By Hassan Zaggi
There is no doubt, Nigeria is currently facing a learning crisis. Our education sector, indeed, needs help.
Since the past few years, due to the general insecurity in most parts of the country coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, learning has become extremely difficult for learners, especially, in primary and secondary schools.
For example, the violent attacks on educational institutions in states in the north and other parts of the country, have brought huge setback to learning in those states.
Apart from the destruction of educational infrastructure, the increasing rate of kidnaping and abduction of pupils and teachers has done unimaginable damage to the sector as fear has griped both the pupils and teachers making them to foot-drag from going back to school.
According to SBM report which was released January 17, 2022, from 2014 – 2021, there has been 28 incidences of schools’ attacks in Nigeria. From the Chibok school girls’ incidence on April 4, 2014, to the one in Barkin Ladi on January 12, 2021 in Plateau State.
Of the 28 incidences, 23 were perpetrated by armed bandits, 3 by Islamists terrorists and 2 by unknown gun men.
The report further disclosed that under the same period, 1,832 teachers and students were affected during the attacks. Out of the number, 1,799 students and 24 teachers were involved.
Also, at the launch of Children’s Manifesto in October 2021, President Buhari lamented that persistent attacks on educational facilities and abductions of students and teachers have left more than 12 million children currently traumatised and afraid of going to school, especially the girl- child.
Represented by the Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, during the launch, President Buhari regretted that: “The incessant attacks on the country’s education system, such as kidnapping, abduction of pupils/ students, increased activities of insurgents and general insecurity in our schools have exacerbated many factors responsible for the growing number of out-of- school children.
“It is no longer news that at will, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists invade our educational facilities to abduct the learners in large numbers. Some places that have been hit by this menace include Chibok, Dapchi, Buni Yadi, Afaka, Kagora, and Jangebe in Borno, Yobe, Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara states respectively.”
1.3 million children, whose schooling was disrupted and learning severely impacted in the 2020/ 2021 academic calendar, were directly affected by the closure of 11,000 schools in different parts of the country, especially, in the north.
There is, therefore, the need to reinvent, recalibrate and reimagine the entire education architecture so that our children can continue to learn despite the insecurity situation for Nigeria to make the desired progress.
There must be innovation and new thinking that will enable pupils to learn under safety despite the security challenges.
This is necessary because, despite previous efforts of the government, Nigeria still has over 10 million out-of-school children.
It was therefore, gladdening when last week (Thursday, March 24), the Federal Government launched the Nigeria Learning Passport (NLP), an online, mobile, and offline learning platform for primary and secondary school students in Nigeria.
The NLP is supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Microsoft and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
NLP which is an online, mobile, and soon–to–be offline platform that would allow continuous access to quality education, is aimed at reaching 3 million learners in 2022 and 12 million learners in the country by 2025.
It is designed for pre-primary, primary and secondary school learning, providing access for children, youths and teachers to access a digitalised curriculum with learning materials in all core subjects for primary one to six and all junior and secondary school classes.
According to UNICEF, learners registered on the Nigeria Learning Passport platform will be able to study whether they are connected to the internet or not. This will provide access to continuous learning, including in locations where insecurity hinders learners’ access to schools.
With online, mobile, and soon-to-be offline options, it can help reach the most vulnerable and marginalized learners, helping to respond to the needs of every child.
The content is offered in English and the Nigerian languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
Speaking at the formal launch of the NLP, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, insisted that for all children in Nigeria children to continue to learn without disruption, there is the need to reimagine the education sector.
According to him: “Over the last decade, Nigeria has made great strides in improving access to education. In the last five years, pre-primary school participation has increased from 45% to 61% and primary enrollment has increased by 5 million.
”The rate-of-out of school children has decreased by 10% from 42% to 32%. These are phenomenal achievements but access to school does not equate to learning.
”Nigeria is facing learning crisis. Millions of children and young people are not developing even the basic skills they need to break out of poverty due to destruction to schooling and learning by incessant security, COVID-19 as well as more recent attacks.”
Represented by the Minister of State for Education, Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, the Vice President explained that: “To ensure continuity of learning for all children and the resilience of education systems to future shocks, we must change and reimagine the education sector.
“Deploying innovations that rethink the current methodologies, including new approaches to delivering education in ways that defy the digital divide and ensuring learning continuity in emergencies has become imperative.
“This launch set the foundation for creating a system of education where digital technology will be used to transform the way that learning is provided and meet the need of every child.
”The NLP is an effective tool to ensure the continuity of learning through access to curriculum.”
Also speaking, the UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Mr Peter Hawkins, disclosed that the NLP platform can be quickly deployed, customised and scaled-up nationally, including in low connectivity areas.
According to him, the digital platform would assist over 89% of learners who do not have access to computers in the home and over 82% of learners who do not have access to the internet in Nigeria.
“It is also an effective tool to accelerate national reforms to make quality learning opportunities available to more children, anytime, anywhere. Before COVID-19, access to quality education was already profoundly unequal, we know that in Nigeria, 28 million children in school are not learning at the appropriate levels.
“Sadly, learning is not always equipping our young people with the skills needed to excel in today’s world. If we are to realise the ambition of SDG4, then we need to reimagine education, and the deployment of innovations like the Learning Passport will help to bring us there.
“With 65.6 million people aged 10-24, Nigeria has one of the largest young populations in the world representing an extraordinary opportunity for development and growth,” Hawkins stressed.
Some experts interviewed by our Correspondent applauded UNICEF and other partners for the initiative, noting that it would be the game changer of Nigeria’s education sector if it is implemented to the later.
An Abuja-based educationist- Yahaya Usman, who expressed optimism that the innovation would assist many children to achieve their dream of having quality education, however, called for deliberate effort by the government to ensure its sustainability.
He said that he is afraid the initiative might not continue because this is an election year and that the next government may not continue with the idea.
He appealed to all stakeholders to ensure that the initiative goes beyond the President Muhammadu Buhari administration for the benefit of children in Nigeria.
Having quality education is a right of all children, hence, the government and stakeholders in the education sector in Nigeria must embrace this initiative and ensure that it works for the good of all Nigerian children.
By Hassan Zaggi