Beyond COVID-19: A wake up call

April 8, 2020
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All over the world, events we had better imagined are gradually emerging as our new reality. The COVID-19 has kept us contained in our homes, deflated our economies and has defined a new social habit alien to our values of coexisting and integration.

This new reality has left most of us with feelings of distrust, suspicion and uncertainty, even as we possess the faith that we will overcome this pandemic. Most of these new attitudinal changes will form a better part of our lives and relationships even in a post COVID-19 world.

In Nigeria, the federal and state governments have taken measures to halt movements into the country and the various states and had given directives to tertiary, unity and all schools to close down temporarily in a further approach of containing the spread of the COVID-19. As a nation, we have to realize that this pandemic will most likely leave our leaders with few choices to make, some of which may be agonising but expedient.

While the threat to our health is undeniably the priority now, we must similarly be concerned about the potential crisis that academic research and studies face as a result of the constant rescheduling of our academic calendar.

Every crisis exposes cracks in a social safety net especially for the  most vulnerable in our society and this pandemic has exposed ours. The risk-control measures by government will definitely cause a degree of inconveniences for our students but I believe crisis also presents opportunities.

This pandemic should serve as a fine moment for us all to prompt for a new aggressive model of education driven by technological innovation and even a better research culture. Today all over the world, schools have shut down yet students have immediately switched to remote learning through online academic hours to complete assignments and sessions. Health professionals and nations are relying on high-end research outcomes from educational institutions to end, or at least, abate the coronavirus crisis.

The advantage these countries have over us is simply technology. In most cases, these are simple affordable technologies which can facilitate remote learning in a time like this. The complication for us is not just the lack of the technologies but poor inclusivity.

The slow pace of technological inclusiveness in our academic learning environment is a cause for concern. The time has come for us to evolve out of old lecture-based approaches of teaching, entrenched institutional biases and old modeled classroom-learning modules and begin to adopt practical and tailor-made approach in educating our children.

ALSO READ: COVID-19: Lagos Govt Rejects Chinese Doctors

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated that we cannot further afford the cost of refusing to toughen our social fabrics, one of which is our educational system. It presents an opportunity to rework the defining structures that will build new relevant skill sets that will respond to emergencies in today’s unpredictable world. As nations turn to their labs and techies amidst this crisis, we must learn and act by building the capacity of our next generation. Technology is paving the way for others; it is influencing informed decisions, creative problem solving and, perhaps most importantly, adaptability.

In running into challenges such as what we face today, like other countries, the first point of call for solution would have been our educational institutions. They would have answered the probing questions first: has this happened before? Has a predictable pattern been established? Can it be analysed and solutions found to prevent future occurrences? The mobilisation of human and material resources to respond to the outbreak would have been informed by these research institutions.

As we look to recreating our approach to governance, we must reconsider the call for improved budget on education and be intentional in spending on education technology. We must budget to support research and accommodate technological inclusiveness for our educational systems to save the future of our children.

Be it as it may, academic institutions which have the technology capacity to, at least, experiment online teaching should do so as we stay locked down. Such supplemental engagement can prove to be useful pilot testing for future massive online learning. Elementary resources should be designed to help young students learn at home with interactive activities that encourage participation through entertaining and stimulating digital content.

The element of communication becomes pivotal at this point too. Parents and teachers should be in constant communication to see how the children who are out of school can be adequately assisted to learn. This is the time technological advancement tools could be of great benefits to us such as WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom.

Increased homework and coursework could be used to replace sit-in examinations and handicrafts could be encouraged in the pursuit of skills development as we observe social distancing.

I also acknowledge that majority of our school teachers and students do not, and will not have access to broadband services to maximise the digital opportunities of advancing their academic schedules and supporting research. The challenges facing our rural communities are even more. As a government, we must be deliberate in advancing means to reach out to our rural communities by building enough infrastructures that will support, firstly, a conducive learning environment and then gradually introduce them to modern technology applications needed for contemporary developments.

With the integration of a research culture at that level, we would have begun a journey of equipping the younger ones with the requisite skills for problem solving needed for the future of complex problems, such as COVID-19.

As we emerge from this pandemic, it will become incumbent on us to push for targeted spending for the numerous indigenous technological hubs serving as incubators and technological accelerators in the country. I have always harped on this. Edutech companies can leverage this funding and build platforms to integrate our learning modules and support research in our educational institutions to meet up with changing contemporary realities. There is no way we can achieve advancement in technology if we continue to ignore the finding of tech startups. We have sufficient lessons to learn from India and Singapore, for instance.

We will defeat this pandemic and come out stronger than ever but we must prepare ourselves for the realities of living in a post-COVID-19 world; a world where technology will dictate the pace of developments and it will become even much arduous for developing nations to catch up. There would be too much price to pay if we get left behind.

The education and health budgets of our nation will no longer be in a familiar territory of neglect. As we work hard to defeat this pandemic, the lessons must not be overlooked so that we can emerge stronger as a nation that places high premium on research and education, health and welfare through innovations from technology advancement and its attendant benefits.

Luke, a member of the House of Representatives, writes from Abuja

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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