Unsure of how soon the Corona Virus pandemic will end, Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu has directed vice-chancellors, rectors and provosts to reopen using virtual learning. But experts have argued that the nation’s education sector is not prepared for such, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL
Worried about the continued closure of the nation’s higher educational institutions over the CoronaVirus pandemic, minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu has directed school administrators to switch to online learning. Unsure of how soon the COVID-19 will end, Adamu has opened talks with vice-chancellors, rectors and provosts on how to reopen using virtual learning.
He directed all universities, polytechnics and colleges of education to activate virtual learning environment to enable students continue their studies through digital devices. He said although the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike, the government will do its best to resolve the labour crisis.
Most vice-chancellors of private universities embraced the idea and expressed readiness to reopen because they claimed that they have top grade virtual learning system. Adamu, who had a teleconference with the vice -chancellors and other heads of tertiary institutions from his home in Abuja, said the Federal Government, cannot afford to shut schools for a long time.
But while stakeholders described the call as laudable, they however expressed mixed feelings on the possibility of switching to virtual learning, particularly the conventional institutions.
For ASUU, government’s failure to adequately fund the sector over the years will make online learning impossible. A former chairman of ASUU, University of Ibadan (UI) branch, Prof Deji Omole who described our leaders as “millennium jesters”, said if government had adequately fund the sector, switching to online learning would not have been a problem.
“We have been struggling all these while that they should make certain facilities available for teaching and learning, and they have refused, this is one of the reasons why ASUU is on strike, suddenly they now realised that we can no longer move forward without those things, is that not self-indictment? Who is going to be responsible for the e-learning? Is it the students or the lecturers if those facilities are not there?
“Education is a very serious investment and we learnt that some of them sent their children abroad to study, they should be honest enough to ask them when they come back the qualities, standard of equipment and infrastructures put in place there for conducive learning. We are far away from the reality that was why I said they are millennium jokers. How would they facilitate the e-learning? Did they assume its Whatssap message? What is not on ground, how do you now deploy them at this critical period? Besides the fact that the union is on strike, even if the union is not on strike, how do you deploy that? You would know how much as an individual you spend on internet every month, where will the students get money? What is not on ground you cannot use it. Those are the things we were talking about.
Omole added, “Government must consciously release money for such facilities to be put on ground, in so many institutions presently, academic staff use yahoo, gmail and others, infact at a particular time of the day, you cannot even access your mail. It is a serious matter. In some instances, you would see students, about 20 of them clustering in one place because they said signal there is better, government must be ready to fund education, there is no alternative to it.
Similarly, former vice chancellor, Caleb University, Imota, Prof Ayodeji Olukoju said there is no Nigerian university that has the requisite infrastructure to quickly switch over to online teaching. Olukoju, a distinguished professor at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) said the average Nigerian university is structured to teach on the conventional platform and distance learning is not as developed as we would have loved.
“We can talk of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), or the distance learning institute at UNILAG or its counterpart at UI but unlike South Africa’s UNITA, which is very efficient, we haven’t got to that level here because of the infrastructure required-online facilities, human resource that is, the technical people that can handle it and then the trained lecturers that can operate on that platform. So to the extent that we don’t have such structures, the physical and the pedagogical on ground, it becomes problematic, we cannot switch over overnight.”
Prof Olukoju however stated that government could work towards it, as a future plan as online learning is not practicable at the moment. “For any university that wants to switch to virtual learning, apart from the physical structure having a central location, where those things can be coordinated on their campuses, we also need to be sure that the students at the other end have power supply and laptop to connect with their institutions.
“I do not see any prospect in an immediate compliance with the directive of the minister because our system is structured in such a way that online teaching is not integral to our system of learning and instruction in Nigeria, its not going to be feasible in the short run but it can be something to take away from this pandemic.
“Over the next three to six months, we can assemble experts from different sectors and deliberate on what we can do should this kind of pandemic recall. What infrastructures must be in place, how much should it cost, how do we train the technical people, our lecturers who would handle the teaching, how then do we train our students to key into the whole process? Those are the things we need to consider and all stakeholders must be involved.
Former vice-chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Prof Adebayo Adeyemi however said online learning is achievable when considered on short, medium and long term basis.
However, he said the minister’s directive is coming at an awkward time when academic, technical and administrative staffs are not on ground due to the present lockdown, which would make it difficult to assemble and train the relevant staff.
The former vice-chancellor said a fire brigade approach would definitely be counterproductive, as he stressed the need for adequate training and preparation for the implementation of the directive.
My stand is that you have to start from somewhere. Who knows, this may be one of the long-term benefits of the present Corona Virus pandemic inspite of its devastating consequences. I believe we should look inward, not only within the education sector but in all sectors and come up with strategies for the adaptation and application of technology for improved service delivery.
While the solid structure may not be fully in place, Prof Adeyemi said the institutions can still fall back on the structure in place, no matter how weak it may be.
He said, “One shouldn’t forget the fact that most institutions, especially universities, are currently running the open and distance learning (ODL) centre successfully in the last couple of years, which partly relies on virtual learning. Furthermore, some institutions in the last couple of years have been investing in the procurement of some needed facilities in the operation of these centres. One of the major challenges is fund availability for the procurement of the required equipment and facilities on a much larger scale than for the ODL centre.
“One only hopes that management of our various institutions should see the directive as a challenge and should go to the drawing board and develop the strategic plan for implementation including the cost implication and personnel training. To me the latter, personnel training wouldn’t be a major challenge as some if not most of our younger lecturers can be considered as ‘digital natives’ who could be trained within a short period of time.
On the challenges the institutions may face in the switch to virtual learning, Prof Adeyemi said, “Regular power supply is a major prerequisite for successful operation of e-learning platforms, which private universities do invest in; Furthermore, evidence of applications of technology, relatively comparable to practices in institutions in developed countries, for service delivery are usually points of attraction to students and their parents. Low student enrollment in private institutions is a key point compared to public institutions with significantly higher number and inadequate, poor and at times obsolete facilities due to underfunding.”
For Prof Abel Olayinka, UI vice-chancellor, the institution has been putting measures in place to ensure that its students are no left behind.
“The University of Ibadan has just implemented the result management system (RMS) during the 2018/2019 session and Senate has been duly informed that the next logical step is the learning management system, which will require that we upgrade our IT infrastructure through additional investment in human capacity development and physical facilities.
The university is a dual mode institution to the extent that we have 16 of our programmes approved for distance learning under our highly regarded distance learning centre (DLC). These will form the low hanging fruit for the implementation of e-learning for the regular students in UI.
Prof Olayinka disclosed that the institution is participating in the pedagogical leadership for Africa (PEDAL) project led by the partnership for African social governance research (PASGR), Nairobi, Kenya with funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), UK aimed at revolutionising the teaching narrative as a major integral part of the project is technology-enhanced teaching and learning.
Already, the VC said the management has held a number of virtual meetings with the agendum being the deployment of the LMS. “The DLC study texts will be uploaded on the LMS as soon as we receive them because content development and upgrading of same is critical to the successful deployment of e-learning.
“We have started to identify the crop of colleagues to train on the use of the LMS across faculties as soon as normalcy returns. The students are digital natives and they are very comfortable with digital learning skills and tools whether on their cell phones or iPad or laptops. The cost of internet bandwidth may however still be a major limitation for some of them.
In conclusion, e-learning and applications of technology in all the segments of the Nigeria’s education system is sine qua non to achieve the desired goals of making our system comparable to global practices.
It is imperative therefore for governments at all levels ( for public schools and institutions) and proprietors of private schools and institutions to provide the required funds to achieve the long term goals of qualitative education.