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Covid-19: Faced with a new normal, Nigerian schools forcefully embrace digital learning

The outbreak of Covid -19 pandemic early last year has redefined learning in Nigeria’s education system. Many institutions at all levels are increasingly adopting a combination of the traditional style of in-person learning and digital learning, as they put up structures to cope with the new realities.

Like many other other countries, the pandemic brought enormous economic and health difficulties – but also threw up some innovations, including digital learning which the country’s education system is being forced to embrace amid biting infrastructure challenges.

Before the global pandemic, digital learning was hardly popular in Nigeria’s education system. It was rather a rare option mainly adopted by some part-time University students and those who run online courses especially with schools abroad.

But, as the pandemic bit harder, coupled with lockdown measures to contain spread of the virus, schools began to build e-learning capacities in order to overcome the challenges brought about by the new-normal.

Platforms like Google also innovated to meet the new demand by incorporating functions like video conferencing to their classroom services.

As the lockdown measures were gradully lifted and schools began to reopen, several tertiary institutions, particularly, have tried to sustain those virtual platforms they were forced to adopt during the lockdown to ensure seamless delivery.

The University of Lagos, for instance began online learning around June, 2020. In January, 2021, the institution announced that it will continue its virtual classes including examinations. Post UTME will also be held online.

In a statement, the school authorities said online learning has been incorporated into the academic system and assured to continue to improve on the Learning Management System (LMS), Module App.

The federal University of Abuja, has also developed a Virtual Classroom System. The Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, said with the new platform, the institution was fully ready to begin online courses for all students.
In December 2020, he informed that about 5,000 students were already engaged in online classes.

The University of Ilorin is also not left out as confirmed by the Vice-Chancellor, Suleyman Abdulkareem. According to him, the virtual learning system which commenced in the University in January has recorded over 90% success. The university increased its bandwidth subscription from 620 megabytes to over 1.2 gigabytes.

Abdulkareem said computer-controlled smart-boards have been installed in major lecture rooms to provide access to indigent students who could not afford internet ready Personal Digital Assistant devices. A computer workplace with about 450 computers will also be provided for students for online lectures.

University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Bayero University Kano (BUK), Federal University, Oye, Ekiti State are among several other institutions which have joined the trend.

Meanwhile, Tech organisations have leveraged the new trend and are developing technology to deepen virtual learning. Recently, a Virtual Learning Innovation System, a digital learning App was produced by Gradely Technology to drive smart digital learning.

As virtual learning systems emerge, the federal government on its part had said it was seriously considering the establishment of educational channels which will deliver accademic lectures and lessons to all students at all levels of education through television and radio following lessons learnt from the pandemic.

A senior official at the Ministry of Education, had told BusinessDay that government had held series of meetings with stakeholders on the plan which is expected to phase out class room learning over time.

While Nigerians await the implementation of this plan, experts have however commended the development of e-learning platforms, describing it as not only a panacea for Covid-19 disruptions, but an innovation which encourages students to learn independently and at their own pace, while accommodating more students.

But their view is that present challenges can be overcome with the right will and adequate investments.

Some students who shared experience of the new process since the reopening of schools in January told BusinessDay of enormous hurdles they go through to cope with the new normal. Those challenges range from poor Internet connectivity, high data cost, epileptic power supply among several others.

Giving insight, Hanatu Ismail, a student of Bayero University, Kano, said the school engaged the students virtually during the pandemic. She said virtual learning continued with the reopening of schools, but not for all courses. General courses are held virtually while practical courses are held physically.

Ismail said although some students still have serious concerns around how poor internet connections have made learning tedious, “the experience has been good.”

Princess Kelechi, a 400 level student in the University of Abuja, said the virtual lessons have continued since the resumption of schools. But only a few departments are engaged virtually, like the Sociology department, Banking and Finance.

Kelechi also noted that the flexibility in the entire process in the sense that, “although some lectures prefer to hold physical lectures, “those who prefer online classes have those options available to them.”

Just like some other students who spoke to BusinessDay, Kelechi does not enjoy online learning, because apart from the bad network, data cost and others, she easily gets distracted and lazy. “I still prefer physical learning experience,” she stressed.

Blessing Akpan, a student of Air Force Institute of Technology Kaduna, however, said virtual learning was only adopted in her school during the pandemic, but since resumption, physical learning has resumed and everything is almost back to normal apart from the adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

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