The world has gone digital and so is the method of teaching and learning. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, e-learning has become part of the school system. The new normal dictates that students should access learning through some social media channels such as Zoom, WhatsApp and others.
One of the advantages of e-learning them is that students can attend courses and acquire knowledge across boundaries as they are not bound to physically attend classes at any specific day or time. All they need is access to computers and internet facilities. Also, experts and teachers can share their knowledge internationally to any interested person. E-learning can help students acquire computer skills.
However, experience in Nigeria has shown that some universities are not really prepared for the new method of learning. For one, there is low awareness on how to access online classes. Sadly, some lecturers have also refused to adapt to online classes as they are used to the analogue ways of doing things.
Moreover, there is the issue of poor network service, poor internet connectivity and crashing of some university websites. This has been exacerbated by poor power supply which is a general problem in Nigeria.
Currently, Nigeria’s public power supply is still epileptic. Even after privatisation, electricity generation, transmission and distribution are beset by many problems. With an installed capacity of about 12,522 MW, the country is only able to generate about 4,000 MW.
For e-learning to be successful, the power challenge must be holistically tackled. Government can collaborate with the private sector in form of funding assistance and long-term guarantees for loans and price subsidies. Vandalism of the electricity facilities should also be tackled. Alternatively, more emphasis should be placed on solar energy.
Besides, there is need to train teachers and students on how to make e-learning a success. To achieve this, every teacher and student should have access to computers or smart phones because these are the gadgets through which e-learning is accessed. Students, in particular, should be provided with tablets. For those who cannot afford some of these gadgets, efforts should be made by the school authorities to provide them and spread the cost over some months. Government can help by either providing or subsidising the cost of a personal computer or laptop and internet connectivity.
There is also the need to broaden access to the internet, especially in the rural areas. The best way to achieve this is to make data cheaper and more accessible. We enjoin Internet service providers to reduce the cost of accessing e-learning. It makes no sense to ask the universities to embrace e-learning when poor students cannot afford to buy data. Internet providers should also ensure stable service. Where this proves difficult to realise, radio can be used as an alternative, especially in the rural areas.
To further ensure the success of digital learning, there should be good online rapport between students and their teachers and among students themselves. Videoconferencing is one major way of doing this. It enables the teacher to have a feel of the mood of the students. Those who are distracted or having some other challenges can easily be detected through this channel. Teachers can also provide video recordings of lessons for their students to augment the online classes.
We urge the teachers to find ways of making the online class more lively and enjoyable. They should endeavour to pass clear and simple instructions and schedules to students. This will enable the learners to process information better and ultimately lead to their academic success.
Also, the three tiers of government have a bigger role to play to ensure the success of e-learning. They should equip schools with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and promote internet connectivity. This will go a long way in entrenching e-learning in the education system. Besides, ICT programmes must be incorporated in teachers’ training curricular and inculcated in our school curriculum right from primary school level.
Let the ICT companies endeavour to upgrade their technical infrastructure to ensure reliable and speedy internet connections. Schools, especially universities, should train more technical staff to maintain the system.
The authorities of tertiary institutions should go into public/private partnerships to facilitate meeting their e-learning objectives. This is what is obtainable in such countries as India where such partnerships have led to the provision of ICT laboratories in thousands of schools. India also has what it calls DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) launched in 2017 for grades 1 to 12. It is being transformed into a platform that will provide rich curriculum linked e-content requirements of learners and teachers across India. It is accessible across digital devices such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and radio and TV. Multinational agencies can also help our tertiary institutions in the provision of ICT facilities.
We call on the Federal Government to take education more seriously as it is the bedrock of development. Let it meet the UNESCO recommendation of spending at least 26 per cent of annual budget on education. We believe that well-funded education will go a long way in making e-learning successful.