School Resumption: The Fate Of Vulnerable Children Amidst COVID-19
As some of the federating units in the country prepare to reopen schools and send kids back to school, albeit in batches, there arises the pertinent question on how realistic and sustainable this move is, judging by the very uncertain times we now live in. However, much emphasis has been given to students who are already enrolled into school pre-COVID and less attention is given to their counterparts who have had no form of education in whatever guise, pre-COVID.
As I have stated in one of my earliest pieces in this column, before the advent of the Coronavirus, the nation woke up seemingly with some form of sudden zest and verve, to combat the out-of -school children menace in the country. Some state governments, particularly in the northern part of the country, started repatriating “almajirai” a term which has generally been misconstrued to mean children who roam the streets (as against its original meaning which is translated into ”seeker of Islamic knowledge”) and telling other states to return any of their citizens who fall into that bracket as they would love to send them to school, where they belong.
The House of Representatives did not lag behind in the positive frenzy, as the House had a special session to deliberate on the problem of the out-of -school children in the country. From that session, the green chamber mandated its Committee on Basic Education to conduct an in-depth Investigation that involves all stakeholders in the sector with the view to addressing the problem in the long-term. The committee was to report back in eight weeks, a time frame that has since been elongated albeit ad infinitum as a result of the pandemic.
The Urgent Need to Pick up the Gauntlet
Bearing in mind that most of the vulnerable children in our clime today, had no access to the alternate learning platforms occasioned by digitalisation during the peak periods of the pandemic, it is also trite to note that most of these kids in the hinterlands have had no form of learning (formal or informal) pre and during the pandemic. Hence, there is an urgent need for states and the federal government to place huge focus on indoctrinating them back into the learning sphere.
According to the UNESCO Policy Brief on Education during COVID-19 and Beyond, “the crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children, youth, and adults – those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, persons with disabilities and forcibly displaced persons – to continue their learning. Learning losses also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress, not least in support of girls and young women’s educational access and retention. Some 23.8 million additional children and youth (from pre-primary to tertiary) may drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone.
Similarly, the education disruption has had, and will continue to have, substantial effects beyond education…” In the most fragile education systems, this interruption of the school year will have a disproportionately negative impact on the most vulnerable pupils, those for whom the conditions for ensuring continuity of learning at home are limited. Their presence at home or on the streets can also complicate the economic situation of parents, who must find solutions to provide care or compensate for the loss of appropriate learning time. There is growing concern that if these learners are not properly supported, they may never return to school.
With facts and figures that are not so encouraging, data and projections that aren’t soul lifting, there is a clear demand on state governments at all levels to pick up this gauntlet as a matter of urgency, and tackle these looming time bombs headlong, before we are crushed by this meteorite we have consistently ignored.
Governments at all levels will have to revert to the recommendations of the various standing committees they have set up (pre-COVID), to rejig the educational sector in their domain. Educational Policies, recommendations, and white papers should be reviewed and implemented as against throwing the same into the dustbin of neglect.
Quite conspicuously, there is a need to inject more funds into the Basic Education system and to also ensure that the same is not diverted, but to reinvigorate education programmes and bridge the digital divide. Some international organisations like UNICEF and The Global Partnership for Education have continually pledged to partner and work together with any government that is making very viable efforts to keep children connected to learning, no matter where they are and how they are placed societally.
Further to this, there is an array of committed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) , who have made progress in the area of bringing basic and quality education close to the government, just like the FlexiSAF Foundation Accelerated Learning Programme, which has seen about a hundred vulnerable and indigent kids reintegrated into formal learning processes in the form of their speed schooling system. Government partnership and support for organisations that have been seen over the years to be credible and focused will be invaluable in achieving the laudable goal of educating the bulk of this demography.
Though the roads to having brawny educational infrastructure might be rocky and as John White puts it, “There are a lot of forces working to make sure the world doesn’t know how difficult educating kids is and how often people fail.” We must, however, as a people not fail or falter in the bid to educate these innocent and deserving young ones as that is the only legacy that outlasts generations.
–Ayantunji is a lawyer, legislative draftsman and child education advocate.