With the widening learning gaps among children from poor and rich families and those in rural and urban areas in Nigeria, TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE writes on how UNICEF is helping to bridge these gaps through digital learning platforms.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has raised a fresh concern over the learning crisis Nigeria is currently grappling with, urging stakeholders, particularly the government at all levels to, as a matter of priority, take stronger actions and commitments towards addressing the challenge.
The global agency noted that the crisis, particularly at the basic education level, is stalling meaningful development in the country and globally by extension.
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The Education Specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, Yetunde Oluwatosin, raised the concern at a two-day media dialogue organised by UNICEF Nigeria in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency, Lagos State and the Edo State Universal Basic Education Board, recently.
The workshop, held in Benin City, Edo State, had ‘Turning the Tide on Nigeria’s Learning Crisis’ as its theme.
Making a presentation and quoting from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), Oluwatosin disclosed that 73 percent of Nigeria’s children below age 10 and with majority in the North and from poorest families and in rural communities, were struggling to read or comprehend simple text, while an alarming nine out of every 10 children (90 percent) in sub-Saharan Africa generally were also confronting learning difficulty.
She also noted that while only one out of 14 children between ages seven and 14 years could demonstrate fundamental skills, only 25 percent have numeracy skills and capable of solving simple mathematical problems.
Oluwatosin equally pointed out that although up to 73 percent of Nigerian youths were literate, only seven percent possessed the necessary Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills required for the digital economy while just eight percent of children from poorest families attend school compared to 78 percent of their peers from the richest homes.
She said all these conditions, among others, are widening the inequality gaps between the children from the poorest homes and those from the richest families and also between those living in urban and rural communities.
The Education Specialist, therefore, recommended that the trend would need to be reversed otherwise it would be difficult to lift many children and young adults in the country out of extreme poverty and also out of criminal activities.
She, however, attributed the crises to a number of factors including limited infrastructure, inadequate funding, gender parity, shortage of qualified teachers, poor delivery system, insufficient learning data and materials, among others.
Oluwatosin stressed UNICEF’s efforts including provision of learning materials for over 1.8 million children between 2018 and 2022 and further plan to reach another 4.8 million children primarily in the North by 2027.
She urged all the stakeholders, particularly the government at all levels to wake up and take concrete actions towards tackling the crisis.
In his own presentation, another UNICEF’s Education Specialist, Aminu Babagana, stressed the role of digital learning to bridge the gaps both in schools and at home.
He said that was why UNICEF created a digital learning platform, known as Nigeria Learning Platform (NLP) with contents for primary and secondary education.
Babagana explained that the platform, which can be assessed both digitally and offline, is not only for learners, as teachers, parents, care givers, as well as community members can also explore it.
He noted that the platform had already enrolled up to 501,117 active users within 15 months of its introduction and with no fewer than 3,500 devices given to schools, especially located in hard-to-reach and under-served communities in many states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory as of September 4, 2023.
Noting that the platform offers over 15,000 learning materials in video, pictorial and textual formats covering various subjects and written in English, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo languages, Babagana enouraged parents to allow their children to utilise their phones and laptops for learning and development while guiding them in accessing appropriate contents.
In her remark, the Edo State Commissioner for Education, Dr Joan Oviawe, highlighted some of the initiatives taken by the current administration in the state to cause positive change in teaching and learning in both the formal and informal school settings.
Dr Oviawe said for example, the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation project, popularly known as EdoBest, has greatly improved pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills, as well as their learning outcomes.
According to her, Edo State is not longer keen about students acquiring academic certificates but to ensure students are well equipped with requisite skills and knowledge that will enable them to compete favourably with their peers globally.
“We don’t just build new schools or renovate the existing ones, or provide equipment, or recruit or deploy teachers, our moves are driven by data and needs assessment across schools in both the urban and rural communities and these have been working well for us,” she stressed.
Shedding light on this, the chairperson of the state’s SUBEB, Mrs Eyitayo Salami, explained that deployment of digital learning with teachers given tablets loaded with prepared lesson notes and other materials and students given free textbooks across subjects is one of the major booster to learning in the state.
According to her, with the digital platform, teachers’ activities can be monitored and evaluated and “we also ensure that our data guides us to know for example, the number of community schools in need of one thing or the other and also how many neighbouring schools are available.”
Salami noted that the initiative has not only helped students in their studies and extra-curricula activities, but also increased enrollment of new students including those out-of-school.
She, however, commended UNICEF for its intervention in giving quality education to Nigerian children including those in Edo State, saying the efforts are unquantifiable.
Confirming this claim, Mrs Akintunde Osahi, one of the teachers at Samuel Ogbemudia Girls’ College, Benin City, one of the schools that have taken advantage of digital learning initiatives, stated that the platform has made her more effective and committed.
According to her, apart from monitoring teachers, the platform helps teachers to deliver their lessons well and within a time frame.
She added that parents are also allowed to assess and monitor their children’s academic performance with ease.
Osahi, however, appealed to the government to convert teachers on casual appointments to permanent jobs so as to further boost their morale for imoroved service delivery.
A 13-year old JSS 2 student in the school, Jecinta Onyiloha, said she realised that she is doing better in her studies since the students have been introduced to digital learning two years ago.
Onyiloha said the method has made the class more interactive and engaging between the teachers and students.
In her own remark earlier, UNICEF Communication Officer, Blessing Ejiofor, urged the media being critical stakeholders, to use their reportage to cause stronger action and commitment particularly from the policy makers.
She said the essence is to make learning in Nigeria more result-oriented and for the progress of the country.