The coronavirus pandemic in its entirety has been an unpleasant experience. In some countries, the spillover effect of the pandemic has even been more threatening than the virus itself. The economic, labour and education sectors have been endangered with the pandemic. The university education system particularly in Nigeria has been on a standstill. For up to eight months, federal university students have been out of school with little or no hope of getting back soon. Although the pandemic has certainly disrupted Nigeria’s education system, it is still, not entirely to be blamed.
An academic semester in a Nigerian federal university usually takes 13 weeks for lectures but sometimes, the semester can take up to 26 weeks. That is, a 4-year course can take 6 years to be completed. How long the session takes is determined by a union of university lecturers called Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). ASUU works to protect the interests of university lecturers and if these interests are unmet by the Federal Government of Nigeria, the body goes on a strike, most times indefinitely. An ASUU strike means that all academic activities must cease (even during examinations); lecturers cannot teach and students are given quick notice to leave the campus.
The first ASUU strike was in 1999 and since then, universities have been on strike for a cumulative period of up to three years. Currently, Nigerian universities have been on an indefinite strike since March 2020. Strikes do not just disrupt the academic calendar but also destabilises students. Sometimes strikes happen in between exams, major projects or internships. During strikes, students also cannot take up jobs because they can be called back to school anytime. Academic strikes place students in a dilemma. When will they graduate? When should they accept a job offer or move on with their career? These all remain unknown or impossible.
But what would it be like if there were no strikes?
Two things are keeping university students in Nigeria out of school: ASUU strike and COVID pandemic. At the early stage of the pandemic, millions of students were shut out of school to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In August, however, Universities and other institutions including private universities in Nigeria resumed academic activities (including convocation) virtually. The strike could not allow Federal universities in Nigeria resume virtually but even without a strike, it would still be almost impossible. Federal universities do not have the facility and capacity to hold seamless classes virtually. From poor internet to unstable power to unreliable devices, virtual classes would be nightmares for both students and lecturers in Nigerian federal universities. Therefore, without an academic strike but with a COVID pandemic, students would still be stuck at home.
Technology hitches mean physical classes are our best bet but what does the physical environment of federal schools in Nigeria have to offer?
The government feared the resumption of schools in Nigeria during the COVID pandemic. Social distancing, regular washing of hands and basic rules to prevent COVID seemed impossible. An average class in a federal university has up to 200 students studying in a capacity meant for 100 students. Not to forget that this classroom barely has a roof, is barely furnished and of course in an unhygienic environment.
The situation of federal schools in Nigeria is only expected with government’s attitude towards the education sector. Over the years, budget allocation for education has been in the range of five per cent to ten per cent of the national budget. Particularly in 2020, only six per cent of the country’s annual budget was allocated to the education sector. This contends the international benchmark of 15% to 20% of the annual budget for education in developing countries.
The current state and government’s attitude towards education in Nigeria is pathetic. The present pandemic is indeed a reminder that truly, Nigeria has a wrecked education system.
Thanks to Alexander Opakunle for the assistance that helped to explain some of these arguments.