COVID-19: FG, telcos urged to provide free internet for pupils

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To bridge substantial inequities in the education sector for primary and secondary school pupils in Nigeria, telecommunication operators in Africa’s most populous nation have been urged to provide free internet access to aid virtual learning amid the coronavirus lockdown on schools.

Speaking in a statement made available to The Guardian, a leading tech entrepreneur, Joel Popoola, said this is the best period for telecoms operators to make learning easy for pupils by providing free internet access on learning resources.

Popoola, who said that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools globally to switch to online learning, lamented that millions of children in Nigeria have been left behind because they have no access to remote-learning, adding that telecoms operators should urgently bridge the digital divide.

The Federal Ministry of Education announced the shutdown of all schools in Nigeria from March 23 and subsequently launched free e-learning portals for all students in primary and secondary schools following the closure.

Popoola, the creator of the leading Digital Democracy Project – Rate Your Leader app, said Nigeria’s already appalling position as “the headquarters of the world’s out-of-school children” may exacerbate during and after the school lockdown except the government and telecoms operators come to the aid of the disadvantaged youngsters.

“No doubt, the coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected all aspects of humanity. But it is disheartening that the educational system in Nigeria has been worst hit and children from poor families are bearing the brunt of what can be largely fixed,” he said.

“The pandemic is widening educational gaps and indigent students are now being disadvantaged. Wealthier Nigerian families have access to the internet, and schools in affluent areas enjoy a seamless right of entry to educational resources.

“On the contrary, we have millions who can’t receive home lessons and follow the government’s learning portal because they don’t have means of purchasing data to access the internet.”

While commending states like Lagos, Ogun, Kwara, and others for airing school lessons on radio and television, he, however, said inadequate resources for deployment to under-served communities remain a challenge.

The digital democracy campaigner averred further that: “That is why we’re pleading with the Minister of Communication, Dr Isa Patami, to compel both indigenous and non-indigenous telecommunication providers to play their part, support millions of helpless children and their parents, think creatively and ensure the digital-divide is breached at this unprecedented time.

“We are not oblivious of the fact that some of these telecoms companies have donated one way or the other to government during the COVID-19 pandemic, but our call for such creative support from the firms is to make a contribution to support the most vulnerable and the poorest during this time and this will lift the society especially in rural communities.”

Popoola submitted further that: “These children are the hope of this country and they can’t be left struggling at this time. I’m calling on the telecommunication providers in Nigeria to make it easier for families to access selected educational resources by temporarily exempting these sites from data charges.

He added: “There’s no better time for Nigerians to call on our telecommunication giants to support children across the country with free access to educational materials. This is an unprecedented time across the world and different counties have responded in different ways based on their peculiarity.”

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