2 million as well as bridge the gap that was created due to the closure of schools during the pandemic.
But more questions begging for answers from the government are; will the out-of-school children who have never sat down to learn in a formal class be motivated to learn from radio or television with no teacher to compel them? Will herds boys with cattle in the forests go through a formal education on radio or TV and become learned, when they do not see the need or importance of such provision?
Furthermore, what measures or monitoring mechanisms will the government put in place to be able to measure the impact, if any, of its education programmes, after the coronavirus pandemic is over?
Not minding these challenges, education experts generally agree that Nigerian education system needs to move from the manual classroom contact to the ICT-driven 21st century e-learning and e-teaching processes.
They noted that this way necessary because the gateways to the higher education system in Nigeria – the West African Examinations Council and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board – have already migrated to the ICT platforms and most operations are done online. Basic and secondary pupils therefore have to be “baptised” early into the ICT world.
On March 24, JAMB closed its offices nationwide due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic, and urged candidates and the general public with enquiries and complaints to visit its online platforms.
The JAMB Registrar, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, who announced this in Abuja, said the board had upgraded its ticketing online system to be able to clarify on complaints, particularly on the just-concluded 2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculations Examination.
Analysts added that this then meant that candidates without the proficient use of the ICT facility would be at a disadvantage.
Also, WAEC a week later, had said the coronavirus pandemic forced the indefinite postponement of its 2020 May/June West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination. The council noted that it had made available several online resources for candidates and pupils sitting for its terminal examination, saying it was working on making online tutors available for candidates.
“How will pupils who are not ICT-inclined benefit from online resources? How would they access and download such materials for consumption? This is why the Federal Government’s initiative on online education is excellent but it must be well grounded and must be migrated from just TV and radio to an online platform which can be accessed from mobile phones,” an education analyst, Mrs Esther Abulu, noted.