By Fr. Anthony Aneke
In April, the Federal Government launched free e-learning portals for all Pupils in primary schools and Students in secondary schools following the closure of schools nationwide to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Buttressing this, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said that all students in Nigeria have now been granted free access to the following e-learning portals: schoolgate.ng and mobileclassroom.com.ng. “These e-learning platforms have been declared subscription free for Nigerian students in primary and secondary levels during the period of this lockdown as necessitated by COVID-19 pandemic. “Parents, guardians and the students can check the timetable for each state on the website.” he said.
Simply put, E-learning in education is the holistic integration of modern telecommunications equipment and ICT resources, particularly the internet, into the education system. It is a term that encompasses a broad array of content and instruction methods, and that has come to mean a new model of education involving revised curriculum, infrastructure, teacher professional development, textbooks, and exams to provide students with ICT skills. Shavinina (2001) defines ICT as all the digital technologies, including: computer, scanner, printer, telephone, videophone, internet, digital satellite system (DSS), direct broadcast satellite (DBS), pocket-switching, fiber optic cables, laserdisc, microwaves, and multi-media systems for collection, processing, storage and dissemination of information all-over the world.
To be sure, E-learning as an aspect of ICT is relatively new in Nigeria’s educational system. It is a movement from the conventional approach in curriculum implementation. The main purpose of e-learning is to transform the old methods and approaches to curriculum implementation and not to silence the curriculum or to extinguish or erase the contents of curriculum. E-learning is driven by the curriculum. It should follow the curriculum and should not rob the curriculum of its essence. E-learning should ensure effective pedagogy and curriculum implementation in the computer age. The role of ICT in curriculum implementation is recognized by the Nigeria National Policy on Education (FRN, 2004, p. 53) where it stated that, “the government shall provide facilities and necessary infrastructures for the promotion of ICT and e-learning.”
Following the emergence of Covid-19 pandemic which necessitated the shutdown of schools nationwide, the Federal Government launched free e-learning portals for all Pupils in primary schools and Students in secondary schools. This is collaborated with the statement of the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, in Abuja on April during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. The seemingly promptness and sincerity of this project seemed commendable and welcoming but the big question is: How prepared are we as a nation to take this sudden gigantic transition in our Education system? Has the government invested enough in Education sector prior to the pandemic? How sophisticated and proactive have we all been towards learning before Coronavirus locked us up.
COVID19 outbreak has not only disrupted learning for over 25 million children in Nigeria but above all exposed to a large extent how weak, insensitive and uninformed we all have been towards basic infrastructure of education in Nigeria. Ten years ago, a research was carried out in Ekiti State, Nigeria, by Adeyemi and Olaleye (2010). They noted that many schools in Ekiti State and across the country are deficient in the availability of information communication and technology (ICT) equipment and facilities. Although most schools have computers and printers, almost all the schools did not have projectors, projectors screen, scanning machines, fax machines and above all, technical know-how. This is an indication that ICT materials are not vigorously provided for the schools and it suggest that, the States are not fully ready to imbibe information communication and technology. In a similar research carried out at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, Okiki (2011) reported the following challenges of E-learning: High cost of hardware in Africa; High import tariffs and less price competition; Transmission cost is equally high in Africa; Internet access in Africa is through a foreign gateway; Shortage of skilled manpower; Existing telecommunication infrastructure is in very poor condition; Computer technology illiteracy among the students; Cost of acquiring and installing the gadget required for e-learning; Incessant Power Supply; Maintenance culture; Bandwidth limitations. Limited band-width means slower performance for sound, video and intensive graphics, causing long waits for download that can affect the ease of the learning process. Today, the reality of these militating factors more than ever confronts us in the face of Covid-19 pandemic. We are still where we were more than ten years ago.
We are of the position that findings of these researches should have been an eye opener to the Federal Government over the years before the outbreak of this pandemic. These findings should have served as warning to advance e-learning in Education system of Nigeria. But they chose not to listen. Nigeria is a place where researches are thrown into the waste bin and so-called business as usual thrives. This fact only exposes our general naivety and backwardness. Just recently, in the revised budget proposal, provisions for education and health were cut by 54% and 42% respectively. Universal Basic Education fund was slashed from N111bn to N51billion. This is very pathetic. And so, what does the Federal Government want to achieve when it launched the free e-learning portals for all Pupils in primary schools and Students in secondary schools? What are the infrastructures put in place to facilitate that? How many school children can benefit from that in the true sense of the word? This is simply another white elephant project. We wouldn’t want to talk about the rural-based schools. The point is: we are simply not ready for e-learning in Nigeria. The Academic Staff Union of Universities has expressed reservation on the online learning occasioned by the closure of schools over the Coronavirus pandemic, saying, it cannot work. ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi said, “It (virtual learning) will not work. Let’s break it down; when you talk of virtual learning practically online teaching and learning, I think the first question we need to ask ourselves is: do we have the infrastructure for that? When you talk of infrastructures in the institutions concerned, do they have facilities and if you want to take it to individuals, can they afford it?”
The truth is: All of us in Nigeria are all stakeholders in this mess. And so, we advised the Federal Government to jump out of the make-believe box and do the concrete needful by channeling proper resources to the education sector to fill the ever yearning gap of learning occasioned by this pandemic. But then, getting reading is not only the work of the government alone. We advise citizens to learn and understand that information technology plays a pivotal role in integral existence of the 21st century man. How well you are equipped with the required skills determined your future because the virtual world is the future.
We are very optimistic that serious-minded Nigerians can be ready.