The Coronavirus pandemic is tasking education administrators all over the world as they battle to keep the sector afloat with the closure of most education institutions.
Times of general calamity and confusion are said to be the most productive for great minds as many believe that the doors to opportunities swing on the hinges of adversity. Though, the rampaging Coronavirus pandemic no doubt has caused lot damage to the education sector and economy at large, it is also opening a new vista of opportunities to all stakeholders in the sector.
The closure of the schools, as a result of the social distancing rule adopted for stopping the spread of the virus, has task many administrators, in public and private sectors, to look into the direction of technology and innovation to keep the education process going.
Millions of school children, across the globe, are presently out of classrooms as the schools are still under lockdown directives of various governments. Coronavirus has rapidly become not only a crisis of health and economy but also a crisis of education and learning.
However, governments and many stakeholders in education are working relentlessly to find a balance and effective learning programmes that can be delivered swiftly at a time like this. Schools have had to switch incredibly quickly to online learning or other forms of distance learning to meet the challenge of the time.
Many educational organizations are today taking up the opportunities presented by social media and other technology applications to continue their operations as well as keep in contact with their students, who are currently forced to stay at home.
Many are describing this development as being akin to what happened during the industrial revolution era, when technology helped to attain mass production of goods and products.
Then, those who maximized the opportunities provided by the development had good stories to tell.
In the last few months, virtual education has gradually taken the centre stage in the teaching and learning arena, not only in Nigeria but all over the globe. In Nigeria, several initiatives by the Federal and state governments and some private organisations have helped to leapfrog the frontier of the education sector, in comparison to the level it was pre-Covid-19 period.
Before the pandemic took centre stage forcing the unplanned closure of the schools, little or no attention was given to online education, particularly in Nigeria. But now this has changed almost overnight with lots of schools in Nigeria now providing virtual teaching, most of which were started in the face of the lockdown.
Also, virtually all state governments in Nigeria are delivering lectures and classes to students, especially those in primary and secondary schools, through the electronic mass media using the television and radio stations.
Likewise, most tertiary institutions, private and public-owned, are using the Internet to deliver classes, lectures and instructions to their students.
Also, many software development companies are now drawing attention to their products and services that are tailored made to deliver perfect virtual learning and teaching experience to both the learners and the teachers.
One of such state-of-the –art product is the eMLearner application by Ad-Connect Limited, which is a complete learning solution, that allow both teachers and students and the school administration to collaborate both inside and outside the classroom.
Adiel Ntuk, the CEO of Ad-Connect, pointed out that the software is built with Blended-Learning Pedagogy and allows full and complete learning, even when schools are not open with features that allow educators to collaborate with learners anytime, anywhere, while giving teachers the opportunities to evaluate and students’ performances while tracking each student’s performance in real time. Also other key participants in the learning environment, such as parents, are given the chance to monitor and participate in the process.
The eMLearner platform has three major categories, the Learning Management System (LMS), School Management System and the Learning Content Management System with some additional services and products to compliment these broad offerings.
Mr. Kayode Afolayan, a teacher with a private school in Lagos State, believes virtual learning is a good alternative to surmounting the unprecedented learning challenges that has befallen the education sector in the face of Covid-19 pandemic.
“For me, it is a welcome development. With this development, you can set the time for the class work or assignment given to the students. I can take up to 5 subjects in a day, my students are enjoying it. They always look up to it,” he said.
Afolayan explained that his school had to organize trainings for the teachers to enable them understand and use the necessary applications.
“In my school, we use Google Classroom and Edmudo. The school organized online training for teachers, and we have been conducting our classes effectively via any of these Apps,” he said.
Google Classroom is a free web service, developed by Google for schools, that aims to simplify creating, distributing, and grading assignments in a paperless way. The primary purpose of Google Classroom is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students
For Edmudo, a code is needed by the individual to be able to access the teacher’s class while the teacher can present whatever he/she wants to teach to the class either through paste or saved as Microsoft document or pdf.
With little training, many parents can guide their children through their daily education during this lockdown.
But some other stakeholders are calling for restraints in the wholesale adoption of virtual/online education in the country.
The House of Representatives on May 19 passed a resolution urging the Federal Ministry of Education to urgently develop a National Policy and framework for online education for schools at various levels.
Honourable Aniekan Umanah (PDP- Akwa Ibom), who presented the motion, noted that “the outbreak of the Coronavirus has altered the educational calendar globally as the widespread closure of schoolsis negatively impacting over 72 per cent of the world student population.
Umanah said this development has significantly changed the education sector with the “distinctive increase in the use of e-Learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.” However, he said Nigerian schools, teachers and students have been forced to adjust and adapt to this unplanned and rapid move to online teaching and learning with no structure, training and equipment tools and are faced with inadequate preparations.
“The e-learning approach takes time and a gradual system of learning. Schools and colleges would have to develop a modular Structure, Database and Learning pattern supported with Efficient Communication and Internet backbone,”Umanah said.
He stated that investigations have revealed that the government’s e-learning initiatives are not working and serving the desired need of closing the educational gaps due to lack of instructional design and implementation as well as lack of cognitive psychology tools to support e-Learning.
“Faced with the present situation, Nigeria’s educational system is lagging behind by not being functionally awake to the present reality of online education. Research shows that the level of online learning and preparedness in Nigeria is about only 10% or less. Hence the urgent need to salvage our already battered educational system that has been further humbled and bruised by the COVlD-19 pandemic,” Umanah said.
While adopting the motion, the House urged the Ministry to develop a National Policy and framework for online education; urged other educational regulatory bodies across the country, to incorporate online education and modular system into the educational curriculum in schools across the country; and directed its Committees on Basic and Tertiary Education to ensure compliance.
Many are worried about its cost, wide scale availability across the country, and suitability to the Nigerian environment.
Mrs. Stella Bassey, a Civil Servant, believes that virtual learning is not ideal for young children, who she said need face to face tutorials to be able to imbibe the lessons and knowledge being impacted.
“Usually young children would seat in a class comprehending new subject concepts with their teachers, asking questions where they are confused. But now, they cannot do so. All they do, is to follow the guide as given through their lecture medium,” she said.
Bassey is supported by another Civil Servant, Mrs. Shola Ogaga, who believes that virtual learning should be introduced to children that are above 12 years. Ogaga strongly stated her support for one-on-one teaching approach for the younger children while the teenagers can be exposed to virtual education with proper supervision.
“Even at that, in most cases it is the parents that end up explaining the subjects posted to them. Imagine a situation where even the parents do not know the subject, it will end up being a jamboree,” she said.
Ogaga also explained that students’ attitude, especially lack of self-discipline might erode the gain of virtual learning just as the lack of direct access to teachers and other classmates might invariably make learning dull.
In spite of the social distance rule, Ogaga states that there is nothing wrong with having teachers come and tutor their students provided such teachers are certified Covid-19 free.
“We are just deceiving ourselves; there are many parents out there who I believe are having their children tutored. If we can enter buses, buy things from the market or shopping malls, do our financial transactions in our various banks; what stops one from getting someone to tutor his/her child,” she said.
There also worries in some places that the uneven broadband Internet access across the country as a result of the huge disparities in incomes of the Nigerian households might make the wholesale adoption of virtual education in the country an unproductive venture.
Most low-income households in the country rely on smart phones for internet access, and children in those households may not be able to use more sophisticated learning software that requires a tablet or computer. Also, children of same parent can without doubt do their assignments on one smart phone.
Hence, some stakeholders are worried about the cost of running virtual learning systems, especially to the learners, citing constraints like cost of Internet access, apps and devices; unsteady electricity supply; and inexperienced parents, who might not be able to assist their children with the process.
A teacher in a public school in Lagos State told The Educational Tide that the virtual training the state government is conducting for its teachers has suffered a huge setback as many teachers enrolled for the training do not ‘attend’ classes regularly because of Internet access and connectivity.
“Most of us don’t follow the training regularly because of Internet data. If not because of the threats that the certificates issued after the training would be used for future promotions, many of us would have pulled out completely,” she said.
Some parents are advocating that virtual learning need to have more clearly written-out themes and directions for students, learners and administrators.
Young adult-students may need to learn via virtual platforms. Nevertheless, parents may need to make themselves available to assist their children, whenever the lessons are on, to log into an app, read instructions, click in the right place, type answers and stay on task, especially if the child has not been aptly exposed to the ICT environment.
Dr. Eugene Njinkeonye, a Medical Practitioner, who appreciated the efforts of the various governments in handling the Covid19 pandemic so far, stressed that the education sector should paid a special attention to the challenge of socializing the pandemic is causing. He explained that the attendant intellectual virus could be more costly than the coronavirus, we are trying to eradicate now.
“Schools are under lockdown and many children are losing a crucial social outlet. This is greatly affecting many families, especially those who work in health and public service sectors, who cannot easily adjust their schedules. School is a community on its own which provides children a city for them. And when that city is lockdown for any reason, no virtual education can replace the life that comes with it,” he said.
This might be the major reason while some stakeholders are beginning to long for the re-opening of the schools. At the forefront of this agitation is Chief Afe Babalola, the Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado – Ekiti, who specifically said the tertiary institutions in Nigeria should be re-opened within a space of four weeks.
Babalola, who pointed out that the persistent rise in the number of people infected with Covid-19 did not in any way suggest that the pandemic would soon come to an end, suggested that the government should not wait until all towns and villages in Nigeria were free from the pandemic before reopening all educational institutions.
He specifically said that that private universities and schools known for quality and functional education, predictable academic calendar, moral and physical training, discipline, and other factors should be allowed to resume academic activities after they had been certified to have fulfilled certain conditions.
“The school must establish that it has residential accommodation for all students and most, if not all, of the staff. Parents shall give a written undertaking supported with medical certificates that the student is fit or healthy to resume academic work. The institution, which must be fenced, must have a main gate manned by security men, nurses and other medical personnel. There shall be about three running water tanks at the gate where students will wash their hands with soap,” he said.
A study by The Educational Tide revealed that while virtually all state governments are excited about going the virtual learning route and are making efforts to join this direction, many private school entrepreneurs are not too enthusiastic about this.
A major reason for this foot dragging is the challenge of convincing the parents to pay “appropriate” fees for this innovation. This dilemma is caused mostly by the declaration by some state governments, Lagos inclusive, that parents should not be “exceedingly” charged for this service over this issue. Also, some of these proprietors are not willing to invest in the initial investment outlays needed to start this didactic innovative service for their customers (parents and students).
No matter how one looks at it, it is obvious that online learning has come to stay, even after Covid19 pandemic has gone and the schools are opened once more.
Obviously some schools are still dragging on adopting virtual education technology, but one thing certain is that change is a constant thing and all must prepare for the changes Covid19 pandemic has brought to education the world over.
One is sure to be a loser when he/she chooses to reject these changes rather than make the needed changes to outwit the change that cannot be changed.
The universal reality is that the world system, economy and education industry as well can never remain the same even after the end of this pandemic. How one handles the unfolding developments of the new era will either make or mar him/her.