By Abdullah Abdulganiy
From all indications, it appears that there is yet to be an end in sight to the battle against the novel coronavirus disease raging the world. Barring any divine intervention, the world will have to live with the pandemic for a longer period of time. Some projections for the end of the virus were put at 2021, and others, 2023. Scientists and medical experts are yet to uncover many realities that surround the virus, vis-a-vis the spread, prevention and cure.
A disturbing communicable disease, covid-19 has led to a forced shutdown of different social activities. From schooling to partying to businesses and even government establishments. All these are in a bid to arrest the spread of the virus which has claimed the lives of over two hundred thousand people in the world, leaving many others in critical conditions.
One critical sector that has been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus is the educational institution. In many affected societies, schools, from nursery to tertiary level, have been closed down. There is no such thing as physical meeting for educational purpose again. Faced with this challenge, advanced societies with the technological know-how have resorted to what is referred to as virtual learning or distant learning.
In virtual learning, meetings are done with the aid of the media and internet facilities. This is, of course, not new. It has been around long time ago in many countries. After the order on school closure, some states have sought solace in the media. The media, no doubt, is an agent of socialization and education. In Lagos, Kwara, Ekiti, Osun and many other Nigerian states, primary and secondary school students are being taught with the aid of radio and television.
Also, while many private institutions of higher learning are exploiting technology in making up for the vacuum created by school closure, public-owned institutions’ students are left with no alternative to cushion the effect of the present reality. No thanks to the ASUU-FG tango. But even at that, the question that has been on the lips of many Nigerians is: Is virtual learning feasible in Nigeria?
I had once argued that tertiary institutions in Nigeria should switch to virtual learning in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. But after some observations, I have come to the conclusion that nothing of such will work in today’s Nigeria. I can’t say of tommorow, and that is if the challenges standing in the way of virtual learning would be rid off. The major challenge that would stare online learning in the face here in Nigeria among tertiary institution students is epileptic power supply.
While the challenges associated with virtual learning among primary and secondary school students could be surmounted to an extent at the moment, those of the tertiary institution may not be easy to overcome due to a number of factors. At the centre of it all is the complex nature of higher institutions. Many schools offer more than 50 courses with hundreds of thousands of students.
I have been thinking of social media spaces like Telegram, Whatsapp and many others in aiding the virtual learning, but there are many questions begging for answers. How many students have smart devices to facilitate the session? Most of them, right? How many lecturers and students can operate these social media networks? They would be taught, right? How many of them can foot the bill for subscription? They can do; most of them litter the social media space doing frivolous things; the FG will sponsor them. How about the big one: power supply? Are you aware that some communities have been in total blackout for months, some others, years while most experience epileptic power supply?
These are the concerns, and I don’t think there is any political will at the moment to tackle them. Will a hungry student whose parents’ occupations have been badly hit by the lockdown order be able to foot the bill for subscriptions to partake in online learning? Will a student living in a community experiencing epileptic power supply not miss so many classes? Will a student without a smart phone be able to join any online class?
The hard fact is that many people would be left out because a sizeable number of students are in the above shoe. And a very important principle in learning is that no one must be left out. These challenges will surely get students left out. If not one, then the other. This therefore brings me to the conclusion that with all these problems, Nigerian public institutions are simply not ready for virtual learning if we must be frank, and it’s very pathetic. If the coronavirus pandemic persists, a year or two will have to waste without a progress in the educational sector.
I also read that the Federal Government is looking into the use of the radio as an alternative. I can’t figure out how this will work because we have over 100 public institutions in Nigeria. Again, in each institution are different faculties, departments, levels and courses. All indices available to me are showing that this cannot work. What will the government do about practical courses that need visual explanations? There are obviously limitations, and Nigeria is least ready.
So, what’s the way out? Of course, none. We may have to shut down learning in public tertiary institutions till God knows when. Even private ones cannot sustain virtual learning if they want to be effective. Unless, our government finds the courage and political will to solve the power challenge and ensure better welfare services for students. Moving forward, after this time, stakeholders may need to sit down and chart the course for the effective working of virtual learning in Nigeria if we are serious as a country. It is one of the lessons covid-19 has come to teach us.
Abdullah writes from Sokoto, Nigeria. Email: email@example.com.