Mrs. Deborah Uchenna woke up that early morning with a serious hangover. She tried hard to remember what was on her mind before she fell asleep the previous day – she is a mother of four, with the eldest, Chima, in SS2; closely followed by Chioma who is in JS 3; while the last two are in the lower basics 2 and 5.
Suddenly she remembered. She didn’t have a kobo to buy data for her children to go online that day. It has not been easy for Mrs. Uchenna in the past one and half months, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic and all its repercussions. The whole economy has been literally grounded for almost 2 months; her husband, who worked in an I.T firm came home two weeks ago with a “Disengagement Letter” – stating that his service was no longer needed. Her children’s school, on the other hand, has adopted the online e-learning technique to reach out to its pupils and ensure that learning does not stop altogether, meaning more expenses via data. To make matters worse, Mrs. Uchenna’s business has not been moving fine – no thanks to the pandemic. Having to therefore add the burden of buying data, and of course fuel for her generator, due to incessant power failure, looks quite like a herculean task. That was what brought about her hangover.
The Alade family children, comprising Ife, Biola and Wole, could however not be involved in the online learning because their parents could not  afford a laptop, and have resorted to going to their neighbour’s house – whose parents could afford Ipads and laptops, to borrow and copy notes. Already, Ife and Biola are complaining to their parents because this has meant them lagging behind and playing catch-up. They have also missed out on tests, assignments and many others.
Theirs, however, is just one out of several other Nigerian children facing the same plight at this time.
March 2020 will for a long time be remembered as the month the education community the world over, witnessed total schools shut down – as a result of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. The speed of these closures and the rapid move to distance learning/e-learning has allowed little time for proper planning and migration.
At least 1.5 billion students and over 80 million primary and secondary teachers are affected by this school shut down in 191 countries. Research also revealed that half the total number students – nearly 830 million do not have access to a computer, and more than 40% do not have internet access at home.
Disparity, a major threat to education 
According to education advocates, this disparity could be a major threat to education.
A teacher at Chrisland Schools Limited, Lagos, who preferred anonymity, said e-learning has been quite successful so far, as the school is using various online platforms such as Zoom, Google classroom, Edmodo etc to reach out to the pupils. “We have kept learners occupied academically. Using same platforms, we were able to complete the second term examination, which had begun before the compulsory Covid-19 break. Our school has always been in the forefront on child protection, hence our parents were carried along throughout the processes. Through the Parents’ Forum provided by some of these platforms mentioned above, parents were able to monitor the online activities and academic progress of their kids.”
He also said e-learning has a lot of advantages both for the learners and the educators or teachers, chief of which is helping them to acquire some essential computer skills.
He, however, admitted that the new learning mode is not without its challenges. “Sometimes, students are not punctual and because some of these ICT tools and e-learning platforms are relatively new to our secondary school education system, some kids tend to abuse the usage. However, most of the kids were very cooperative and used the gadgets and tools solely for academic and research purposes.
There is also the challenge of power supply and erratic internet network. In a situation where parents cannot guarantee these, e-learning would not be sustainable.
He also conceded that the high poverty level in the country will make this type of learning unaffordable for the common man. Data, laptops, desk tops etc all come at great costs.
The Chrisland teacher, however, believes that e-learning has a bright, exciting future in Nigeria and has come to stay. He said the advantage of this method has been further accentuated by the lockdown situation.
Parents express mixed reactions
A parent, Mr. Ikpe Nkanang, who is Managing Director at Benig Nig. Ltd, a logistics company, said most of what his children do are manual, in note books, although assignments are given through internet.
According to him, “E-Learning is a good development, as most parents are around to supervise and monitor their wards. It also exposes the kids to the use of the internet in a wider capacity than when they were only browsing for solutions to specific questions. Their scope of reasoning has also expanded. Research and comparison of works done has exposed them to new ideas.”
He was, however, quick to point out that the new method has its challenges. “One of my kids needs special attention. He is easily distracted and has a tendency to venture into areas not suitable for kids.
“Also, getting the teachers to respond to each pupil takes time and as such, the kids get agitated and lose interest. The issue of epileptic power supply and cost of buying data are also major challenges. Some homes cannot afford personal computers for their wards. This has led to a situation where my neighbours’ kids crowd my house because their parents cannot afford the basic tools. Some parents are also not literate enough to supervise their kids.”
In the case of wards, whose parents cannot properly monitor them, it is an opportunity to be absent online. Chronic absenteeism is a potentially big problem, with more students – than ever before – missing classes, as the vast majority of physical schools remain closed and lessons, conducted remotely. It’s either they’re not logging on, not checking in or not completing assignments. This is not to mention lack of concentration.
The rate of absenteeism would appear to be particularly high in schools with many low-income students, whose access to home computers and internet connections can be spotty. Some teachers report that fewer than half of their students are regularly participating.
Not without a fee
It is important to note here that online teaching/e-learning is not without a fee, as most private schools are billing parents for the service, failure in which their children are disengaged.
A parent of Atlantic Hall School, Epe, Lagos, who would not want his name mentioned said parents are paying as much N175,000 for online teaching service aside the regular school fees.
“This is bad because they are using it as an avenue to exploit parents. We are all feeling the heat of the pandemic together, as most businesses and jobs are affected,” Mrs. Temitope Adeyanju, a parent and a teacher said.
Adeyanju, however, pointed out that e-learning has increased the standard of computer literacy among children, bringing them up to par with the standard in the Western world, where it has become like the norm.
“E-learning has also forced parents to learn more and become more computer literate – because they want to meet up with what is being done on their children on the e-platforms. Also, it has helped to create cordial relationships between parents and children, because most of the parents who never had time to go through their children’s work, ostensibly because of the nature of their job, now feel compelled be on top of it,” she said.
“But the cost implication of data being consumed per week is a big challenge to parents. Meanwhile, jobs are being affected. Some parents, as a matter of fact, have lost theirs, while some have had their income reviewed downwards. At the same time,  no parent would be happy to see their children missing out on classes. Many have gone as far as borrowing.  For example, I spend at least N4,500 on data per week for my three children to connect with their classes online. That is on the high side,” she lamented.
Another major challenge is that parents are now at a disadvantage, as they now share their phones and other gadgets with their children. In the process, they sometimes get spoilt or broken, – leading to another expenses.
Of course, some use it as opportunities to play online games, thereby running down data unnecessarily. One cannot also foreclose the fact that some of the more mature or adventurous ones could use the opportunity to go on porn and other forbidden sites.
She enjoined parents to endeavour to get their children phones that are not expensive, and  connect such phones to the parents’ server, so that the data can be monitored.
“Also there are softwares that can be installed on parents phones and connected to children’s to monitor their text and WhatsApp messages. Google mail opened for children must be connected to their parents’ email, so that information can be through the parents to the children’s mail to monitor their activities.
Finally, parents should always collect the phones from the children after each day’s lectures. She also advised that network providers create special bundle for e-learning to reduce high cost rate of data.
For students in public schools in Lagos State, government has adopted the use of multiple media, including radio, television and the internet to reach the students. Besides, government said it has worked on a technology device loaded with the Nigerian curriculum that the students can use while at home. With this device, they will be able to continue learning, test themselves and send tests to their teachers who will also be equipped with the device.
To kick-start the process, the state Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has developed daily lesson programmes on radio and television for senior secondary school students as, well as interactive radio instructional programmes for primary school pupils.
The programmes, according to the Head, Public Affairs Unit, Ministry of Education, Mr. Kayode Abayomi, are to run throughout the period of the closure of schools in different subjects.
Abayomi said the idea behind it is to get public and private school students to be fully engaged while at home, adding that even if there is a challenge in power supply, they can tune in to Wazobia FM on their rechargeable radio.
“That is the more reason why we adopted the radio programme. As I am speaking with you now, my radio is on. I have a rechargeable radio; it also uses battery, so they should be able to tune in and know what is going on around them.”
He added that the ministry had already sensitised schools in Lagos, saying, “At the onset of the idea leading to the closure of schools, the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folashade Adefisayo, did a video recording, which she sent to all schools in Lagos State. We also sent the video across all social media platforms, so that it went viral. It trended for quite some time on these platforms. The essence was to make people aware that such a programme is going on.”
To ensure that parents also key into the scheme for the benefit of their children, Abayomi said, “Wazobia FM is running the programme for us for free. As a matter of fact, they wrote a letter to the Lagos State government, stating their preparedness for partnership on the issue. We have been working together since the very first day; they did the audio recording and jingles.”