By Fr. Chukwudumebi Norbert Atta
Innovation is today, as always, vital to education and learning. Its weight is present in tireless efforts by education policy makers and administrators around the world, in advancing new means and methods of teaching and learning, including new and evolving ones (means and methods of teaching and learning) that are in tandem with developments in the other sphere of life, and (which) address current and anticipated quotidian concerns. Innovation in education are about quality and productivity of learning or education without neglecting moral development and its role in the lives of the people as citizens (see Camins (2015). Innovation in education is also cross-disciplinary in nature. It (innovation) integrates advances from other areas of human learning to enrich the quality of learning, and often improve it (education), too.
The European Commission (n.d) maintains among other things that innovation in education, involves schools and universities evolving and adapting at different levels to achieve their core mission of educating students in a complex and interconnected world and its (the world’s) rapid changes in the different spheres of human learning and living.
The crisis and conspicuous difficulties that the new Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has caused in Nigeria (and much of Africa), calls for innovations (in Nigeria), including in its present approach to learning or education, particularly in the country’s pre-tertiary public-school sector.
The status quo ante education model in Nigeria
Our area of concern with learning or education in this essay is the pre-tertiary public schools in Nigeria. These set of schools have more or less, a uniform form of teaching and learning, unlike the private schools which often have diverse approach that are often tailored to such factors as the financial standing of the schools (or school’s proprietor), the presence or absence of instructional materials, and staffing, too. The public schools are also owned, funded and staffed by the government, through its ministry of education.
Admittedly, until recently the model of learning or education, in use in Nigerian pre-tertiary public schools is the in-person type, also known as the traditional method or model. While the online method or model of teaching and learning is being used in some private schools in Nigeria, thanks to advances in technology and science, the Nigerian public pre-tertiary schools are yet to catch up on these advances in technology and information. Hence, the learning model has remained the in-person or traditional, physical face-to-face (teacher-pupil/student) model. The reasons for such a situation (in Nigeria and its public pre-tertiary schools) is not farfetched, as they include problems associated with energy generation and the status of information and communication technology (ICT), which is still at infancy at best, if not non-existent, in Nigeria.
The nature of the in-person model of learning include the fact that it highlights the physical presence of the pupils and the teachers in the learning/teaching environment. This model has enormous advantages including, creating a positive teacher-students rapport that fulfill the affective domain of the Bloom’s Taxonomy’s three domains of learning (with the others being cognitive and psychomotor domains, see Bloom, B. S., et al: 1956); inspiring as well as emboldening greater peer interaction via face to face interchange among pupils or students in the classroom or learning environment, with its positive social impact; and aiding social relations through the real face-to-face interface (between staff/teachers-students, and students-students), among others.
However, it is notable that due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person or traditional model of learning is no longer beneficial, or very beneficial, to school-aged pupils and students of pre-tertiary public schools in Nigeria today. Thus, despite its popularity, usefulness and merits, the in-person or traditional model of learning has been rendered inadequate in addressing the educational needs of the teeming population of Nigeria’s pre-tertiary public schools’ students, as an after-effect of the recent virulent Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and attempts to control the virus. We highlight briefly how COVID-19 has affected teaching and learning in Nigeria’s public pre-tertiary schools shortly.
The impact of COVID-19 on the In-person, in-school education model
Observably, the devastating negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the individuals, groups and countries cannot be gainsaid. The COVID-19 pandemic has in fact, altered our way of living, as it has affected the different strata of human life, including education or learning.
In Nigeria, the COVID-19-related precautions led to the closure of all pre-tertiary public schools, thus sending staff and students home. The situation has been worsened by both the unexpectedness and unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has made a possible date of resumption for the public pre-tertiary schools untenable. Recently, all because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the participation of Nigerian Senior secondary school students in the WASSCE exams was a subject of controversy on whether Nigeria students should or should not participate in the exam. In fact, in the ensuing polemic on the issue, the minister of education was on the one side and the country’s representatives in the national legislature on the other, with a final decision on the issue yet to be reached, at the time of writing.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way of learning or education in Nigeria’s public pre-tertiary schools, as in other areas. The pandemic has left teachers, other staff and students at home, and added more burdens to parents and guardians in assisting their children and wards during what ought to be normal school hours. The Human Rights Watch (2020) notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to 1.5billion students being out of schools, and an increment in job and income losses and economic insecurity among families. Indeed, the ugly situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the education sector in Nigeria (and around the world), is simply monumental, and therefore, demand urgent efforts and decisions on the part of the government (and all), to save students, teachers, parents and public schools, from the danger that the COVID-19 plight has engendered in Nigeria (and the world), today.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it has simply rendered ineffective, the traditional or in-person model of education or learning. Efforts at balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic, has necessitated that schools be closed. In particular, faithfully enforcing and maintaining social distancing (as a way of containing or curtailing the spread of the COVID-19), makes any attempt at (or insistence on) in-person model of learning, glaringly impracticable in Nigeria. Hence, with a need for safety, paucity of learning spaces, high population ration of students to teachers, etc., any attempt at reopening schools is a grave error at best, and foolhardy at worse. But what becomes of students and staff, especially teachers, in the public pre-tertiary schools in Nigeria in the current circumstance? In other words, given that the COVID-19 pandemic seems not to be abating, must the public pre-tertiary schools in Nigeria then remain closed?
Imperative of a hybrid model
One accepts that the ugly situation created for education and learning in Nigeria, by the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for urgent attention, as the where many school-aged Nigerian children are literally out of school, many teachers and school staff either unemployed, unpaid or underpaid, and many parents confused and worried about the educational future of their wards, does not augur well for Nigeria. Hence, the enormous challenge that the pre-tertiary public schools in Nigeria face owing to COVID-19 pandemic, calls for great innovations and adaptations aimed at finding solutions to the problem(s) and improving the quality of education in Nigeria. The import of accelerated effort to remedy the existing situation would see pupils and students go back to their learning desks, give teachers back their jobs and job-fulfilment, and help the Nigerian education sector and Nigeria, to advance.
Based on the foregoing, one argues that the urgency of moving away from the in-person only model of learning or education is now. Hence, a model of learning that would see that pupils and students are taught, and teachers are working, together with other staff, without risking their lives in this period of COVID-19 pandemic should be advanced and encouraged. In all, therefore, the traditional method has failed, and the question now is: what next? The answer is in the creation of a new model of learning that addresses the difficulties associated with the traditional in-person model of learning today. Hence, the imperative of a new educational approach that would address the lack that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered in the nation’s education sector and the expected resultant achievements of school-aged kids and school teachers and staff, if Nigeria is to achieve its national educations goals and its citizens make the necessary progress through education. To this end, some recommendations are most apt.
First, we hold that there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to life, including in education. This explains why innovation is a necessity in life; in its process and products. There is no better time for Nigeria’s education sector managers to be innovative and ingenious in addressing the problems brought about in the sector by the COVID-19 pandemic, than now when the (COVID-19) pandemic has shown that the in-person model is inadequate or untenable in addressing the education and/or learning educational needs of Nigeria’s teeming pre-tertiary public schools’ children. The government should do all it should, to save the educational sector: the school children and school workers, including teachers.
But what can (and should) the Nigerian government do to solve the problem facing the public pre-tertiary schools in Nigeria today? While this essay does not promise a definitive answer to the problems created Nigeria’s public pre-tertiary schools, we would suggest a way to address the current impasse/situation and/or avert a future occurrence.
A feasible alternative to the current crisis (and any future one of the like), caused to the public-schools’ in-person model of learning by the COVID-19 pandemic, would involve adapting or creating an approach that is different from what currently obtains, or one that blends the in-person model with some other model. We hold that any helpful response to the problem would comprise a hybrid method or model. Doing away completely with the current model would be a mistake for obvious reasons. Thus, a model that integrates the face-to-face teacher-to-student approach and an online, long distance approach with online specifications would be most helpful and timely.
The need for a hybrid, rather than a one-model approach in Nigeria, is obvious. The COVID-19 pandemic, has shown how the traditional, in-person, model is unsupportable in the present circumstances, with weeks turning to months, and more months, without the pandemic lessening. Then, given the unexpectedness of COVID-19 pandemic, and the unpreparedness of governments (Nigeria inclusive) to respond to it, the necessary technology for a full-blown online model of education or learning is not sensible, or advisable, at the moment. Hence, a hybrid approach that would be affordable and operational would be most ad rem.
Therefore, a rigorous and extensive training of teachers and school staff on the use of technology; especially the simpler ones, given that Nigeria is yet to catch up fully on technology, to use in teaching and learning, is most recommended. Such massive training of teachers and staff should be followed by a “reopening” of schools, though virtual or a technology-assisted classroom model. What this implies is that technology – including television, computers, cell phone, and other means of communication – should be adopted or employed in learning in Nigeria (as done in developed countries). However, given that computers and cell phones (especially the android phones), are exorbitant for many parents and guardians in Nigeria, the use of radio for teaching and learning should be pursued. The radio comes handier, and with the added possibility of one radio serving a cluster of social-distanced, mask-wearing pupils and students in learning from spaces outside the traditional classroom, under the supervision of others: parents, guardians etc.,
A question may arise as to where one expects the Nigerian government get or raise the money for funding the hybrid model or approach to Nigeria public pre-tertiary schools’ educational quagmire occasioned by COVID-19 that we advocate here. In response, one notes that the cost-cutting and futuristic planning that COVID-19 pandemic demands of all, is necessary for Nigeria too, if it wants to address the problem in the education sector. Hence, it behooves governments at all levels (in Nigeria) to eschew wastefulness, cut costs, and possibly declare emergency in the public pre-tertiary education sector, in order to arrest the ugly emergency situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, in the. Regrettably, it is on record that even prior to COVID-19 successive governments in Nigeria have not taken seriously, the funding of education, especially with respect to the UNICEF benchmark which suggest that governments (in developing country) commit 15-20% of its annual national budget to education. It is then imperative for the government (who owns and mainly funds the public pre-tertiary schools), to devote itself to innovative ideas and practices, including investing in technology so as to send Nigeria children back to school (even if it is a virtual one!), and stop the stunting of their academic or learning progress. For instance, humongous monies spent in funding the excesses of the executive and legislatures arms of government as it stands today, would go a long way in salvaging the tottering condition of the public pre-tertiary schools’ in Nigeria.
It remains irrefutable that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended human society. It has affected every aspect of human lives, and impacted negatively on human progress, including in Nigeria. In fact, the situation is such that the condition of learning of Nigeria public pre-tertiary schools is highly lamentable with schools closed now for many months , pupils and students left at home with their formal education suspended, and teachers and other schools staff left without job satisfaction and improvement, and some underpaid and others without emoluments at all. It is a situation that is worrisome, and calls for an innovative approach to education in learning that respects the expert prescriptions of health personnel without truncating the learning progress of Nigerian children. To this end, a hybrid approach that employs both the traditional model of in-person learning and an online or virtual approach, should be pursued and promoted.
In conclusion, we argue that apart from rolling out education plans and programs as it is wont, that the Nigerian government should stick to pursuing and implementing every possible best practices in managing the education sector during this COVID-19 times, especially as it pertains to the public pre-tertiary schools, both for the future and progress of the Nigerian school-age children, and the country at large.