Whether we like it or not, remote learning is now the new normal in the education sector across the world. It doesn’t matter whether Nigeria is still struggling with it or not. Even, in several other aspects of our lives, we are gradually getting used to doing things remotely. COVID-19 has thrown up challenges and technology has been deployed to tackle them. For example, some banks held their Annual General Meetings virtually in the midst of the total lockdown in most parts of Nigeria last week. The judiciary also sat remotely and gave a few judgments. I learnt the Institute of Chartered Secretaries had also proposed that virtual annual general meetings should be incorporated into the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
To show that remote operation is becoming popular, some companies are contemplating incorporating it to their system post COVID-19. Such companies believe that working remotely will conserve man- hours wasted in traffic, especially in cities like Lagos; reduce expenses on diesel; data subscription; and so many other things.
Despite the fact that both the federal and state governments were initially confused as per their next line of action when they hurriedly closed schools to prevent the spread of corona virus pandemic, they have also come out of their initial shock. Now, they are coming up with different alternatives to learning, never mind that none of these is proper online learning. At least, they are now doing something. Sadly, however, nothing much has been said so far in the area of providing learning alternatives for students with disabilities.
In fact, none of the commissioners of education at a zoom meeting organised by the Concerned Parents and Educators Initiative (CPE) last Sunday, spoke a word as regards their efforts at helping SWD to continue their learning like their non-disabled mates. It was as if special needs children were never part of the equation.
We know that many state governments are now using radio to teach. Lagos State government is even planning to buy 300,000 transistor radios to enable its indigent students to have access to its radio lessons. But what is the use of a transistor radio to a deaf and dumb pupil? Likewise Ekiti State government has been reaching its students through the television but again how much of learning can blind students get through the television?
Is this an indirect way of saying that students with disabilities in Nigeria are not important? As it is, it is difficult to state the number of students with disabilities in the country due to absence of data. The World Health Organisation has however said that of the one billion persons with disabilities worldwide, 150 million of them are children. Since Nigeria is home to thousands of special needs children, I think it is safe to assume that it would have its fair share of the global statistics. Should these children be left behind, more so when they are also Nigerians that should be enjoying the little attention being given to their mates across the country?
Government has to create real learning opportunities for students with special needs. I think part of Nigeria’s problem is the Federal Government’s decision to create special schools for SWD in 2004. We still have the school for the blind and the one for the deaf. The country is still in the era of segregation when others have long embraced inclusion. Unfortunately, this segregation policy is further stigmatising SWD by making them to be more aware of their disabilities than their abilities. This idea of segregation is probably why governments at all levels are not including them in their plans.
Inclusive education is a core part of UNESCO’s fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) and the 2030 Education Agenda. It respects the needs of every child and discourages discrimination of any kind against children irrespective of their physical, mental, or emotional challenges. Lagos State claims to have 41 inclusive schools but I guess the state is probably practising integration, which of course, is better than segregation. At the same time, it is not enough to put SWD with non-disabled ones in same class and describe this as inclusion. Inclusive education goes beyond this. From what we are seeing now, it is obvious that Lagos State needs to do more in terms of providing support for these children and taking care of their interests.
Agreed, creating alternative learning platforms for special needs children has its own peculiar challenges. For instance, e-learning platforms for physically-challenged students are not very common. Besides, most of the accessibility settings for online learning might not be useful for them, because they were not designed specifically for education purposes. For example, graph charts and mathematical models may still not be correctly deciphered by a text-to-speech software setting, so it may not provide the correct output that a visually impaired student requires for understanding. Just as hearing impaired students will not only need visual aid, but they may also require special attention in terms of sign language instructors, hence the reason why a learning programme on radio may not be useful to them.
These challenges notwithstanding, there are still some assistive technological items specially designed to help people with vision loss or other disabilities. The most important thing is for government to have the political will to help these children, if it does; I believe a lot could be achieved. After all, migrating online also poses its own challenges for non-disabled children and everyone is still trying to forge ahead regardless of the problems.
This is probably the best time for the Federal Government to formulate a national policy on inclusive education. Since COVID-19 is teaching us to do things differently, government should also seize the opportunity of the pandemic to effect positive and lasting changes in its education sector. It should be intentional about helping students with disabilities to thrive along with their non-disabled mates. Government may have to train teachers and provide the needed resources to support inclusion education. But the investment is worth it. Meeting the learning needs of all categories of students is very important.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the editor-in-chief, franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: [email protected]
Minister Adamu: Migrating Online Goes Beyond Ministerial Directive
Good morning, madam, and thank you for your intervention in the online teaching initiative of government. We – government, teachers, parents, students – must be ready to reach and adopt the minimum conditions to make this only means of getting our students back to class for now, possible.
I talk of minimum conditions because I know that we have what it takes to make it work, if we are ready. I sympathise and agree with ASUU, but it should stop acting as an aggrieved party as this will take us nowhere. Dialogue, patience, sacrifice for posterity are all we need as we are all involved in this issue.
While the Union can go on to resolve its grey areas with government, it should be honest with solutions to the crisis. I read the Union’s response to the ministerial order and was disappointed that a conglomerate of egg heads and the best of our country could write such a stinker!
Some of the statistics we brandish are outlandish. Let us bring data that addresses the subjects, the age range of students, maybe 1-30 for all tiers of education and 16-30 for tertiary institution students, not the whole country. If we do this, we will realize that a good percentage of these students use phones.
Some of the online activities can be done via phones and others via cyber cafes for instance.
Besides, if students can afford accommodation, a coterie amount of data for personal use, school fees, and other expenses when schools are in session, I believe they can afford data during this period when they will not pay for these items.
Is it impossible for the Federal Government to work out a uniform electricity supply of say five hours across the country per day — during the day — for Students’ use during this period?
This period calls for creativity and sacrifice. In the interest of our children and the nation, the teachers can afford to use their self- acquired laptops for now while we seek solutions for institutional acquisition later.
I have worked in the private and public sectors for over 30 years and I have bought my laptops myself. A lot of Nigerians have the same experience and have bought their own data.
This is a period for the private sector to intervene, including the telecoms companies, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility as we are all marooned in this sinking boat.
If we all genuinely resolved to intervene, we will get off the ground in this online teaching initiative.
The time to demonstrate that we are a resilient nation and people is now! Our children and children’s children will ask all of us what we did in these challenging times, not government alone. What tale shall we tell? That Government tied our hands and we looked on helplessly?
Good afternoon ma,
Your points are valid and germane. Our government and its operatives enjoy fire brigade approach.
Lucky some tertiary institutions like Babcock where I am running a master’s degree programme in Guidance and Counselling have adopted online teaching long before COVID-19.
Since lockdown, we have continued to have classes and trying to meet up with our work schedule.
The conditional decision to pay lecturers is a wrong one. Why withhold their money in the first instance?
With the level of fraud, who will release his/her BVN in an open market? Don’t they have a system of paying them before now?
Master’s student, Babcock University
Well researched ma.
This Pandemic has exposed the gross infrastructural deficits in the country.
To go online you need power, personal computer or mobile devices, internet connectivity, institutional ICT facilities, just to mention a few.
All these are lacking as well as the level of poverty in the country. In my university, we have commenced online teaching. I spend an average of N5k per week. A few of our students are yet to join. No money for data and those connected are having epileptic and very unstable connectivity.
In short, looking at these issues we are far from development. Ma, during the ministerial briefing, it was agreed that the government would use the broadcast media – Radio and Television to teach primary and secondary school students.
Where is the electricity in the cities and the rural areas? This government assumed office with about 5000 MW from past regime, nothing has been added. It has been between 2000 and 3000 MW. Nigeria at 60, what a shame!
University vice chancellor
Your write up is very insightful and thought provoking.
I think government is not being sincere at all with this on-line learning issue as with other major issues that have to do with the development of our great nation.
A minister cannot stay in the comfort of his office and pretend not to know what the masses are going through.
Most families cannot even afford to eat one good meal this period. How do you now expect them to buy data for their children, get laptops or other gadgets that would enhance the effectiveness of the on-line learning?
I don’t think there can be any meaningful development in this part of the world until we put the interest of this nation above our personal interest.