It is estimated that about 46 million students have been affected by school closure in Nigeria since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The implication is that millions of learners across all levels of the educational system, especially in public schools, have been left without any form of schooling. While we commend the efforts of some states for the introduction of educational radio and television programmes to engage school children, the need for a national digital literacy drive has become imperative. The disparity between those in private and public schools; the privileged and the less privileged; the rich and the poor has been exacerbated by the disruption occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. It goes without saying that the educational gap between those who have and deploy digital tools to function maximally and those who do not has increased. To close the gap, UNESCO, had recommended distance learning and open educational applications and platforms by schools and teachers to reach learners remotely. However, Nigeria cannot deliver on these because of the daunting challenges facing digitalization of education in Nigeria namely, the lack of reliable local power supply; poor internet connectivity; and the weak digital skills of teachers, students, parents and caretakers. In order to overcome these challenges and narrow the educational gap underscore the need for Nigeria to invest in digital literacy to rescue the educational system for globally relevance and competitiveness.
The twenty first century education requires learners to have the ability to use digital technologies and communication skills and to develop appropriate attitudes on how and why to deploy digital technologies and resources by who and for whom. While technology does not solve all the educational problems, when used appropriately, it enables learners to create an equitable education system that is fair to all. It also enables learners to break systemic and socioeconomic barriers in schools and at homes for a better society.
Investing in digital literacy is the responsibility of all the stakeholders in the education sector in terms of enacting policies and ensuring practical implementation. First, Nigeria needs to develop a Literacy Policy with a clear and coherent digital literacy component with benchmarks across the educational levels. Secondly, Nigeria needs to revise its National Policy on Education, the curriculum of basic education, the Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) and the framework for the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) to accommodate digital literacy both at the instructional and assessment levels. Thirdly, there is need for synergy between the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and education agencies, regulators, providers and bodies to integrate Information Technology in their programmes and activities as a national call for sustainable development and global competitiveness.
Governments, telecommunications agencies, network providers including development agencies, civil and non-governmental organizations to support the introduction of mobile digital buses to boost digital literacy delivery to communities where network services are weak or inaccessible. Specifically, telecommunications companies should provide subsidized mobile data packages for learners while government should work towards providing portable solar radios to each family in remote areas just like the School Feeding Programme. Corporate bodies and individuals should support investment in solar powered educational gadgets in addition to supporting digital literacy in communities and schools through sponsorships, adoption of schools, and donations especially in low resource and disadvantaged populations. There is also need for investing in the mass production and distribution of digital resources to reach as many learners as possible across the country.
Government should make it mandatory for all educational institutions in Nigeria to develop and deploy learning management systems that will facilitate virtual learning and make it a condition for the establishment and accreditation of schools in Nigeria.
We call on our law makers and political office holders to channel the funds for constituency projects in providing digital literacy centres and hubs in their constituencies and communities to build a digital literacy culture.
Teachers, parents and caretakers also have key roles to play. Technologies must be taken to the homes and used. Therefore, parents, who can, should provide these technologies for their children and show interest in how these technologies are used by developing their own capacities to use these technologies with their children at home.
All stakeholders in education should bear in mind that learners have a right to appropriate digital literacy instruction and engagement as the world is gradually moving into the age of internet of things. We therefore need to provide learners with equal access to a wide variety of digital resources in their classrooms, schools, communities, and homes without neglecting learners with special needs.
Governments have a responsibility to provide its citizens with quality and inclusive education. Therefore, we call on the Nigerian government to show commitment and willingness by insisting that no Nigerian child is left behind. We believe the Buhari administration can rise to the challenge if the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030 will not remain a mirage.