Education witnessed an unprecedented disruption across the world for the better part of 2020, as schools were shut for more than six months to check the spread of COVID-19, which ravaged the world.
However, learning did not come to a complete stop in advanced countries as it did in most developing countries like Nigeria.
According to 2020 data from UNESCO, nearly 40 million primary and secondary students in Nigeria were affected by the school closures, including those in internally displaced camps. For many of these school children, particularly those in disadvantaged rural communities, learning came to a complete halt.
The closure of schools ushered educators into the era of new normal, teachers quickly adapted to the use of technology; they used devises at their disposal to ensure that learning never stops for their students, but not for children in remote areas who could not afford the devises, who didn’t have electricity and have no access to data to take advantage of the online learning.
In fact, many of them reside in distant communities where fast 4G networks, which the prominent platforms recommend for smooth usage, is largely inaccessible.
For some who have the devises, constant purchase of data became a problem, as many parents lost their sources of income and could not afford data. So, most students missed out of the online intervention.
To eliminate these barriers and provide free, online and unlimited learning access to more than 100 million Nigerian youths, Data Science Nigeria, in collaboration with MasterCard Foundation recently launched a first of its kind audio e-learning platform (www.learnathome.radio) to provide curriculum-based educational aid and resources for pupils and students from primary one to senior secondary three (SS3).
Some unique features of the platform include that it functions in line with the national mobile phone penetration and basic feature phone requirements. It can be activated on mobile phones operating on the EDGE or 2G network and low data.
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The organisation also partnered MTN, one of the youth-friendly service providers to provide free access to the platform. With this, it said children in rural and remote communities can learn from the highest quality teachers at their own pace and prepare for important examinations with the best resources and educational aids developed based on the approved curriculum
The platform is a continuum of Data Science Nigeria’s successful ‘Learn at Home’ initiative, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, that provided learning to millions of Nigerian pupils amid the COVID-19 disruptive restrictions.
Already, more than four million students have joined audio classes with USSD/SMS support, where they receive educational materials on key subjects, based on the Nigerian Educational Research and Development (NERDC) curriculum for primary and secondary school students.
On the platform, pupils and students from primary one to senior secondary three (SS3) will gain access to a special examination readiness series that include a collection of solved past questions in WAEC, NECO, BECE and Common Entrance from 2009 to 2020. Expert teachers have been engaged to provide answers and explanations to the past questions in a step-by-step and easy-to-understand format, with complementary live classes that enable each student to learn at a preferred pace irrespective of location and socio-economic conditions.
Besides the examination preparation series, www.learnathome.radio features a wide variety of content, including amazing global facts, inspirational quotes, current affairs, common errors in the English Language, and much more.
Some of the youths who could not return to school after the pandemic for reasons beyond their control, and still desire to learn, can also take advantage of the platform to stay informed, pending when they can return to school.
According to the Country Head, Mastercard Foundation Nigeria, Chidinma Lawanson, “the disruption of the pandemic did not only halt learning for many, but also revealed and exacerbated existing inequalities in learning opportunities. The purpose of www.learnathome.radio is to ensure that children have equal, convenient, and affordable access to quality learning.”
Speaking on the initiative, the Executive Director of Data Science Nigeria, Toyin Adekanmbi described it as “a creative and innovative approach to democratize learning in Nigeria and provide an effective solution to the challenge of unequal distribution of learning and education opportunities in rural and urban communities.”
She said: “The Learn at Home audio e-learning initiative will build on the clear successes we recorded in the quest to ensure ongoing learning for children during the pandemic restrictions, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, through our audio classes in several cities in Nigeria.
Describing the initiative as a welcome development, the Chairman, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB), Hon. Wahab Alawiye-King said children need all the support they can get to help bridge the learning loss that has occurred because of the pandemic. “The government has embraced blended learning and we are excited to have other well-meaning organisations support towards the collective goal that every child has sufficient access to quality education”, he added.
According to him, upon resumption after the statewide closure of schools as a result of COVID-19, over 21,000 of primary school pupils did not return back to school due to various impacts of the pandemic.
“In reaction to this, LASUBEB launched the Project Zero initiative, a programme designed to identify, track and bring back out of school and not in school children back to school. The project helps to provide school uniform, socks, writing materials and school bags to pupils at the verge of dropping out of school, due to socio-economic reasons. “The initiative, as well as other aggressive sensitization and advocacy programmes in collaboration with the School Based Management Committee, has so far helped to bring back over 14,000 (and counting) of the pupils back into school. The first Phase of Project Zero was fully supported by corporate bodies, non-governmental organisations, education enthusiasts and many well-meaning individuals.”
A teacher, who pleaded anonymity, said the learn at home radio will help people who could not return to school after the pandemic to learn on the go.
“Some girls in secondary schools were married off, some became pregnant, while others started their own businesses and saw no need to return to school. This learn at home radio will help those of them that still have the desire to learn. They can learn at their own pace, and who knows, may decide to return to school and complete their secondary education.”
One of the parents already taking advantage of the platform, Mr. Nwachukwu, lauded it as a breakthrough innovation. “Before, platforms like this one were usually only for those who could afford expensive laptops or smartphones and daily internet subscriptions. Now, every child, everywhere can learn.”