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A New Dawn: Covid-19 pushing Catholic schools in Enugu to innovation

  • How C.I.C, others saw the future

By Chikezie Ogbonna

As the coronavirus pandemic keeps rearing its ugly head across the globe and with a continuous upward trend in Nigeria, the world has now braced up towards a new normal in our way of living and interaction.

Already, it has become an established fact that nations will have to plan on strategic ways to crawl out of the economic stress the pandemic has plunged them into.

In the case of Nigeria, the nation is already counting the cost of three months national lockdown over the virus pandemic and with the virus still ragging on in the country.

At the wake of the pandemic in the country, the leadership and the people alike facing a conundrum just like the rest of the world imposed a total lockdown across the country. As at the time, Nigeria had a total of 235 confirmed cases while Enugu state had only 5 confirmed cases.

Three months after, the nation is gradually opening up for business and life slowly coming back to normal, however, the virus is still actively raging on.

With the current rate of more than 20, 000 confirmed cases nationwide and over 144 confirmed cases in Enugu as well as more than 400 deaths and 5 deaths respectively in the country and the state, the end certainly is yet on sight for the virus.

The education sector is one of the sectors worst hit by the virus. As schools where abruptly closed at the wake of the pandemic, it has become an atmosphere filled with consternation over the uncertainties many schools are facing in the country and Enugu state in particular.

Schools across the country have remained shut while the Federal government is yet to proffer  workable guidelines for the reopening of schools with the dangers the virus is still posing in the country.

In Enugu State, the long closure of schools is not only having a ripple effect on the students, it is also amounting to a precipice to the survival of many schools and her workforce.

Describing the adverse effect, Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Okoh, an educationist, said;

“We really missed out because of the negative effect of Covid-19 on school calendar.

“In the first place, schools were forced to close down for Easter break, both in Enugu and other states before the slated date of closure to limit the outbreak of the pandemic.

“And because of the abrupt closure of schools in the second term, most schools rushed into the second term examinations which is not normal, while some schools didn’t even sit for exams at all. Some even started exams already but couldn’t finish, so the results of the students are not ready.

“We can say the pandemic distorted the second term of this academic session. The effect on the third term is even more because up until now, schools have not resumed. By now, the students ought to be going for midterm break and that should’ve been after about 5 to 6 weeks of intensive teaching. As it is now, people are wondering if there’ll be third term at all because it will most probably roll into July. If there’s no third term, it’s going to be really challenging for the students because it’s the promotion term. Without any form of teaching and learning going on, there’s no way the pupils can be assessed to know who is due for promotion to the next class. And even if the third term eventually holds, it would sure be very short and pupils may not gather as much knowledge as they ought to.

“On the side of the pupils, the school closure has also disengaged them from the learning process, from socializing with one another, and from school feeding. There is also a high possibility that there would be an increased number of dropouts because most pupils and youths are mostly hawking and doing menial jobs now, all in a bid to make some cash.

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“An idle man is the devil’s workshop, some pupils and students also engage in immoral activities because they have nothing doing now.”

 

An E-Learning/Virtual class debacle?

At the early days of the lockdown, couple of steps was taken by some schools, state government and media organizations to extend learning platforms to the comfort of pupils’ homes. Virtual learning were promoted, the radio school by Coal City Fm, Enugu serves as one of the efforts embarked by a media house as well as many other efforts geared towards keeping the kids busy at home.

Some schools that couldn’t use the zoom video conferencing application opted for the usual Whatsapp group chat platforms where they sent recorded videos of classes for pupils and students while at home.

This style worked for a while, but, many schools couldn’t sustain it further, partly because of the many constraints with operating such technology in an environment like ours.

According to Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Okoh, e-learning still remains a highly sort after technology which unfortunately has a long way to go in the country and the state in particular.

Fr. Okoh who is the Education Secretary II of the Enugu Diocesan Catholic Education Secretariat, said that in the case of the mission schools in Enugu, of which he supervises, it has not been quite a rosy one for them since the lockdown commenced.

Portrait of Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Okoh, Education Secretary II, Catholic Education Secretariat, Enugu Diocese

According to him, they had to go online so as to communicate with teachers and parents as well, but, they have been faced with many hitches in their effort to bridge the gaps occasioned by the pandemic, of which, he said insularity among many stake holders in the sector as well as other negating factors is also in preponderance.

“It is actually very difficult when you talk of e-learning here in Nigeria. There are a lot of impediments involved. Here in the secretariat, there’s one being run for students, it’s called Enugu Catholic E-learning Portal.

“With the portal, all our pupils can be reached once they sign into the link. 6 classrooms have been created in that portal for basic education (1,2,3,4,5,6). All the subjects being taught in primary education can be found there. We also try to project the third term scheme of work there so that even if pupils are not in school but have access to this school portal they wouldn’t lose much. They are also divided into weeks and currently, we’re in week 5.

“One of the problems we encounter is that we can’t reach even 10% of our pupils with little result too. Many of our schools located in the rural areas are left out. The site was introduced to the head teachers and they were put through on how to make use of it. We also got the contacts of the parents, over 4000 of them and sent bulk SMS to them concerning it. But still, the outcome is very poor and the reason is clear: these people do not have access to the internet. Also, most of the parents do not make use of android phones and as such cannot access the internet.

“More so, even those who possess android phones do not have the money to subscribe to data or airtime. While some others, do not know how to use the internet.

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“We have spoken with the head teachers and resolved to make it compulsory for every student so that whenever school reopens, we start with revisions. They were also encouraged not to give up on the fight. We have also encouraged them to print out the hard copies of the lectures.  Two of the schools have done so and compiled them, and some of the parents have been coming to pick the hard copies for their children”, Fr. Okoh said.

The fate of Examinations Classes

With a flourishing number of Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools owned by the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, the Catholic Church has been the citadel of unbridled and unadulterated education standard which has stood the test of time and has always been held high across boards.

In a seeming effort to meet up with this standard at all cost and never allow the pandemic act as an obstacle to her years of venerated standard, some schools have already taken steps portraying her epithet.

Taking a cue on the popular College of Immaculate Conception, Enugu (CIC), Fr. Okoh revealed that the school management took very proactive steps at the wake of the pandemic to prepare her exams class students, almost like they envisaged the uncertainties that the pandemic might engender in future.

“So many schools in our secretariat (C.I.C and H.R.C) have been on their students so seriously. They started e-learning and made it compulsory for the students to key into the programme.

“They took it seriously from the start. Asides e-learning, I really can’t think of any other way these students can be helped. The new WAEC date and timetable has not been released and nobody is even talking about it yet”, Fr. Michael Okoh said.

Meanwhile, Rev. Fr. Hillary Mgbodile, the Principal of CIC provided a clearer strategy employed by his administration in keeping the students ready, especially the exams class students as they were forced to stay at home because of the lockdown.

Portrait of Rev. Fr. Hillary Mgbodile, C.I.C Principal

According to the strategist administrator, he said; “As soon as we heard about the pandemic, we tried to read about such similar experiences in the past. We discovered these things don’t just end immediately. Before the students left for the vacation,  we held a meeting with the SS3 students and their staff, and decided that we would engage them during the lockdown. Most of the students registered their parents’ numbers and we started online classes on the 28th of March for the exams classes. Towards the middle of April, our teachers were trained for the online classes, and by the 4th of May, our online classes commenced for all the Students.

“Since then, the story has been a success one. We also have the online supervisors. To a large extent, the teachers are also motivated because we made sure not to restrain from paying the teachers.”

Teachers at the mercy of the pandemic

Teachers’ welfare remained one of the major issues at the front burner as schools shut down. Reports has it that many private and mission schools are currently unable to pay their teachers. Some teachers were only able to receive their last pay in March, while some were only paid last in April.

Rev. Fr. Okoh identified the difficulties many schools are facing in paying teachers.

“On the side of the teachers, many teachers don’t receive salaries anymore because schools are not on. No tuition fees from parents, and as such, schools are finding it difficult to pay their teachers, especially the private schools. For the government schools, the teachers may not have much problem because the government is paying, he said”

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However, CIC Principal, Fr. Mgbodile, knowing how difficult it might be for him to sustain payment of teachers while the pandemic lasted, developed a strategy which has helped him keep up with the financial obligation to his large staff.

Discussing his strategy, Fr. Mgbodile said; “We decided to restrategised, for instance, we refrained from contracting tailors for our uniforms, our teachers do the sewing of our uniforms now.

“We also disengaged other labourers and drillers who were always working on our drainage system, mending walls, and broken edifices and decided to engage our staff. We formed a building committee among about staff. By doing so, we’re saving to make sure all the funds go to the salary payment of our staff. We have a campus-2 base, and we decided to cultivate about 2 hectares of land, just to keep it going.

“We also recruited some of our staff. It was actually on voluntary basis while we threw the options open to them. We also recruited firewood providers as a group. So now, we’re sure that whenever school resumes, we won’t lack firewood for at least the first two to three terms.”

Taking a look at the aftermath of the pandemic and the level of economic swamp it will have on the sector,  Fr. Okoh suggested  that the Government, good spirited individuals and organizations with the wherewithal to intervene. According to him, the Nigerian government can take a cue from some developed nations where government has a policy of paying subvention for teachers working in private schools.

“Worthy to note is that this has mainly affected the private schools and missionary schools. The government can help out by subsidizing their salaries.

“Schools can also be helped through donations, by philanthropists. The parents can also help out with the fees. It was suggested that the head teachers hold a PTA meeting and present these issues to the parents and try working something out; Even if it means paying for the third term now.

“For private and mission schools, all capital projects should be kept on hold and all funds channeled to the maintenance of the teachers”, Fr. Okoh advised.

Fr. Mgbodile suggested that school managements should be strategic and focus more on galvanizing her scarce resources towards a more productive use.

“I suggest they emulate this kind of strategy we took up. Basically, cut down their expenses”, he said.

When asked further if he thinks other Catholic schools should adopt his strategy which has proved to be effective, Fr. Mgbodile said;

“Things are structured in such a way that they should be able to plan well and assist themselves when the need arises. If schools were to be sponsored from the centre, it would look like some government projects where you get everything from the center.  It is only appropriate that schools look inwardly and check for the expenses they could cut and begin to save. But then, any school that isn’t able to save at all can appeal to the diocese for assistance and request for a loan.”

Chikezie Ogbonna Administrator
Chikezie Ogbonna Onyenonuzochi is a passionate Journalist, Photographer, and a Film Maker. He is the editorial manager of The Choice Flame Newspaper and has deep passion for innovative story telling geared towards development at all level
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Chikezie Ogbonna Administrator
Chikezie Ogbonna Onyenonuzochi is a passionate Journalist, Photographer, and a Film Maker. He is the editorial manager of The Choice Flame Newspaper and has deep passion for innovative story telling geared towards development at all level
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