Teachers: Shaping the Future as the Pandemic Rages

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have kept their students learning. They are the unsung heroes of this pandemic.

Nchekwube Nwosu-Igbo, Communication Assistant, UNICEF Nigeria
A teacher in the classrom
25 January 2021

January 2021, Lagos, Nigeria – It may be an understatement to say that 2020 was not a good year for students and teachers in Nigeria. Schools were closed for an extended period and education was negatively impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A year ago, online learning was not popular amongst educators and students, and many didn’t believe that it was possible to learn properly in a virtual class. But with the pandemic still raging, virtual classes have become commonplace and will remain so for a long time. Having taught in the classroom for more than 10 years, Mrs. Olufunke Ojo-Akortha, a Home Economics Teacher at Comprehensive Senior High School Alapere in Ketu, has had to adjust her method of teaching.

“I now augment physical teaching with online classes to cover my curriculum. But I have less interaction with my students and I feel underutilized,” she said.

With cases now skyrocketing throughout the country, there is talk of closing schools again. But there are still challenges associated with online learning in Nigeria, where millions still have no access to the internet. Some students have had to drop out of the classes because their parents couldn’t afford internet data, while others have had to stop because they did not have the right phones.

For her part, Mrs. Ojo-Akortha believes the pandemic is a great threat to education, and that free access to the internet is important to increase access to learning.

“Remote learning is a great idea when basic tools are in place for the students and teachers,” she says. “It is not supposed to be for only the rich.”

While governments and school administrators have been forced to think outside the box to ensure students continue learning, she notes the Lagos state government has been proactive in keeping children learning despite the pandemic.

“We engaged in remote learning via WhatsApp because the government had created various platforms for children to augment learning during lockdown. We also had radio, TV and online classes.”

Recent evidence shows that in-person schooling does not appear to be the main driver of COVID-19 infection spikes and that school staff do not appear to be at a higher relative risk compared to the general population.

But according to a report by UNICEF, recent trends point to a concerning willingness to sacrifice children’s education as a first response to slowing the spread of the disease. The unfortunate reality is the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return.

UNICEF is working with the government to keep students learning safely despite the pandemic. We are also calling on the Nigerian government to prioritize teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, after frontline health workers.

For Mrs. Ojo-Akortha, teaching is life. She is especially fulfilled when girls are empowered through skills she has taught them. A defining moment in her career came when a group of young girls came to her for advice after she had talked about sex education with her students.

“I counselled them and made them realize that men did not have to take advantage of them before they could buy food to eat or clothes to wear. I taught them how to make chin-chin and package it,” she says. “In no time, they became empowered to take care of their basic needs.”

Now her greatest fear for the future of Nigerian children is the collapse of the educational system. She believes that education is the best legacy one can give a child. But the economic impact of the pandemic has driven some parents to pull their children out of school to learn a trade or to work as domestic help, and many of these children end up being molested.

“It’s very disheartening to see young promising girls and boys who after being pulled out of school end up as prostitutes or ‘yahoo boys’ or even touts on the streets,” she says. “It hurts me because I attended a public school and I turned out fine. I want children to know that they can attend public schools or grow up in rural areas and still make something good of their lives.”

A female teacher