Schools must guarantee safe learning environments for learning

Jacqueline Yemi Odiadi, a lawyer and management consultant, who provides research, evaluation and needs assessment, in this interview with Adelowo Adebumiti, lamented the constant face-off between the government and unions in the nation’s tertiary institutions and how to get a workable model to address gaps in curriculum development.

As a seasoned educationist, how would you assess the nation’s education system?
Currently, there are structural and institutional gaps in our educational system that should urgently be addressed. A system that neither delivers quality education nor captures school-age children; that is poorly funded with poorly motivated teachers has gaps.

My interest in education comes from my training first as a lawyer, then as a governance specialist and education sector administrator, both in Nigeria and the United States of America (USA). Every country has one gap or the other, but each is challenged to focus on its own and be responsive to them. In this global village, the weaker your educational system, the less able you are to deliver value and compete with others.

Currently, education in Nigeria is classified into three sectors; compulsory basic education designed to run for nine years, post-basic/senior secondary education, and tertiary education. We also have some appendages such as early childhood care and development education, adult and non-formal education as well as technical/vocational education.

What are the challenges confronting the sector and how can these be addressed? 
The challenges are both endemic and systemic. First, you must address the issue of standard and competitiveness, which leads to curriculum, content and strategies of teacher instruction to students. Second, there’s need to focus on students and how they can benefit from the curriculum and attain standards set for each class category.

The third has to do with study aids, IT support, tools, books, laboratory equipment, sports facilities, libraries and instructional aids that enhance information and add value to students to facilitate learning.

The fourth point is the overall school environment in terms of security, discipline, structures and basic amenities for hygiene and recreation. There is also the issue of teachers, qualifications and capacity to deliver effectively. Trained and unqualified teachers do harm to students learning. The other challenge is the place and role of regulation. What are the standards? Who monitors and enforces these standards? Who penalises defaulters? What does it take to establish a school and run it effectively, according to set standards?

What is the best way to resolve the constant face-off between the government and unions to bring stability to the university system?
The best method is dialogue and honouring agreements. Once you reach an agreement with the unions, be it Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) or Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), be ready to implement the terms as agreed.

The core of the challenges facing the government and unions is lack of transparency, commitment, trust, non-aligned objectives to education deliverables, lack of framework to drive education objectives across the strata and identified education organs in the country.

A roundtable that would address these issues where stakeholders from across public and private sectors would not only ameliorate the yearnings of educationists, but would input a great measure of sustainability in the recommendations made by past committees, set-up to address some of these issues.

The present educational model is facing serious challenges and out of tune with present realities. How can we get a workable model that will address gaps in curriculum development, online learning, inadequate infrastructure and funding? 
Consideration should be given to current infrastructure provision for the entire school system segmenting them according to needs. Post-COVID-19, paradigm has shifted, online learning has come to stay, no excuse for schools not to align with the system. The curriculum must be tailored to reflect this new reality. Nigeria must aspire to best practices as done across the world.

Private partnership with the government is important, the work of international development partners must be supported for far richer impact and their investments in education reforms must be protected. Local and state governments must play more roles while the Federal Government should consider allocating more funds to states.

Does standard vary from state to state? Does the Nigerian system accommodate variation? If it does, that hurts competitiveness and compromises performance. Quality education, when accompanied with other reforms, can be the primary tool for improving students’ abilities to be productive members of society, which in turn gives individuals tools needed to lift themselves out of poverty. Recently, it was in the news that Nigeria had further dipped in poverty global index, a major tool to address this challenge is to deliver quality education for Nigerian children and equip them to be masters of their future lives.

With increased kidnapping and insecurity in schools, there are fears that many more children may stay out-of-school. What are the implications of this?
As earlier stated, security must be the prime focus of every school in terms of guaranteeing safe learning environments for learning. We have seen the nefarious activities of bandits, which are indications of widening existing social and economic gaps, loss of investments in education, increase in social vices, literacy index, overall negative impact in community development and economic growth.

How can these issues be addressed for learning to continue?
A secure environment for learning is the primary responsibility of the government. When this is achieved, we can collectively address the ambience of learning within the learning environment.

Learning in developed countries has moved online, why is it difficult for Nigerian public varsities to do same? 
COVID-19 pandemic is regarded as a Black Swan, a disruptive event that caught the education system in Nigeria napping. Ironically, only a couple of private universities, some professional learning institutions and National Open University (NOUN) could adjust to the new order within a reasonable short time. Prior to the global pandemic, these institutions had been engaging their students online with tutorials and assignments while some modules were also disseminated online. The rudimentary structures were there, these institutions were only required to scale up on structure, capacity of lecturers and students to interface online.

On the other hand, Nigerian public universities ran a largely face-to-face or physical education system, there was little or non-existent IT support; from research, preparation of lecture notes to delivery, assignments, examinations, marking and grading was 90 per cent manual. The structure to support online learning was non-existent. Many public universities lost a whole academic year.

Apart from the required IT support system required for online learning, power to support the system is a challenge. Both lecturers and students still grapple with new technology and system of learning, inadequate bandwidth is a challenge as learners are caught off during lectures while assignments sent by students are not received. Paucity of funds affect sustainability of this new learning methodology.

What is required for this process to happen? 
We need to embrace the fact that open, distance and e-learning (ODeL) has come to stay. It is of utmost importance for the government to harmonise its many education policies and align them with established new world order, e-learning in post COVID-19 era.

Stakeholders from public and private sectors must develop a national programme, with a focus on “technology-enhanced flexible learning.” There are global best practices to adopt and infuse with local content from other countries like Indonesia, China, India, Europe and America.

As a consultant on governance and education management, what is your advice to the government on how to reposition the sector for growth? 
The concept and principles of governance has received wide acceptance in the corporate sector after the collapse of notable organisations in the financial services sector and other corporate organisations.

Private organisations have come to realise that the gains of applying the principles of corporate governance is more than the adverse effect of non-compliance, adherence to the principles of governance serves as a catalyst for sustainable growth and development.

Good governance framework would serve as a knitting thread of various activities and actors in the education sector, directing how activities in the sector are performed, taking into account the role of non-state actors and other stakeholders within the system for a better output in education service delivery.

Good governance in education system promotes effective delivery of education services. Critical to the input of good governance framework in the education sector are appropriate standards, incentives, information and accountability. Therefore, application of good governance principles in education sector would aid the process of managing the process from policy formulation to implementation, monitoring, evaluation and assessment.

Overall, I align with the belief that education is the tool to bridge societal gaps, reduce or eradicate poverty and bring about meaningful development. Although the system is fraught with many challenges, learning and teaching process should be reformed based on economic, cultural and technological dictates of present day realities by all stakeholders, including professional bodies and employers of labour.


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