“…I don’t mind Nigeria losing a whole school year than exposing our children to danger.”
Those were the words of Nigeria’s minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, on July 8 when he cancelled Nigeria’s participation in the 2020 West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every year, almost two million Nigerian students write the WASSCE. Secondary school students in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia also write this examination and most of these students depend on the results therefrom to proceed to universities and polytechnics around the world. This decision by the Federal Government means that Nigerian students are being forced to halt their education and consequently their progression to the next level as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The handwriting has been on the wall for several months, starting when schools were shut down on March 20, and the government refused to permit these institutions to resume online. This new decision is an additional detrimental step during a pandemic that has already robbed many Nigerian children of their education. As it stands, the Nigerian government is open to allowing our children to lose an indefinite amount of learning time because no one knows when the COVID-19 pandemic will come under control. How can putting the education of our children on hold be an option in our current information age, where economies are built on speed, technology and globalisation?
What further worsens this decision by the Federal Government is the fact that it is a total reversal from the announcement made by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on June 29 that Schools would be re-opened for examination classes to prepare for and write their examinations. This announcement came as a welcome relief to parents, staff and students who have been living in uncertainty in the last five months. Following this announcement, schools around the country began to prepare for a safe re-opening, with some even enforcing COVID-19 safety guidelines that exceeded those set by the government. However, in a surprising turn of events, the minister of Education reversed this decision and cancelled Nigeria’s participation in the 2020 series of WASSCE examination.
Youths who are operating the Nigerian curriculum will also be the hardest hit by this decision and they will be put at an extreme disadvantage, in comparison to those in schools following foreign-based curriculums. While schools following foreign-based curriculums were given the green light to proceed with their curricula months ago through online channels, schools operating the Nigerian curriculum were asked to stop teaching (including through online means) since March 20. As a result, many schools utilising foreign curricula have completed their courses and assessments for the school year. Meanwhile, students in Nigerian curriculum have been forced to stop their education, putting them at a national and international disadvantage.
Foreign examination bodies have also found ways of still benchmarking and progressing their students. International examination bodies like Cambridge and Edexcel have assessed students using a combination of methods: predicted grades, continuous assessments, and they have also offered deferments (for those candidates for who this is an option). The West African Examination Council (WAEC) did not articulate any plan for almost three months and in June, WAEC finally publicly proposed the commencement of exams in August, only to have the Federal Government cancel this examination for Nigerian students. The Nigerian Examination Council (NECO), which would have been the other alternative for Nigerian students, has not shared any plan or timelines for in-person, online, or predicted grade assessments. With all these decisions, what options have we left for those who are meant to be graduating this year and transitioning into tertiary institutions?
This poor treatment of the education sector models the inattention in the public sector that leads to the failure of our youth in later years. Many studies have demonstrated the correlations between out-of-school youths and challenges including crime, depression, teenage pregnancy, poverty and permanent dropouts. Our primary and secondary school systems are now being run the same way our public institutions are treated, i.e. we are now on an indefinite strike due to the coronavirus. The government needs to consider that the fallout from its decisions could be worse than the health impact of the coronavirus itself.
Private schools that have given parents confidence in the Nigerian curriculum by offering this curriculum at “international standards” are now being pushed to offer international curricula because no one knows when the Nigerian education system will resume again.
Families who have always prided themselves in choosing Nigerian schools for their children are now questioning their choices as they watch their children’s peers in “international schools” progress, while their own children are being held back because Nigerian students who are pursuing secondary education overseas or internationally are now at an advantage. Desperate parents have already begun to scramble to register their students for these exams in neighbouring countries like Ghana and Sierra Leone.
The impact of the government’s stance affects not only the students but also the livelihoods of all who depend on schools to survive, e.g., teachers, cleaners, guards, cooks, and administrators. Many private schools have had to slash salaries or lay staff off due to the loss of income. We need to care about these workers and their families.
While other countries have accepted the reality of COVID-19 and embraced a new normal, Nigeria appears to be waiting for the pandemic to end before our children’s education can resume again. No one knows when exactly this pandemic will come under control or when a vaccine will be found. So for how long exactly will we stop the education of our children? What happens to the students who were meant to proceed to university this September? Are they expected to remain at home indefinitely until COVID-10 is under control and school resumes?
The Nigerian education system is already challenging, but now the educational of every Nigerian child is on an “indefinite hold” because the adults around them cannot seem to figure out the way forward. Our children deserve better than this.
Schools do not need to be physically opened for learning to happen, but we need a flexible model that allows students to progress. To ensure this, the government can adopt the following recommendations:
1. Digital Education: This would allow schools to commence the third term online formally. The government should partner with telcos to provide data for educational needs at a subsidised rate. Schools in Europe and North America transitioned their students to online learning as soon as the pandemic began and such students are already planning for resumption in September. Meanwhile, Nigerian students are still where they were in March.
2. Allow for Advancement: This involves permitting progression tests online, including interview-based tests, continuous assessments, etc. WASSCE can be administered as a 100 per cent computer based test this year, similar to how JAMB exams are written. Since, the WASSCE is based on a three-year curriculum, WAEC can also be asked to limit the questions to only curriculum content that should have been taught before February 2020.
3. Conduct Safe Examinations: WAEC can also be asked to set multiple batches of examinations, so that students can come in on different days to write their exams in a safe and socially distanced manner. The Federal Government can put strict guidelines in places for the safe conduction of exams, such as the wearing of face masks, ensuring social distancing, having hand washing stations and increasing the number of invigilators.
The Nigerian government has always encouraged its citizens to “buy local.” This is an essential time for the government to show that Nigerian students and their families who either chose the Nigerian curriculum (despite having other options) or found themselves in it (through no fault of theirs) did not make a mistake. Nigerian children losing an indefinite amount of learning time cannot and should not be an option that our leaders are even considering at this time.
No one knows how long this pandemic will last, but we have to find a way to keep moving forward despite it. The students of 2020 should not have to suffer for it.
About the Author: Maryam Garba is the development director at Premier International School, Abuja.
Source: Premium Times