COVID-19 has compounded a long-standing learning crisis in many African countries, where millions of children were already out of school before the pandemic.
Nigeria has the highest rate of out-of-school children, low literacy rates, and high inequalities between and within groups in terms of education access and learning outcomes. The pandemic further reduced school attendance by approximately 17%, particularly among adolescents aged 15 to 18, according to a working paper by Dessy et al. For many school-aged children, temporary school closures have become permanent.
Meanwhile, evidence suggests about half a year’s worth of learning loss on average across the country. In other African countries with data, the learning loss ranges from eight months (South Africa) to two years (Uganda).
New thinking and innovations are required to rebuild Nigeria’s education system. Based on our research and practice in the sector, we have pinpointed five ways in which Nigeria’s education sector can achieve an inclusive recovery from the pandemic:
1) Prioritise equity
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the most marginalised groups, and many are at risk of long-term exclusion. Many children who no longer attend school are from poorer backgrounds and reside in rural or remote areas. Technology to mitigate learning loss during the pandemic was often inaccessible to rural communities because of lack of electricity or internet connectivity as well as other financial or logistical constraints.
It is critical to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable children because they are likely to require the most investment to recover from learning losses. At a time when state budgets are strained, a resource-efficient way to achieve this is to collaborate with grassroots organisations that support the most vulnerable communities at a local level.
2) Develop a data-driven education system
Data for performance monitoring and evidence-based research was critical to Nigeria’s policy response during COVID-19. School closures, remote learning programmes, and school reopening were all guided by evidence. Most studies that tracked the impact of COVID-19-induced school closures found moderate to high learning loss depending on socio-economic background and settings.
Rapid learning assessment in the classrooms and at regional levels can help measure the extent and dimensions of COVID-induced learning loss. Remedial and reorientation programmes are more effective when designed with a good understanding of learning gaps. COVID-19 has shown us how important it is to have a learning assessment system; tools such as learning trajectories and surveys of enacted curriculum that equip teachers to transform learning assessments into practical classroom activities will also be crucial.