Corona virus is a bastard. It threw the world into an emergency, minified otherwise powerful leaders and put the economy of great and small nations in shambles. But it did more than that. The pandemic, otherwise known as Covid-19, also threatens the future of our children. Children who are thrown out of school are uncertain when they will return for learning. But governments, in their magnanimity, decided that rather than keep the children at home idle it was better they resume learning through technology. Did I hear somebody say we should celebrate the leadership for considering the people, particularly our tomorrow? I am tempted to agree with that too, except that we may not have the opportunity to take Aso Ebi and dance to the success of government’s out-of-the-box thinking. Our usual pessimism over government initiative, you say? Not really.
Rather, this is borne out of a genuine concern that the programme, which has commenced in almost all the states of the federation, may not hold promise after all. You want to know why? It is because it came with a lot of assumptions. Thus, we can hazard an objective for the programme: At the end of the exercise, when schools would have reopened,majority of the pupils/students would not have had any improvement on their academic knowledge beyond what they had before they hurriedly left school, and dedicated teachers who would have participated in the e-learning programme would have little or nothing to cheer for their efforts!
Really, that would be far from the official objective. And that is where the problem lies. As laudable as the programme appears to be, it may not deliver on the official objective, because it is based on some loud assumptions. That perhaps is because those in government always have their heads in another planet, distinct from where the people they govern are located.
To start with, when the authorities designed-or perhaps decreed- the e-learning programme where pupils will receive lessons from teachers through the radio, television or other devices, it was assumed that all families have those appliances needed for the pupils to receive lessons at home. It was also assumed that whenever the broadcast stations air the lessons from teachers, the pupils or their parents or guardians will have the means to provide the devices or electronic sets and the electricity or batteries [at least for transistor radio] to listen to the e-lesson. Those are wrong assumptions, because even where some families could afford the devices, the sudden lockdown and its attendant financial predicament would make putting them to use a difficult task. But because an average leader has everything free at the expense of the tax payers, they forget that privileges are not so evenly distributed for people enough for them to be able to handle emergency situations without running out of the scarce resources available to them. That is assuming they have any source of income to boast of in the first instance.
Some may even argue that there is a multiplicity of approach, which affords children to make a choice. So, they argue that students can also be reached on WhatsApp platform. For many people, complaints of difficulty in getting pupils to adapt to e-learning is puerile, since children have always been known to be conversant with the internet and often display uncanny dexterity in the use of smart phones.
That is where most policy makers got it all wrong. How many homes have those smart phones or privilege gadgets through which we hope to educate the children? What happens to those children who have joined their parents on the farms or in other crafts? Even for children of rich homes, what gives us the confidence that we will get them into the loop? A major problem is that we are not able to separate the savvy displayed on games and sundry matters on the internet from the ability to use internet to learn or teach subjects for which examinations will be conducted. Don’t forget that some of the people who are expected to take advantage of the opportunity to improve themselves would rather be left unbothered. For many of them, it is another holiday.
Our policy makers also would love to pretend that the teachers do not need special training for this exercise. Lagos State government, I understand, may be one of the exceptions here, as teachers there are being trained in this direction. Let us for the moment overlook the fact that some of them are taken through the training after the programme had been launched with them participating.
Now, it is assumed that once the government takes that step, parents should compliment by providing the necessary things like power, devices or gadgets and data to link up on the social media platforms. What a sweet conclusion that is. This thus reflects the limitation in government quarters that the constraints occassioned by the lockdown as a result of the pandemic bites even harder at the family level. There are scores of family heads who have not earned any income since the lockdown, or those who have lost their jobs (forget the public show about certain sectors being barred from downsizing) or those whose business have been erased as result of the pandemic. Many of the people in such organisations have lost hope, knowing that the official stimulus announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, even in its austere form, may never get to them.