Never let a good crisis go to waste. This statement, often attributed to Winston Churchill, bears much truth that should come to bear at this moment. After the crisis of the second world war came the rapid innovations that brought to the world; satellites, radars, jet engines, and so on. The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that has revealed the resilience of the educational system in Nigeria, the adaptability of our teaching force, and the potential for online and hybrid learning in Nigeria. However, I am worried that this crisis might go to waste.
Two years ago, online learning or hybrid learning was a distant luxury for many schools; unimaginable to the administrators in the educational sector. Nigerian teachers would never have fathomed teaching remotely and parents would never imagine an active participation in their children’s school work. All these have changed forever. We now have a strong foundation on which to lay the first bricks of new hybrid primary and secondary schools. Moving forward, the country needs to double down on this emergency option and use it as a launchpad to carry out a holistic redesigning and transformation of our education sector. The events of the last one year has provided the million dollar research needed to better understand how to achieve this.
The Nigerian education sector is familiar with crisis. We have the highest number of out-of-school children in the world; the infrastructure is decrepit, teachers are poorly trained and remunerated and the list goes on. In recent times, the crisis has taken a new turn with the rising insecurity in parts of the country. Children are now being abducted while in school and parents have to make the hard choice of withdrawing their wards from school. This multidimensional problem is perhaps the basis for the Nigerian government to seek and embrace more radical innovations that ensures that learning continues even if the four walls of a school are under siege. The fact that we are able to weather the storm means we can transform our educational sector by using the same tools that we had to resort to during the Covid crises.
The big question is, how? How do we hybridise our educational system so that it benefits from the abundant innovations in educational technology. The first and most important factor is the willingness for leadership to embrace the transformative power of technology in our classrooms. Administrators must default to tech. The guiding principle for this educational revolution would be: “ How might we use technology to improve our outcomes”. It is worthy of note that Lagos State’s “Eko Excel” is a step forward in that direction. Eko Excel is trying to improve instruction delivery through increased technology infusion and data driven decision making.
The second practical path forward would be for the state and federal government to build a charter school system in which they support the private sector to build model low cost technology enabled hybrid charter schools. The United States of America has been running the charter schools system since 1992; these are autonomous schools that are funded by the state but are not bound to the curriculum or teaching practices of the state, which allows them the capacity to be more flexible. The charter schools have become the playground for the best ideas and research in educational psychology and technology. Interestingly, there are over 200 charter schools in the U.S serving over 200,000 students. By creating the policy environment for the private sector to collaboratively innovate with the government, we can open the educational sector to the same innovativeness that has been experienced in the creative and banking industries. This partnership will help to better understand the nuances of effectively deploying online or hybrid solutions at scale in a Nigerian context.
The third path forward is to establish a direct competition between the traditional school system and the fully centralised digital school with classroom instruction delivered. All students will have the choice of attending their classes online. This would serve as a back up system that provides supplementary support to students in public schools. After each day’s class, students may login to get more materials that enriches the concept taught in class. However, if ever there is a disruption in the school system as experienced during the pandemic, students simply shift to the full digital school to continue their studies.
The fourth stage will be to introduce the traditional schools to a flipped classroom model. The flipped classroom model was first introduced by professors at the University of Miami in 2000 but it was popularised by Jon Bergmann six years after. The flipped classroom is an instructional strategy which increases student engagement by having students complete readings at home while they work on homework in the classroom. This is a useful strategy in the Nigerian context because of the poor training of the teaching force. However, students can watch world-class videos, animations and interactive examples of the concept at home while the class time will be used to get clarification about difficulties they may have. Suddenly, Nigeria would have leapfrogged the perennial challenges of teacher quality.
The blended learning offers so much to the Nigerian child but how does the country lean into this opportunity considering the numerous challenges we currently face? There is the case of dwindling resources, literacy level is generally low and there is the problem of technology and its adoption. Another major challenge is the network coverage in Nigeria which is one of the poorest in the world. Interestingly, there is persistent growth in broadband as the trend shows that the speed of the technology is always increasing and even in developing countries like Nigeria, more young people are accessing all of these technologies. Also, now there is a general appreciation of digital learning, with the COVID pandemic induced lockdown, there was a massive teacher training across the world teachers, so there are now lots of teachers who hitherto could not really use a computer now easily accustomed to digital platforms like Zoom.
We have so many challenges but what we need to do as a nation is to first create an architecture to what our digital schools will be, after that, the state or local governments can adopt the charter system to get people to start running this model. However, the government will need to create a central Institute that will collate the data from all these online schools. These data will help us understand how to deploy them till we eventually have a recommended model that can be adopted at the centre as a digital companion to the traditional schools.
Although, we will still have our traditional schools with the traditional challenges, but with a digital school, all Nigerian children will attend the same primary and secondary school, studies will be synchronised on a digital platform, so that regardless of the financial endowment of the state we are affirmative that our children are receiving a decent quality of education.
Some efforts have been made in Osun, Edo and Lagos states in recent years but it has to be improved and scaled up to a central scheme, hence there is need for a national strategy on education to build a plan that seeks to transition most, if not all schools to an hybrid school where the student have both virtual and physical engagement for learning. In cases where students can not go to school due to a force majeure, it will be a hundred percent virtual learning option.
The COVID pandemic has given us an opportunity and we need to double down on the wins to transform our educational system to ensure that this crisis never goes to waste.