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E-learning: How COVID-19 is reshaping education in Nigeria

Nigerian Tribune logo Nigerian Tribune 2020-04-10 By Kehinde Oyetimi and Akin Adewakun

E-learning in Nigeria

E-learning in Nigeria
© Provided by Nigerian Tribune

With the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown of schools across countries, there has been a shift towards virtual classrooms as a mode of education delivery. Students are taught through electronic platforms. As of March 13, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics Data stated that over 421 million had been affected are affected due to school closures announced or implemented in 39 countries, including Nigeria. KEHINDE OYETIMI and AKIN ADEWAKUN report the many sides to how the pandemic is reshaping access to education in Nigeria.

When Greensprings School, one of the few British international schools in Nigeria, announced its decision to shut down due to the threat posed by Coronavirus, and moved all learning online for its students, effective from March 23 this year, not a few Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the nation’s academic space, were jolted by such decision.

Besides drawing the ire of the powers- that- be in the state, for taking a ’hasty’ decision to shut down without waiting for the state government’s instructions to that effect, the school, many argued, might be treading a road less travelled, since e-learning does not seem to enjoy much popularity in this part of the globe.

But the school’s Head of Admissions, Mrs. Oluranti Bankole, stood her ground, stating that learning would be done online. with the aid of virtual learning platforms, adding that the Wowbi Board for video conferencing had been activated to serve as the platforms for daily communication between students and teachers, and between parents and teachers.

Other schools, such as Berkely and Juilliard Schools and Chessington Montessori School, Agege and some tertiary institutions, especially the privately-owned, were to toe this ’virtual’ path later.

Perhaps, the biggest boost to e-learning came few days later through the Federal Government’s decision to shut down the nation’s educational institutions. One of the nation’s frontline institutions announced its decision to partner with the Lagos State government to equip and power educational institutions in the state with e-learning solutions and devices, as a way of minimising the effects of the COVID-19 -induced disruption on the state’s educational system.

Like Lagos, other states began to use the broadcasting corporations in their domains to connect students and teachers both in primary and secondary schools. Core subjects are being taught and transmitted via television and radio stations.

Teachers, students take learning to virtual classrooms

Unlike public universities that are currently on strike, privately-run tertiary institutions in the country have continued to engage their students and lecturers through virtual platforms.

Interestingly, for the nation’s age-long proponents of e-learning, COVID-19 provides an opportunity for the country to avail itself of a learning platform that could, conveniently, fill whatever void the inability of the nation’s students to converge under brick and mortal, must have created.

But not a few believe that the odds are much against the virtual education system in Nigeria. One of such arguments from this quarter is that the huge cost it would attract to make the nation’s educational processes virtual does not make it hold any attraction for whoever is thinking of exploring such.

For instance, the applications needed to prosecute that type of learning, they argue, is far beyond the reach of the common man, while the nation’s infrastructural deficit are also being cited as a major disincentive for such project.

They believe that while applications such as iSpringlearn, Noodle, Schoology, Skillshare, Memrise, 2tor and Mindflash would go a long way in aiding e-learning in the country, the cost of such applications might make such venture a mirage since the software are not developed locally.

Parents bemoan cost of e-learning platforms

“Besides, asking students to embark on e-learning at this period when many Nigerians are at home, and are not too sure of where the next meal would come from, is just plain insensitivity. Remember you need to power these things. This means that you must provide your own power; what about money for data? It’s quite tasking, especially at this period,” argued Mr. Sanya Alabi, a parent of one of the students, presently attending e-learning course from home, but who would not want the institution’s name in press.

He argued that the cost of accessing internet still remains very high in West Africa, as high as $8 per kilobytes per second, while it costs about $0.52 in North Africa and even less in Europe.

“So, if you are preaching e-learning, because it is being done successfully in other climes, you have to take into consideration the country’s peculiar circumstances,” he added.

Another parent, Mr. Justin Obi, whose children are in private schools, argued that while the e-learning platforms are good, the cost is benumbing.

“My daughter is in a private secondary school while her brother is in private university. Every day I am under pressure to buy data and fuel the generator whenever they are having their classes. But it is expensive,” he said.

Educationists see e-learning as leading to surprising innovations

But an educationist and e-learning expert, Professor Abiola Awosika, believes factors enumerated above should not be enough for the Federal Government to throw away the baby with the bath water after the covid-19 era.

The Olawoyin Awosika School of Innovative Studies’ rector would rather see the crisis as providing the opportunity for players in the nation’s academic space to up their game.

Professor Awosika said: “We are hoping this would change the face of our educational system for the better. That is why we’ve been using every opportunity to speak with the powers- that- be. We speak to people that care to listen that that is the direction the world is going.

“COVID-19 has shown us now that even if we are going to have brick and mortar classrooms, it doesn’t hurt to have e-learning, because a lot of universities that had e-learning before, it was easier for them to quickly plan online platforms for their brick and mortar lecturers, more than those without e-learning. I’ve been preaching this for the past 12 years that e-learning is the way to go.

“It can’t be business as usual any more. What I’m hoping for is that COVID-19 will not go and then we go back and rest on our oars. I’m hoping this is a chance for us as Nigerians to change the face of our education forever, and join the rest of the world in this online education business. For instance, Indira Gandhi University, a distance education institution, alone, has over four million students, while we have far less than that number being denied admission here, not because they are not doing well, but because they are not getting their preferred courses. We can’t have enough universities to accommodate everybody that needs university education. That is the fact.”

Though the professor of entrepreneurship agrees there are stumbling blocks to e-learning in Nigeria, she however believes such hindrances are surmountable.

Sharing similar opinion, Dr. Laosebikan Adeoju, an education expert based in Abuja, stated that “Our education sector will never remain the same after the coronavirus pandemic. But the cost of internet connectivity must be addressed if e-learning must be appreciated.

“Aside from this, we must come to the realisation that it is high time we encouraged the acquisition of online degrees. Learning through electronic applications is safer and can be done on one’s convenience.”

Speaking further, Professor Awosika expressed the belief that the nation’s public universities seem unprepared for such a venture since most of their faculties lack the requisite infrastructure.

She also argued that while infrastructure could pose a major challenge to e-learning in the country, she however believes that such infrastructural deficit should not be enough to stop virtual learning.

“We should give attention to things that we already have, that are free. Besides, despite the fact that some of the Learning Management Systems are expensive, there are cheaper versions that we can employ to make things happen,” she said.

Mr Akinleye Akinyemi, a software developer and Chief Executive Officer, Doorstep Technologies, believes Nigeria stands to gain from e-learning, if encouraged.

According to him, all that is required is for the lecture notes to be in the electronic format to make it accessible online. He argued that e-learning which could be in different forms, such as video telecast, lecture streaming and others, could also be very expensive, going by the income of the average Nigerian household.

“The fact remains that it is the way. But it is unfortunate that government is not encouraging this type of initiative. For instance, your e-learning could come in form of video telecast, as long as you have internet connectivity in your house, just like you do streaming and others. You can equally do streaming of lectures, while those lectures can be prepared into videos to be played anywhere.

“But because of the level of infrastructure and the cost of data, some parents may find this very expensive. They may not be able to afford this, especially if some of those lectures are going to be interactive, and may involve videography. To download such materials alone could be quite expensive; since it would require a sizable amount of data,” he stated.

He also attributed the high cost of some e-learning applications to the fact that the users opted to look beyond the shores of the country, arguing that if developed locally, it would drive down cost and brighten the hope of getting e-learning entrenched in the nation’s educational system.

Melvin Udosen, a web-designer, believes the country stands to gain from e-learning, if encouraged. He expressed dismay that it took the advent of COVID-19 for Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the nation’s academic space to begin to look at the direction of e-learning.

He, however, argued that for e-learning to be effective, there is the need for government and internet service providers to collaborate in order to solve some challenges associated with internet connectivity.

“I believe government should enter into a dialogue with these internet service providers, with the aim of driving the cost of data down. There is no way e-learning can be effective without effective internet connectivity. Access to data is key in e-learning. It would not even be out of place if the government decides to subsidise the amount charged on data, since that is the only way to enjoy the inherent benefits of e-learning,” he stated.

Udosen also argued that while software for e-learning, such as: Blackboard Learn, Canvas, Moodle, CertCentral and others can be said to be expensive, a lot of ICT companies in Nigeria have started developing theirs to sell to some schools in the country.

Without doubt, COVID-19 has again brought up the desirability or otherwise of e-learning in the country. But whether the issue will still remain topical after the country must have successfully battled the coronavirus pandemic remains a puzzle that will take some time to unravel.

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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