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Experts divided on impact of social media on education

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With Nigerian youth spending countless hours on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp daily on smartphones, experts say the impact is not entirely disruptive when managed properly as it creates access to educational content and social interactions.

The number of Nigeria’s mobile subscriptions has reached 150 million, and the number of its internet users has climbed to 97.2 million at penetration rates of 81 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively, according to a report published by Jumia, Nigeria’s largest online retailer. This is a much higher penetration rate than across Africa (18 per cent). Growth in adoption rate is driven by access to better and cheaper smartphones. The average price of mobile phones on Jumia dropped to $117 (N43, 000) in $216 from (N79, 000) in 2014. Additionally, smartphone sales increased by 394 per cent on Jumia from 2014-2016.

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What this means is that access to the internet and by extension to social media platforms through smartphones is rising with an attendant increase in the rate information is transferred from one user to another. It also signifies improved access to educational resources located far from where users are physically situated but these social media platforms are prone to abuse by youth.

“Social media and social networking sites provide support for individuals to communicate and engage with people of like minds and interests. Social media spreads information faster than any other media and it has helped broaden the scope of education in the internet age as people are exposed to information beyond the conventional” said Olalekan Ajia, former Communication for Development Specialist at the United Nations, at an event in Ijebu-Ode recently.

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WhatsApp is the most popular messaging service Nigerians use, and of recent, Nigeria has gone past South Africa, Kenya and Egypt by far to be the biggest internet user on the continent.

“Now the rise in the use of smartphones, and the relatively cheaper cost that it takes to own a smartphone that is capable of accessing WhatsApp, together with the drop in the cost of internet access have seen the rise in WhatsApp users. The majority of users are between the ages of 16 – 40 years. There are no official numbers as to just how many users there are, but it is put at between 40 – 60 million active users” said Kude Haruna Hassan, an Information Systems expert at the Adamawa-based American University of Nigeria.

Some private universities in Nigeria, such as Covenant University in Ota, Landmark University, Ipetu and Babcock University, Ilishan Remo among others, forbid the use of smartphones on campus, while others contend students need to embrace technology with a sense of maturity.

“It is really a battle for the students because you can see them getting hooked to their smartphones, approaching addiction levels. Haven said that we allow smartphones on campus but educate students on how to engage social media. The rules are negotiated. Our philosophy of education is ‘education in freedom for freedom’” said Darlington Agholor, member of faculty, Pan-Atlantic University, Epe, Lagos state.

Agholor believes universities, public or private life in a digital era driven by mobile technology and are educating students who will have to function effectively in this society. This means, students need to learn the necessary etiquette that goes with mobile phone usage and this they must learn in school.

“We teach students how to use their mobile phones and the right use of social media platforms, negotiation is critical because we dialogue with them. We let them understand in the classroom your mobile phone should be on silent mode. This is the practice in boardrooms and during serious meetings. We make them understand it is anti-social to pay attention to your mobile phones whilst conversing with someone” Agholor said.

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There is an inter-generational gap between students and teachers in Nigerian universities and this appears to be a delicate ground on which to tread carefully.

“I do not use social media that much, personally, maybe it is an inter-generational thing. However, social media is concerned with social interactions. It is a very useful tool for class management. For instance, social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp are helpful. You could brainstorm with students on various academic topics and post links to guide their research. Even at that, students soon start posting materials that are not related to any form of an academic exercise. In this sense, social media distracts the students from focusing on academics” Leo Ukpong, professor of Financial Economics and Dean, Faculty of Business Administration, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.

Ukpong contended that in terms of core research and lectures, social media is not the best interface. Online tool such as Google Scholar is far better. Besides, social media interface is not suitable for accessing large research materials or conducting research. It might be good for marketing research, but this is a different kind of research and “I have doubts about the quality of a uniquely online marketing research.”

“Social media can be used to facilitate learning in the classroom, depending on the kind of information sought after. But truth is that they also have some downsides. They have implications for values and morals in addition to the fact there are loads of false information peddled on the social media platforms” said Pascal Ebhohimen, a trainer/management consultant, chairman board of directors at Lagos based Trainfield Schools and former head of strategy at Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation

Some experts have suggested there are Informational Technologies better suited for serious academic work, such as school generated email addresses through which students interact with lecturers and e-learning platforms on which lecturers upload assignments and students do same when they are ready to submit their assignments.

“We run an IT-driven approach to learning, our school has an email system, and each student has an official email address through which they interact with lecturers. We also have an e-learning portal for school assignments. Students can form groups on WhatsApp to facilitate social or class interactions. It is important to insist that we educate our student on the right use of social media platforms. They are useful tools that could easily be abused” Agholor surmised.