How to address learning gaps as schools resume


After four months of closure, some exit class pupils will resume next week. The problem of learning gaps created by the long absence from the classroom is one issue educators have to address. KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE asks how this can be achieved.

Schools are reopening in Nigeria next week for SS3 pupils – rekindling hopes that other classes will follow suit soon.

One thing educators would have to deal with when in-person classes resume is learning gaps. Schools have been shut since March 23 – for over four months. The time lost is equivalent to one full term – the third term of the 2019/2020 academic session.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimates that 1,184,126,508 (representing 67.6 per cent of learners in 143 countries) were affected by school closures.

Researchers are concerned about learning losses during the period. Though governments, private sector education providers and various organisations scrambled to provide platforms for continued learning while children were holed up at home, researchers say inequality of access to quality education caused by socio-economic and other factors would result in learning gaps that educators must deal with when schools resume. While children from rich homes may have enjoyed access to e-learning resources or had private tutors, those from disadvantaged backgrounds could not boast of same.

Writing for The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organisation based in Washington, DC, Michelle Kaffenberger, a Research Fellow with the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme, United Kingdom. said learning losses could be as much as one year’s worth of learning in low and middle-income countries.

She said: “Using the model to introduce a shock, it shows that children in low- and middle-income countries could lose more than a full year’s worth of learning even from a three-month school closure because the losses continue to compound after children return to school.”

According to UNESCO, once safety issues, which have been the preoccupation of government about reopening schools, are addressed, the next focus would be to assess learning gaps and help children recover and learn.

“After safety, there must be a focus on the learning recovery process – from assessing learning outcomes during school closures, ensuring their socio-emotional well-being and taking measures to address disparities through remedial approaches. Support to teachers and their professional development will be essential to success.

“School reopening during this global crisis is not a return to normal. We must do things not only differently, but better. Just as the most marginalised students were most at risk of being left behind by distance learning modalities, they must be the priority of any back-to-school strategy. Schools have to proactively bring them back and provide support,” UNESCO noted on its website.

Dr. Kaffenberger said properly planned remedial programmes that combine adapting school work with children’s learning levels could help close such learning gaps.

She said: “I model such a scenario, in which ’emergency’ remediation is combined with ongoing adaptation of instruction to children’s learning levels. This scenario both fully mitigates the long-term learning losses from the school closures and provides children with a full year’s more learning than if there had been no shock.”

The remediation entails adapting the teacher’s pedagogical practice to the child’s learning needs while ensuring they achieve essential skills.

On her part, Proprietor of Woodentots School, Lekki, Mrs. Yinka Awobo-Pearse, said when schools resume, there is need to focus on skills rather than trying to cover all that has been missed.

She said the strategy is particularly necessary for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who may have missed out on learning.

“The first thing is that the third term is gone. We will not be having a third term. One of the things we should do is that we should focus on certain skills. For instance children that are going to primary one, what are the skills that we are concerned about them having? Reading and writing abilities; and able to do maths to a certain level.  So instead of you trying to teach them everything they should have known in the third term, when they get to school, focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.  So you focus on just specifics.

“Now, we do not know the time that we will resume; but whatever date that is, the planning has to start now.  When they resume, the first month should be used to bring these children up to those skills.  But there has to be a concerted effort to determine what these skills are.  We know what we should do but there is still a lot to be done.  If I do that, I am in MeadowHall; I can put my staff to work and do that.  What happens to the children in government schools? Who is developing this kind of programme for them?

“UK has said they would teach everything in September and October and would only start the programme for the next year in November. But the other document I saw was that you focus on certain skills,” she said.

Underscoring the importance of mental well-being, proprietor of Le Poshe School, Ikoyi, Mrs. Ronke Adeniyi, said the assessment of pupils should be gradual and also include their mental and emotional well-being.

“Before learning gaps, they need to figure out mental and emotional well-being of the children. What has the government mandated? As they are resuming, SS3 are going to sit for exams. They are going to use two weeks to prepare for a period of four months; it is not possible.  They would have forgotten what they learnt; it has been such a long time.  They need to do mini assessments for them – test them. Nothing really rigorous to scare them – just short tests, quizzes; have conversations with them.  Try and find out what their challenges are so they can figure out those gaps,” she said.

Mrs. Adeniyi believes pupils in her school would not have learning gaps as the school carried along all learnings during the lockdown.

“We do not have any learning gaps. We were online. We did graduation. Those ones that were not following up, we were picking them up as we were going along.  Just like when school is over, when classes were over, the teacher would do Zoom meeting with only that child.  So, it is different for us.  If the teacher sees that maybe he did not do well in tests, or when they were teaching the child did not understand, if everyone had gone, they would book your own time and then you would do like extra lessons so it worked for us,” she said.

On his part, Chairman of Mind Builders School, Ikeja, said he did not expect there would be learning gaps when the school resumed because the school followed up on 75 per cent of learners who participated in its online classes.  For the examination class, he said all the pupils participated in revision classes for the past one month.

To cover for lost ground when schools resume, Mrs. Adeniyi said the term may need to be extended.

“It would be accelerated learning for the children.  For some of them it may be very challenging but some will be fine.  Again, will the school days be extended for them to catch up on this?  It depends on how each school restructures it.  They should have what is important that they should do and mix it into the new term.  If I were in that situation, I would say may school would close one hour later; but schools are supposed to close earlier so maybe the term would be longer and we resume earlier than usual in January,” she said.

Ahead of resumption, the Lagos State Ministry of Education organised a training for teachers of its public schools to prepare them to effectively teach children who have been out of the classroom for so long.

The Lagos State Education Commissioner, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, said the training which had as theme: “Mitigating Strategies against Erosion in the Education Sector” took into consideration the challenges the pupils may have faced during the forced holidays.

In managing their pupils when they return to the classroom, Mrs. Adefisayo counselled teachers to consider the challenges they may have faced during the long stay from school.

In managing their pupils when they return to the classroom, Mrs. Adefisayo counseled the teachers to consider the challenges they may have faced during the long stay from school and show them love as some of them may have experienced hunger, sexual abuse, domestic violence, emotional, among others.

Apart from learning gaps, when school resumes, teachers may find that they need to expend more energy than thought getting pupils to comply with social distancing rules.

This has been the experience of a Civic Education teacher in a public secondary school in Ibadan, Oyo State, who said the pupils do not believe COVID-19 is real.  Oyo State reopened schools for terminal classes on July 6.

“We are trying to do our best but the children don’t believe there is COVID – maybe it is from their homes.  We are just shouting; making our own to make sure they maintain social distance.  We try to make sure that their seating is separate. But they still come together to gist.  The week we resumed, they would see themselves; they would shout; try to hug each other.  They would leave their seats.  We tried to manage them but they still come together,” she said.

Regarding learning gaps, the teacher said the pupils did not miss much.

“They did not really miss too much. It is only like a month or more than a month.  July is the examination period.  They were already in revision session before schools closed,” she said.



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