COVID-19 And Ever Widening Digital Gap

We cannot continue to deprive the pupils in public schools of even the basics available to their peers in private schools and then tomorrow call them unemployable because they lack the digital skills access to technology could easily have fetched them.

Classes ongoing for some Open Fees beneficiaries during COVID-19 lockdown / Photo credit: Open Fees
Classes ongoing for some Open Fees beneficiaries during COVID-19 lockdown / Photo credit: Open Fees

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with the Founder of Open Fees Educational Aid Foundation (Open Fees).

She was sharing the organisation’s COVID-19 lockdown project.

For the last three years Open Fees has been deeply involved in catering to the school fees and mentoring needs of some indigent SS3 students in the Federal Capital Territory.

They pick up their tuition and external examination bills, and also mentor them over the school year period till they graduate.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Before you could even spell pandemic, every one began the noise about online classrooms and E-learning.

Now, what should they do about these SS3 students beneficiaries who unlike their peers in private schools had no hope of having any online lessons?

I mean, let’s face it, where do you even want the public schools to start from?

We are talking about school that sometimes hold classes under trees or roofless building, with blocks for seats.

Are these the schools that would also conduct online classes for pupils?

What about their parents?

Yes, I’m referring to those parents who can’t afford to pay school term fees of N3, 500. The ones their children attend schools in tattered uniforms and on empty stomachs.

The ones who are never able afford even the cheapest text books for their children.

They are now the ones who would be expected to not only buy smart phones or computers, but also buy data for daily online classes?

Just as both the government and the private sector were quick to dole out billions of naira for the ongoing fight against COVID-19, the education sector also needs urgent intervention

Really?

That must be the joke of the century.

For Open Fees, however, they decided that they should not just leave the pupils from some of the low income communities to the mercy of chance.

From buying smartphones for facilitators and engaging teachers who could teach and coordinate these pupils remotely, it’s been quite a journey.

While pupils themselves don’t have phones, the facilitator, to whom the organisation gives a Smartphone connects to the teacher remotely on Zoom and then shares the lessons with the pupils in a physical location in the community.

But that’s even less than a drop in the ocean. What happens to the many other pupils in our public schools?

A number of states, including Lagos, Kaduna have publicly announced classes, especially for the SS3 pupils, on radio and television.

Some have also included the JSS3 classes in the radio lessons.

But you and I understand too well how these things go. Just like Abuja rain; all thunder and wind, with little water.

What level of preparations have gone into planning for these classes and what’s the quality of education these children will receive from the radio and television lessons?

What about the other classes? As the different private schools are falling over themselves to show parents that their children and wards can continue schooling online, how many of us have spared some thoughts for those pupils?

Rather everyone seems to have moved on so effortlessly. Let the dead bury the dead, we all seem to be saying.

But really? Has this pandemic not taught us anything at all?

Before COVID-19, the Nigerian politicians, public office holders and those with money (hitherto known as the elites) had no use of our public hospitals, with the current president being the poster child of that trend.

But we all know what has happened since the pandemic showed up. Every one of us is now forced to use whatever the country can give in terms of healthcare.

This is the time to see how we can invest in and also leverage on technology to improve the quality of education our children receive in public schools

That the country’s education system is not any better than its health counterpart, isn’t news to anyone.

However, the way we are dealing with this crisis in terms of education shows that we haven’t learnt anything at all.

Those who can afford E-learning have apparently moved on. The only factor they seem to be concerned with is how much discount they can get from the schools.

We have been told that COVID-19 is in this for a long run but it’s obvious that the children cannot not stay out of school for too long.

Like I said earlier, many of us are quite comfortable to move along with whatever arrangements their children’s schools are making.

After all, they have the funds for laptops, smartphones and even data.

But what happens if by some turn of events tomorrow we are all compelled to use the public schools and nothing else?

Remember that none of us ever saw COVID-19 and the ramifications of its impact coming. Who amongst us knows what tomorrow would bring and the adjustments that we would all need to accommodate?

What am I saying?

We have seen the gap get wider and wider over years and rather than take action, many of us have taken solace in the fact that our children would never attend those schools.

This is the time to take a holistic look at our public schools and do better.

We have realised that technology is the future. Nothing proves it even more than this period.

We cannot continue to deprive the pupils in public schools of even the basics available to their peers in private schools and then tomorrow call them unemployable because they lack the digital skills access to technology could easily have fetched them.

This is the time to see how we can invest in and also leverage on technology to improve the quality of education our children receive in public schools.

Just as both the government and the private sector were quick to dole out billions of naira for the ongoing fight against COVID-19, the education sector also needs urgent intervention.

There is no better time than now to act.

Written by Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe is the Editor of The Interview Abuja, has worked as a journalist in Punch Nigeria Nigeria Limited and also LEADERSHIP Newspapers where she rose to become the Editorial Director.

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