Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in December 2019, countries in the world have continually adapted to forced changes brought on by the pandemic.
Already spread to over 180 countries, the mode of transmission of the disease has compelled tertiary institutions in many affected countries to shut down physical classes, switching to online.
However, in some parts of the globe, Nigeria inclusive, learning has no online switch option, instead it stopped abruptly.
Having recorded its first case on February 28, the Nigerian government, three weeks later, ordered closure of all public gatherings including schools – from primary schools to tertiary institutions – to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
“As part of the measures to contain and prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the country, approval has been granted for the closure of all schools,” Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) deputy executive secretary, Suleiman-Ramon Yusuf, noted in a circular on March 20.
In some other countries, including South Africa, similar measures were also taken but the institutions quickly switched their classes online.
For instance, at least a dozen colleges and universities across the United States have switched to teaching their courses online following COVID-19. This is also the case in many universities across Europe, North America and China.
In Nigeria, however, learning will stop for the next few weeks, most likely months, depending on containment of the disease.
Apart from The Technical University (Tech-U) Ibadan, that announced that its students will continue to take lectures and assignments online during the forced break, most other Nigerian tertiary institutions are not currently delivering online classes to students.
Some education and technology experts who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES identified the key challenges in making this switch while providing viable recommendations.
It’s also about infrastructure, mindset – VCs, Provost
The Vice Chancellor of Technical University, Ibadan, Ayobami Salami, said it is important that Nigerian tertiary institutions invest in technology to meet up with the challenge.
“We cannot be talking about industrial revolution if we don’t invest. By now, we should be able to deploy our learning management system in such a way that students can learn from home. Let’s not forget that the clock does not stop ticking… why then should learning stop because of pandemic?
“By the time the pandemic stops, we are coming back to where we stopped whereas foreign institutions have gone to achieve the necessary.
“It is not magic, we must put a lot of machinery into place. We need to create an enabling environment within our tertiary institutions, the same phone used by students and lecturers will simply serve this function. Because the environment has not been created, students don’t see the need to use their phone beyond social media activities.
“We all need the orientation of instructors. In the first technical university in Nigeria where I work, when you come in, regardless of your position, you have to be trained on how to use our learning management system. We now take learning online and others can key into that as well.”
Mr Salami said the pandemic is a wakeup call for the Nigerian education institutions to catch up with the rest of the world. “We must make more resources available for technological development,” he said.
The Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Idowu Olayinka, told PREMIUM TIMES that distance learning options considered by institutions meet up with international standards, saying no lockdown should affect students’ learning.
He emphasised on the need for training and change of mindset on the part of lecturers.
“We need to invest in infrastructure- perhaps lectures will be delivered through Skype or teleconferences. Lecturers can even upload notes online and students will download for assignment.
“It requires training and retraining the lecturers to be more familiar with technology. Some professors are ‘computer immigrants’, so they need to be updated so that in this period of pandemic like this, a lot can still be achieved in our schools,” he said.
The Provost of College of Health Sciences in University of Ilorin, Olanrewaju Adedoyin, thinks Nigerian lecturers are in a good position to deliver on this if a conducive environment and trainings are made possible. One of those, he said, is reliable internet.
“Before we can carry out good distance learning, you must have a good internet architecture. While the lecturers give lectures, students should also be able to access good internet and possibly communicate with their teachers through Skype. But do we have that in our universities? In the absence of that, it will just be a daydream.
“Whether you like it or not, it is affecting the ranking of Nigerian universities by the international communities. You cannot even access details of some universities online. The NUC and the university autonomy should be able to back that.
“Knowledge must be provided through all means. The universities just need to key into the mandate they have been given and provide access to knowledge dissemination. There was a time we were using chalk and blackboard, later we moved to marker and white board, and now many institutions are now using PowerPoint. They are all production of training and an enabling environment.”
Remi Sonaiya, a professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University and a former presidential candidate, told this newspaper that “it boils down to accountability as many institutions continue to run the analog mode method of operation”.
“We need to keep up with the development in the education sector,” she said.
ICT experts weigh in
Some ICT experts, with experience working with the educational sector, noted that deficiencies on the part of academic tutors was a major challenge.
Babafunsho Sonaiya, a professor and former Director of OAU Distance Learning, said there must be legislation, mobilisation and regulations to achieve a viable distance learning system.
“The regulation must be that every lecturer must have their lecture notes online and all of the exercises such as tests and assignments. If we get all this done, a lockdown for two weeks will not be a problem. I was handling a course in my department at a time when I was to travel out. I gave them access to a website where they can download my note and also gave them tests.”
“The institutions must make sure they have a section on their portal where students can get necessary materials and it should be done in such a way that the notes can be downloaded and read on students’ devices,” he explained.
A programme manager at Paradigm Initiative, an ICT-inclined social enterprise, Babatunde Okunoye, said skills and investment are needed to develop a strong distance learning system in the country.
“The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is doing fine and I think we just need to leverage on this. The basic thing is that lecturers must learn and be ready to revolve. It is something that can be achieved if we really want to do it.
“Everybody will learn and by the time we adapt to this, we will be able to compete with other countries. By the time lecturers are told their income is based on learning these skills, they will do the needful.”
Also, Ralph Innocent, the founder of Tech Insight, a company that leverages existing technologies to improve learning in Nigeria, said the country’s institutions “must imbibe a culture of teaching with technology through the ICT units of the universities.”
He argued that “this will further bring international respect to the nation’s education sector.”