Aishat*, a student at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria, had to buckle up after receiving news on the university’s virtual resumption of the 2019/2020 academic session.
Institutions across Nigeria suspended academic activities following the restrictions and safety measures put in place to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that hit Nigeria in February 2020, a couple of months after several countries reported cases.
UNIILORIN was no different. However, as the country began to open up slowly, many universities were forced to begin lectures remotely. In response to this, UNILORIN introduced the Moodle application to be downloaded by students, where all necessary information regarding the online lectures would be communicated on. But Sulaimon*, like many others, experienced difficulties in downloading the app on her mobile phone.
“I had to convince my parents [to buy me a laptop] since it came as a necessity to get me a laptop,” she said.
Bayo*, another student of the Federal University of Akure, was instructed to resume school by the school authorities but lectures would be online.
He complained that the e-learning method was draining and was not a good experience for him.
“The online school wasn’t a good experience for me because of the cost of data per week and some lecturers spending 2 hours on zoom class out of which they will use 1hr 30 minutes to ask are you hearing me?” he said.
Closure Of School During A Pandemic
On the 27th of February 2020, the first case of the coronavirus disease was confirmed in Lagos state, Nigeria by the Federal Ministry of Health.
In order to curb the spread of the disease, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a 2-week lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states on the 27th of April 2020. The lockdown also banned any gathering of more than 20 people in the country which led to the closure of schools, churches, restaurants and more in the country.
In response to the closure of schools due to the pandemic, the Ministry of Education in conjunction with UNICEF resorted to using online and offline platforms, televisions, radio, etc to help keep the educational sector running.
UNICEF also partnered with HITCH – an organization that provides free educational video platforms for Nigerian students and teachers, to provide easy access to education for children during the pandemic.
Euphrates Efosi Wose, UNICEF’s Chief of Education said: “HITCH is a revolutionary e-learning tool designed specifically for Nigeria, which ensures that students – from Primary 1 all the way through SSS3 – can access video resources that will ensure they don’t miss out on their education,” said Uche Onuora, Co-founder of HITCH.
However, the Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, explained that e-learning cannot work in Nigerian Universities because lecturers lack the skills.
In his words, “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?”
He further explained that the quality of teaching will be watered down in the e-learning method compared to the conventional learning method.
“Many of us that teach in face-to-face arrangement know the difficulties we face in explaining concepts, in illustrating presentations, so that dimension will be there. The quality in terms of content, in terms of presentation, will be watered down,” he said.
Concerns On Compliances
As the Federal Government began to ease the lockdown, it announced that tertiary institutions in the country could reopen on January 18, 2020. Following this announcement, fear began to arise over trust in the effective compliance with COVID-19 protocols among students in tertiary institutions.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control slated some guidelines for schools to comply with: “Ensure that a triage point is identified and well-marked at the entrance where everyone gaining access to the school is screened for high temperature, requested to wear masks and perform hand hygiene.”
“Ensure that classrooms are well ventilated with a minimum of one-metre sitting arrangement. Ensure that all staff, visitors, and students above 6 years wear face masks at all times. All schools must ensure that there is sufficient access to running water, soap, and handwashing facilities.”
However, an investigation into Nigerian tertiary institutions showed that the level of compliance with the COVID-19 protocols dropped, despite claims that efforts were made to comply with them.
Students were observed to be moving without nose masks and safety apparatus like hand sanitisers. Also, the buckets for washing hands were empty while students did not observe social distancing – the investigation revealed.
Adapting To The New Norm
Today in Nigeria, findings reveal that universities in the country are beginning to adapt to e-learning despite the lack of appropriate infrastructure.
This process has led many universities to create accessible online platforms for students to register with and receive lectures or download materials needed for the session. For other institutions, a group channel on regular platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram are created with a time scheduled for lectures.
While this process has proven to be somewhat effective, the cost of data and acquiring devices have restricted many from participating.
“I like the fact that we are able to learn from our comfort zone but there are [still] issues [due to] bad network, distractions from other students during lectures and the Google Meets app consumes a lot of data. In fact, I still attended a class this morning and we had network issues as usual,” a student of Ekiti State University said.
Another student from the University of Lagos said: “We are still doing online classes but combined with physical classes because of the new wave of the pandemic. I must say, it is much better than last semester when we were fully online. It was tedious and draining, we had to teach ourselves most of the lecture slides but now, we are in school, there’s WiFi, we can meet our lecturers for explanations and we can also organise group reading and tutorials.”
Speaking to this reporter, Dr Husseini Shaibu (a lecturer at the University of Lagos) suggested Nigeria’s education system must find a way to adopt e-learning as the rest of the world has done the same.
“I know there will be a time in this nation that our educational system will go fully online, and there will be little interaction. The interaction…might just be where everybody comes in for the last class and then write exams and go away.
“With COVID-19 still in some countries and with advisories that are given here and there, we will just discover that for us to go back to what it was in 2019 now will be tough, so we’re going to manage it. I mean, online classes are the vogue elsewhere but I’m sure it is because of the state of our infrastructural development that is why we’re still looking at it as if it is a novelty but it’s not. A lot of people have been doing online classes a long time ago,” he said.
On the challenges of online classes, he said: “Timing and the fact that this is electronics, the internet. You will find yourself repeating yourself because sometimes the students will say we cannot hear you sir or you cannot hear what they are saying.
“Then because of the fact that they are at home and they are writing, some do not even write, some do other things in fact some just sign in and then leave the platform and be doing other things but when you are in a controlled environment, you can see them, monitor their mood, you know when they are tired or when they are understanding but here, you do not see them so you can not tell if they understand or not and you are still trying to keep time and help them save their data too.”
He, however, concluded that online classes are effective but not as effective as physical classes.
In his words, “I still prefer physical classes where you have direct interaction. When I’m teaching my students I look at faces, there are some faces I see in class and I know that learning has taken place or they’re tired, we’ve done enough and we need to go and all that, because you see it on their faces when you say something and they don’t understand but all these are not possible online.
“It is something that is here and there’s nothing we can do about it other than to adapt and to follow but we can always mix both online and physical classes. But I’ve come to the realization that I prefer physical class because of the immediate feedback I get,” he explained.
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