By Uche Nworah
The world as we know it has changed, and many will argue that the change is forever. The changes have been forced on humanity by the dreaded disease known as Covid-19. Though the disease originated from Wuhan, China, its devastating and deadly effect has been felt in almost all the countries of the world, including Nigeria.
Humanity is facing an existential crisis that has tasked people and operators in many social and economic sectors to think of new ways of staying alive, and doing things.
In Anambra State, the forced school closure has led to the introduction of Anambra Teaching On Air, a collaborative and innovative blended learning programme pioneered by Anambra State Ministry of Basic Education and Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS). The novel teaching programme targets pupils and students in Primary, Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary Schools.
Lessons are delivered on air at advertised times, three hours daily every week day. One hour each is allocated to the three compulsory school categories. Anambra State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB), the Post-Primary Schools Services Commission (PPSSC) and the Ministry of Basic Education, team up to select and nominate the teachers who are selected from the various education zones in the state.
Being their first time of teaching on air to a global audience, the selected teachers are groomed and coached before appearing.
For the teachers, this whole new experience has been encouraging and motivating. They are enjoying the limelight and have thus improved on their craft. It is no longer a case of teaching an obscure class in a remote village in, for example, Ayamelum Local Government. They are now teaching a global audience comprising teachers, parents and other stakeholders.
The exciting thing about Anambra Teaching on Air programme is that it is delivered across multiple platforms. It is broadcast live simultaneously on ABS 88.5FM, Awka and ABS 90.7FM, Onitsha. The teaching is also streamed live at the same time on Anambra Broadcasting Service Facebook page where the teachers receive instant feedback through comments viewers make or questions they ask. Each lesson is recorded both on audio and video. The video is subsequently edited and broadcast on ABS TV Channel 24 Awka, and ABS TV Channel 27 Onitsha at designated times which are advertised and promoted alongside the live radio and Facebook broadcasts, through e-fliers and so on. The recorded video is also uploaded on ABS Youtube channel (@ABSTelevisionAwka) for students to view or download. Finally, the recorded audio is uploaded as podcast for listening or download on absradiotv.com/podcast. This means that the pupil, student or any other interested person can access the daily lessons through each of these many ABS platforms.
It has been observed that the audience are not only based in Anambra but all over the world. This observation also applies to the question and answer sessions, which the teachers allow towards the end of each lesson through a live phone-in process. While we cannot estimate the number of listeners on the live radio lessons, viewership of the live Facebook streaming runs into thousands. This is quite encouraging as ordinarily, the teacher will be teaching only 20 to 30 pupils and students per class in their various schools. This ticks the wider participation box many have advocated for education in Nigeria.
There is evidence also through comments on the ABS Facebook page, and during phone-in sessions of how Anambra Teaching on Air is helping to bring communities together. For example, a visitor to Ebenebe in Awka North Local Government Area, commented on how he met a bunch of students huddled together with notes and pens at the village square listening to Anambra Teaching on Air over a communally provided radio set powered by batteries. This suggests also that the students are being usefully engaged during the lockdown period.
However, the support of parents and guardians are required to ensure that they are monitoring their wards and children during the lesson times. This will ensure that they are not only tuning in, but are also paying attention and participating actively, by copying notes, asking questions and completing tutor assignments which are given at the end of each lesson.
Some adults have called-in as well during the question and answer sessions to seek clarification on certain themes after a session. This suggests therefore that adults are also benefiting from the lessons. We have received comments on Facebook from a parent living in faraway America, thanking the organisers for the Igbo lessons. The individual said she tuned in regularly with her American-born children to the Igbo lessons as this helps her children improve on their mastery of the language.
Dr Chigozie Samuel Izuegbu, a secondary school teacher who is one of the selected teachers on the Anambra Teaching on Air programme, shares his experience after one of the lessons thus:
'Today's experience on Anambra Teaching on Air has kept me so busy since I left the studio. The innovation of calling out the teacher's WhatsApp number has opened another platform for students to learn. As soon as the number was called, I started from the studio to respond to the students as some of them called directly to ask questions which I couldn't attend to on air because of time. It became a fulfilling moment for me as each showed a sign of happiness after I attended to their questions, including a student from Enugu State.
'I gave assignments at the end of the lesson and instructed that they should forward their answers within two hours. To my surprise, within the timeframe, some students submitted theirs. This moved me into creating a Whatsapp group for them where I gave general corrections. Some of them equally were asking different questions in the subject area. I think this is a good idea.
'I felt for two students who called telling me they would forward the assignments through Short Message Service (SMS) because they were not on WhatsApp, meaning that they didn't have smart phones.'
Unfortunately, this and some other challenges, including access to the internet, non-availability of regular power supply during the live broadcasts have been observed. Many have complained that families are hungry and the students too due to the forced lockdown and this affects some of the students' concentration and participation. These challenges have all been noted by the Ministry of Basic Education and its partners, but it must be said that solutions to some of the challenges may not be immediate and may actually be beyond the control of the organizers.
We can see from Dr. Izuegbu's observation that Covid-19, though a major challenge, is creatively being turned into a huge opportunity. In this case, we can see new pathways for teaching and supporting students, and also reaching greater numbers of learners. It is surely an idea worth taking forward into the future post-Covid-19.
As our world of work is changing and people are considering Working-From-Home (WFH) and other emerging work practices, Schooling-from-Home (SFH) using adaptive technology and media, should also be thrown into the mix.
Thankfully, the Anambra State Commissioner for Basic Education, Professor Kate Omenugha, says that the ministry is considering all the options, comments and feedback, and will consider other measures which will be introduced as time goes on. She praised the fantastic support provided by the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, especially in the area of resourcing and advice. She also praises the teachers, the students and all other relevant stakeholders that have teamed up to make Anambra Teaching on Air a success.
Corporate organisations, the Federal Ministry of Education, Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and other education funders, should consider supporting the states financially to sustain this.
It is not surprising that during a live briefing on Channels Television on Friday, 24th April, 2020, by members of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, was asked what the Federal Ministry of Education was doing for schools and students to bridge the learning gap during the forced Covid-19 sit-at-home. The Minister used Anambra Teaching On Air run on Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) as an example. This was live on national TV.
As the world prays and hopes that it will conquer the challenges posed by Covid-19 soon, and as experts develop different models and approaches to gradually easing the lockdown orders in place, the triumph of the human spirit, application of creativity and ingenuity in our different socio-economic sectors, point the way to hope.
Chief Uche Nworah is Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS). firstname.lastname@example.org.