By Chukwudumebi Norbert Atta
The issue of equity in education, or educational equity, in Nigeria is one that is of concern to educationist and education management, and some social scientists, too. In talking about educational equity or equity in education (and which is subtly different from equality), one notes in its basic form, a recognition of the glaring imbalance (or the unlevel playing ground) for Nigerians in the area of education, with regards to access, opportunities and development; and secondly, a planned or pre-planned effort or attempt by the government (through its agencies), to redress the anomaly (or discrepancy), through giving more attention and providing more resources, educational and otherwise, including manpower and materials, to the disadvantaged with the sole purpose of redressing the existing unevenness (in the area of education for Nigerians). Therefore, the chief purpose of educational equity consists in efforts at ensuring equal opportunities or prospects to education to all children.
Undeniably, there are apparent disproportionate divide, existing with regards to the question of equal access to formal education by Nigerians, in Nigeria. Such gaps or inequality has been noted in such aspects of education as: between the girl versus the boy child, between schools and school-kids, in the rural areas and those in the urban areas, between children of socio-economically advantaged parents and the disadvantaged ones, and even between schools in the northern part of the country and those in the south (of Nigeria), etc,. Notably, some of these inequalities are not peculiar to Nigeria, but they deserve attention and consideration, and have thus been highlighted and harped on by educationists.
It is actually against the backlash of the foregoing and other disparities or imbalances, that the question of educational equity (or equity in education), including how to resolve the imbalances has become necessary for educational planners and administrators/executors in Nigeria today. Nevertheless, while the stark reality is that inequity in access and opportunities in education (in Nigeria) is undeniable, this piece asks the question as to whether the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the attempts, or any attempt, by government and its educational agency, at addressing the inequity observable in the area of formal education, in Nigeria?
Education (in)equity in Pre-covid Nigeria.
Concerns on or about educational equity/inequity in Nigeria is not new. Educators and other scholars have written on the subject over the years. Thus far, discussions on the issue of equity in education in Nigeria include that have highlighted such areas as access, quality, opportunities, and socio-economic inequities (Famade and Oyekan (2015); Nwogu (2015); Uzoka and Igwe (2015); Humphreys (2015). A recent UNICEF report on Nigeria paints the gory picture that 10.5 million Nigerian children aged 5-14 are not in school, while some States (particularly in northern Nigeria) have more than 50% of the girl-child not enrolled in schools.
Unarguably, it remains factual that notwithstanding Nigeria’s wealth that the country has not overcome several existing imbalances with regards to the provision of quality education to, or for Nigerians. Such imbalances, or inequities, according to educationists and scholars impinge on the aim or expectations of formal education, on the achievement of the country’s educational goals, and the overall development of individual Nigerians, and Nigeria, as a country (National Population Commission and ICF Macro (2009); Foster and Pushack (2011).
The foregoing under props the fact that long before the COVID-19 pandemic, that scholars – including researchers, education planners and administrators, and social scientists – have been concerned about the apparent inequities in the provision of education in Nigeria. The often highlighted areas of unfairness in the provision and access to education in Nigeria include those between schools in urban and rural areas; between poor and richer households; access and achievements in education between boy and girl child; and recently, the divide among the digitally exposed schools and pupils and those who are not so exposed (to technology). Notably, the aforementioned imbalances mirrors largely the overall divide or lopsidedness in the state or situation of the country at large.
Whether successive governments in Nigeria has risen to its duties in bridging the existing inequities in access and provision of pre-tertiary formal education is debatable. For instance, some studies on inequity in education (in Nigeria) and scholars too, have pointed to some increase in enrollment of girls and their achievements, in pre-tertiary schools over the last 10 to 15 years, as a sign of government’s commitment and efforts at arresting the existing inequities in education in Nigeria. Yet, such indices or claims (on enrollment and achievements) show little or nothing on how the increased enrollment of the girl-child has translated into an overall better living for the Nigerian girl child. What is true therefore is that there is apparent inequity in the sphere of formal education in Nigeria, and while we one may not be able to tract all of the inequities nor expect government to be able to resolve all of them at one time, such imbalances ought not to be neglected.
Covid-19 and inequity in education in Nigeria.
The evident gap (on issues) in education in Nigeria – including access, provision, and management of education, has been affected, if not aggravated, by the COVID-19 pandemic (just like the plague has other aspects of life). A few examples might help buttress what we mean to say. First, the social distancing precaution brought on the education sector (and on humanity) by the COVID-19 has brought about greater disparity on the issue of access to education between the rural areas and the urban one, given that both the requisite information are readily available, and the needed adjustments are easier to make, in the urban as against the rural areas. Also, without delving into the aspect of parents (and guardians) socio-economic status, one observes that pupils and students in urban areas have greater facilities to access, including energy and water, to help them with their studies and education during the period of lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, than their counterparts in the rural areas.
Additionally, educationists and scholars have pointed out that more girls than boys are more likely to be abused, including to the point of dropping out of school, owning to COVID-19. There is no denying the existing studies that point to the inequity or disproportion in access and continuity (that is continuing their education!) between girls and boys, which highlight that boys have more opportunities that girls. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened further the disadvantage that girl-child face, as some of the Nigerian girl children would most likely drop out or some already did, after months of the stay at home. In fact, the effect of the COVID-19 in the issue of educational inequity in Nigeria would be seen in the likely situation of the many girl pupil and students who would end up being married off, and of others may get pregnant during the long period of lockdown, which would negatively affect their (girls) education.
Again, while COVID-19 pandemic has led many countries (schools elsewhere) to revolutionize learning and education, by going more digital and online, Nigeria remains a curios case. While some of the private schools in the country have been attempting digitalize, and government schools are struggling to keep the students in the classroom virtually, the fact remains that many Nigerian pupils and students are clearly left behind. Besides the exorbitant cost of the digital efforts, which parents and guardians are made to bear, many pupils and students in rural areas are literally cut off from the learning process for no fault of theirs but for the failures of government or leaders. Apart from the rural communities and schools not being adequately equipped to transition into online teaching and learning yet, many if not most of the school-aged kids in these rural communities have little or no knowledge nor access, to this ‘new normal’ (that is, to digital learning). Thus, another evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic has furthered educational inequity.
Conclusion: Towards a Post-covid-19 plan on education inequity in Nigeria.
We could deduce thus that the COVID-19 pandemic goes against efforts by governments and educators to bridge the noticeable educational inequities in Nigeria. Thus, the pandemic has among other things, worsened further the state of the girl-child versus boy-child’s education in Nigeria; the divide between school-aged children in urban versus rural setting or communities in terms of learning opportunities; the educational achievements of school kids with access to modern technology and those who cannot (in Nigeria;, and the pandemic has made it clear, further, that parents’ and guardian’s socio-economic standing, affects so much – in other words, determines, if not damage – a child’s educational future.
In reaction or response to the subject of our discourse, we note therefore, that the imperative of creating a society or a Nigeria, where every person (read pupil or student!), regardless of where he or she lives, or its sex, or the income of the parents – has equal opportunity to be so educated to fulfill his or her potential, including going to what college or university one wants or just being an asset to his or her society, is incumbent on government and its education agency. Definitely, one would not deny that educationists in Nigeria are or have been concerned with the issue (of inequity in education or access, learning and opportunities in education). In fact, governments at various levels (in Nigeria) have made policies and implemented some, in attempt to address the problem or redress the worrisome situation: that is, to bridge gaps in learning opportunities for Nigerians, even if the success of such policies and programs is yet to be felt strongly across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt aggravated the already existing situation of inequity in education in Nigeria, including widening the educational gaps: in access and achievements, between pupils and students in urban areas who have access to energy and other facilities including internet services, televisions and radio etc., and those in the rural areas who cannot boast of the availability of such facilities; the opportunities and lack of it in education between the boy versus the girl child; and the clear disproportion in the education achievements of children of better-socio-economically placed parents and those who are of socio-economically less-privileged parents and guardians.
Greater efforts, on the part of the government and educational administrators, towards a post-COVID-19 attending to hydra-headed problem of educational inequity in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Therefore, one cannot but insist that governments at various levels – federal, State and Local government – see the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects in the nation’s education sector, as an opportunity and a reminder to do more towards eliminating completely, or at least reducing considerably, the educational inequities at the different levels – including sex, parental income, or residence, in the country. To this end, government or Nigerian leaders should up its efforts at providing adequate and equal manpower and resources (facilities) in Nigeria, to aid both the achievements of national and global educational goals, as well as the overall development of the Nigeria child. In fact, it is time education in Nigeria, be not only seen as a right of every child, as contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights but treated as such by governments or leaders. There is no doubt that a situation where education and schools further widen- rather than close, the social and economic status between Nigerians, is as abhorrent as it is regrettable. And COVID-19 pandemic has not helped, positively, in addressing the anomaly.
- Chukwudumebi Norbert Atta is a Catholic Priest. He writes from Rome, Italy
-Famade O. A – Oyekan A (2015), Issues of Access and Equity in Education: The Case of Nigerian Child, The Journal of Teaching and Learning
-Nwogu, G. A. I (2015), Barriers to Equality of Access to Educational Opportunity in Nigeria: A Philosophical Perspective, Journal of Education and Practice, Vol.6, No.4
-Uzoka N.E – Igwe R.O (2015), Quality and equity in Nigerian educational system: a panacea for economic empowerment, development strategy and social justice, presented at the IAFOR International Conference on Education – Dubai 2015 accessible in http://papers.iafor.org/wp-content/uploads/papers/iice2015/IICE2015_07766.pdf accessed on 12/10/2019
– Humphreys S. – Crawfurd L (2015), Review of the Literature on Basic Education in Nigeria: Issues of access, quality, equity and impact, EDOREN – Education Data, Research and Evaluation in Nigeria
-National Population Commission (NPC) and ICF Macro (2009)
-Foster V. – Pushak N (2011), Nigeria’s Infrastructure: A Continental Perspective, World Bank Policy Research Working Pape,r No. 5686
 See “What is HRBAP? | Human Rights-based Approach to Programming | UNICEF”. UNICEF. Retrieved 2020-08-10