By Sr. Josephine Tor, SNDdeN.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global economy and altered all aspects of our lives. The education of about half a billion children around the world has been impacted. According to a UNICEF rapport in August 2020, at least a third of the world’s schoolchildren (463 million) were unable to access remote learning at the peak of the COVID-19 schools’ lockdown. A vast majority of these children were from low-income countries and families. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms all children and young people’s right to education. However, this right has not always been easily accessible to children from low-income families in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
Schools in Nigeria were shut down in March to limit the spread of the COVID-19. Though many states across the country adopted broadcast learning for children in public schools, children in rural areas where many learners are located have neither the electricity nor the digital technology to benefit from this form of learning. The prolonged closure of schools has exacerbated the existing inequity in educational opportunities between children from well-off and low-income families, especially those living in rural areas. Inequity in access to quality education in Nigeria predates the coronavirus pandemic. Because public schools in the country are poorly funded, parents who have the financial means send their children to private schools to receive a better education. During the coronavirus school closure, children from wealthy families continued to learn from their homes because they can access digital technology. While many children from low-income families spent most of their time supporting their families in the fields or at home running chores. Sadly, some of the girls may have been forced into marriage and will not be able to return to school again.
I feel deeply concerned about the impacts of the disruption in the education of millions of children in my country and the entire continent. Some children may not return to school this academic year without support. As a congregation that is committed to the education of children, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur will continue to provide quality education for children everywhere, especially those living in poverty. We are working hard to ensure that children in our schools can safely return to classes as schools reopen soon. We already have plans for a catch-up and accelerated programs to help children who have missed out so much on learning during this long period. However, the ultimate responsibility lies within the Nigerian government to provide quality and free primary and secondary education for every child. The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way we do things, including learning. Access to technology must no longer be considered a luxury but a necessary tool for schools and students.
Previously published on SND at UN, September 2020, Vol. 19 #1