Going to a school and spending time with teachers and peers is an opportunity that cannot be replicated by virtual learning or home schooling. This is an opportunity learners will have missed for six months when schools reopen in September.
Although academic progress can be achieved through virtual learning, the school-based education not only provides excellent structures and discipline necessary for effective teaching and learning, but also, more importantly, supports character formation.
The peer interaction provides an informal curriculum for learning some important 21st Century skills such as communication, collaboration, problem solving and even citizenry. Virtues like respect and tolerance are developed and perfected. Such school cultures are a microcosm around which a natural culture is formed.
When learners interact with the teachers, they get an opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes from a mentor, coach and guide through personalised human interactions. The resulting bond lasts a lifetime.
Assessments by teachers inform learners’ mastery of content, thereby shaping and guiding the entire process of learning. This evaluation tends to be more trusted and impactful. Teachers have the most powerful Pygmalion effect on the learners — they set high expectations and, hence, cause high achievements.
In addition to academic support, school provides a psychological framework for the development of emotional intelligence and self-discipline and, most importantly, are a safety net for students from all forms of vices and abuse.
While the government’s effort to provide digital and broadcast learning to students while they are at home can support academic progression, it may not replicate the informal learning opportunities, security and assurance that a conventional school environment affords to learners.
Prolonged absence from school can affect, positively or negatively, the emotional and physical well-being of the learners. Those from marginalised and poor backgrounds are most vulnerable. Some of the negative effects can decimate livelihoods or affect an entire generation.
Safety of children is a primary pillar for learning. The school environment is a secure and well-developed ecosystem of holistic growth. Like the cocoon of a pupa, it protects learners from abuse and violence and vices typical of any developing heterogeneous society.
Pupils face dangers such as neglect, physical abuse, child labour, child trafficking and sexual molestation. Girls particularly suffer sexual abuse, early pregnancy, early marriage and female genital cutting. These can keep children away from school, reversing the recent gains made in ensuring access and 100 per cent transition in basic education.
The government’s efforts to ensure safety for learning to resume cannot be sufficient and so all stakeholders in education have the responsibility to ensure that no child is left behind when schools reopen. It’s not only a moral imperative; it’s in our interest as parents, guardians, community and leaders.
We must all pull together as one to deliver our divine duty to the future leaders of this country through quality learning while ensuring their safety.
Ms Bonaya is Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), Ministry of Education. [email protected] @muminabonaya