Like most parts of the world, Nigeria's schools are yet to reopen. Millions of students across all levels are at home, as the government continues to monitor improvements in the spread of the coronavirus.
Academic institutions have tried to adjust to the situation, and technology is unsurprisingly at the forefront of making this possible.
When schools eventually reopen, parents and students may initially be reluctant to return to the status quo. This could make the contact-learning alternatives recently introduced by schools become more than a temporary solution.
The reality of alternative options at private and public schools
It’s been easier for private schools to adapt to online learning. Most of them are currently relying on a lot of education technology and videoconferencing to keep students engaged.
But, there are challenges with execution. “With video conferencing, we have encountered connectivity issues: fluctuations and unreliable internet service,” the director of a primary school in Ejigbo, Lagos told this writer. The director’s complaints highlight the internet access problems in Nigeria, which make remote work and schooling difficult.
Public schools are having an even harder time adjusting. And they make up the bulk of student enrollment - close to 80% in 2016.
Each state government has sponsored educational radio and television broadcasts to teach core subjects for primary and secondary school students. In Kogi state, physics tutorials for SS3 students are scheduled to air on Tuesdays at 9 am on the state’s radio.
Still, it is uncertain that the students can benefit from the media broadcasts with erratic power supply and a lack of total access to television or radio. Latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics indicates that 57% of Nigerians experience a blackout every day, while access to television and radio is at 61% and 89% respectively.
Also, tuning into the media broadcasts is up to the student. Without supervision from their teachers, the nature of this alternative calls into question the level of guidance and accountability that public-school students are receiving compared to their private-school peers. Case in point is the Federal Government Colleges (FGCs).
For the FGCs, online learning communities have been set up via Telegram and Edmodo for all students who attend its 104 secondary schools across the 36 states and the FCT.
As a result, there is now one virtual classroom of 1,500 SS3 students as opposed to 35 – 40 students in a regular physical class.
Asides the outcome of a higher student-teacher ratio, this raises several issues such as more competition for teacher’s attention, and a lower incentive to engage in online class discussion. The needs for struggling students can also easily go unnoticed. All these signal challenges that should be quickly solved by the government.
Efforts to continue education at universities
The play of events comes with similar traits at the higher institutions. Private ones like Pan-Atlantic University and the American University of Nigeria are currently engaging students through online lectures.
The National University Commission (NUC) has licensed 11 universities, most of which are government-owned for online and distance learning (ODL). Still, there seems to be a struggle for some institutions in finding alternatives to contact-learning.
*Ronke, a 500-level Law student at the University of Lagos, explains that her department added an online link to the student portal and asked for students’ phone numbers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which suggests that they had a plan in place. However, there have been no further developments.
Another 300-level student of Business Management, mentions having a similar experience at the University of Calabar. At Abia State University, some lecturers have transitioned to videoconferencing and sending lecture notes via WhatsApp, while other lecturers have ceased teaching, according to *Chidinma, a 200-level student.
Costs to lecturers of purchasing their own digital devices, and schools not already being ICT compliant pre-pandemic present stumbling blocks to the transition to remote learning.
Moreover, before school closures, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had already embarked on a strike over withheld salaries of lecturers at federal universities. If the teachers were to make alternative learning arrangements, the ongoing strike has dampened such chances.
Worthy of note is how the current interruption in learning activities will affect students who should graduate this year. For Ronke who is in the class of 2020 and due for law school in January 2021, current events, if prolonged, could be a significant setback.
Why Nigeria should care
Nigeria already has one of the highest out-of-school rates in the world; an extensive break from school will only raise these numbers.
On one hand, underprivileged learners, who are at a disadvantage for socio-economic reasons may contemplate leaving school to save costs. Their inability to access contactless learning options might also not encourage engagement in school activities.
For university students specifically, Nigeria should care about adapting education because of the impact of losing a school year on employment prospects for graduates.
For instance, many employers in Nigeria enforce age restrictions when hiring.
With the pandemic’s possible disruption to the normal academic calendar, there is likely to be a wave of graduates all trying to enter the job market or register for the NYSC program when a vaccine is found and things go back to normal. This will put a strain on the job market and capacity at NYSC camps.
There are predictions that social distancing may be needed until at least 2022, academic institutions in Nigeria need to overcome current challenges and become better equipped for the possible long haul of distant learning.
Teachers and students of small primary schools in Amish communities are trying different ways to get past some of the digital and electricity challenges. There, either party can pick up and submit work periodically from the school, pupil’s or a teacher’s home while practising social distancing.
Argentina tackled the connectivity and technology access problems by providing notebooks packed with learning resources that have been delivered to the homes of students. In other climes, such as the UK, the government have begun providing laptops to students. Nigeria’s own Oyo State runs a school programme where Airtel has provided 500 MB of free data to each participating student, as other collaborations to facilitate continuous learning are progressively being addressed.
Physical learning might be impossible right now, but this should not stop education. Not only is it more profitable than the average returns on the stock or bond market; schooling is one of the most recommended solutions for personal and economic development.
*Name changed to conceal the individual’s identity
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