By Joel Popoola
Data is a luxury many families cannot afford but education is a necessity for Nigeria.
Telecommunications firms must make exempt educational resources from data charges.
The Nigerian government has announced that schools will reopen in the next phase of easing the Covid-19 lockdown.
But for many children, nothing will change.
According to the United Nations, 10.5 million of our 5 to 14 year-old are not in school.
One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is a Nigerian.
And that was before COVID-19.
These figures shame us.
It must be acknowledged that no other nation faces the challenges we do when it comes to tackling this problem.
In some areas, economic barriers – the need for children to work to support their families – make education financially impossible for families. In others, school attendance is actively discouraged, especially for girls. In others, there is the impact of insurgencies which, according to the United Nations, have destroyed almost 500 classrooms and left another 1400 badly damaged.
But we can go some of the way to addressing the educational impact of these vast challenges with technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic is turning existing educational gaps into gulfs, but it is also revolutionising digital and online education across the world, as lessons move online.
But in Nigeria, many homes are not equipped to adapt to these new methods of learning.
This can mean that children who currently can’t keep up with their peers may never catch up. This in turn means that Nigeria will continue to feel the effects of the coronavirus for long after the pandemic is over.
Long term, we need to ensure our children benefit from an education worth having, one which young people are prepared for the workplace of the future, whether that means embedding basic digital skills in every area of the curriculum, and putting higher level digital expertise at the heart of our national skills ambitions.
But we need to take action now to ensure children already lagging are not left behind and forgotten forever by the current crisis.
That means telecommunication firms must exempt educational resources from data charges.
Hardware is not the problem. Within four years, roughly two-thirds of Nigerians will use a smartphone. But while wealthier Nigerian families have reliable and affordable access to the internet, millions of Nigerians cannot receive home lessons as they cannot afford to buy enough data to access the internet.
It is within Nigeria’s grasp to become Africa’s first truly digital democracy, starting with universal broadband. But that takes time and money. And we need action now. This is why telecommunication firms must exempt educational resources from data charges
If not, Nigeria risks a lost generation of students, at a time we can least afford it.
People before Profit!
As founder of the Digital Democracy campaign, I know the impact digital connectivity can have when it comes to improving our political system.
Our free Rate Your Leader app is designed to allow registered voters to directly contact their local politicians – building trust, transparency and accountability, and allowing a two-way flow of information which educates and benefits both parties. All of this is done with the touch of a smartphone button from the comfort of the home.
We can use the same process for education, connecting teachers with students who cannot leave their homes due to the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, cultural practices or conflict, and safely and effectively giving children the learning resources to build a better future for themselves and for our nation.
But that needs data. Data is a luxury many families cannot afford. Education is a necessity Nigeria cannot progress without.
As a matter of urgency, the Federal Government through the Communications Ministry, headed by Dr. Isa Patami, and the Nigeria Communication Commission under the leadership of Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, should encourage both indigenous and non-indigenous telecommunication providers to play their part to help millions of Nigerian children cross the digital divide and to kickstart our economic recovery. If they do not, the relevant authorities as already itemised above, should consider compelling them to.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, the continent’s largest producer of oil and will have a bigger population than America within 30 years – and yet 40% of us live in poverty.
This will never change unless we equip the next generation to face the challenges, and seize the opportunities of the twenty-first century.
With one simple action, our telecommunications firms can put us on the path to achieving that today.
Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and is the creator of the free Rate Your Leader app. You can reach Joel on +447920178732, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JOPopoola