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‘Nigeria must embrace technology to solve learning challenges, compete globally’

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant closure of schools in early 2020, countries around the world needed to adapt quickly to ensure the school year wasn’t lost. It became clear to all that now, more than ever, technology was the help needed to support children’s learning. IFEYINWA AFE, managing director, HP Nigeria, in this interview with AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE, speaks on the best way to utilise technology for the education of children as the world deals with the new normal. Excerpts:

You are not an educationist, but you seem to have a passion for the growth of the Nigerian educational sector. Why is this, and how is this tied to your company, HP?

I am very passionate about the growth of Nigeria’s education sector and even more excited about the potential of what it could become in the future. Being a part of a leading global ICT company like HP, where we make our laptops and software with the future of learning in mind, we like to ensure that learners are prepared for tomorrow’s challenges. In Nigeria, education has not been what it used to be, and this is an area of concern for every citizen, especially parents.

The closure of Nigerian schools last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the many challenges of educating the nation’s youth. The education sector was already troubled prior to the pandemic, with 10.5 million children not attending school, mostly in the North. As in most countries of the world, the need to adapt quickly to ensure the school year was not lost was high. It became very clear to all that now, more than ever, it is vital that we use technology to support children’s learning.

Talking about the disruption in the school calendar last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how would you rate the responses of both the government as well as companies like yours who are in one way or the other involved in the sector, in ensuring that not much school time is lost?

Educators, parents, learners, and students worldwide, have faced a major shift in learning over the past year. The rapid move to online, and then hybrid learning, has reinforced how important access to technology, and an understanding of how to use it, is for a child’s successful ongoing educational development, and to their future.

The pandemic pushed government and private institutions to come together to help the youth prepare for not only today but also for the future. That is why the Lagos State Ministry of Education released a schedule of radio and television broadcast lessons for students in public schools, and also put in place additional technology-driven interventions. The Federal Ministry of Education and the Universal Basic Education Commission also set up the Nigeria Education Sector COVID-19 Response Strategy.

At HP, our interventions included the launch of virtual learning platforms, and the provision of e-learning resources such as HP’s Classroom of the Future, offering smart, education-focused hardware coupled with cutting-edge software to support new teaching methodologies and empower all the key stakeholders in the classroom. This is not where it ends, as we need to continue to build partnerships between private and public sectors to ensure that we are equipping the future of tomorrow with the skills and the tools to succeed tomorrow.

Following these interventions – both by government and companies like HP, has there been any assessment done to ascertain their effectiveness?

In 2020, the Education Partnership Centre (TEP Centre) released learning in a Pandemic Report, focused on the impact of COVID-19 on Nigerian youths’ education, highlighting some interesting findings based on a survey conducted with 557 students across 31 states in Nigeria and the FCT. The survey showed that there is a need for education in Nigeria to innovate, especially as hybrid learning is becoming a norm. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed reported that online learning was their main form of learning during the pandemic, 26 percent used books as their main form of learning, and 23 percent learned through WhatsApp. Interestingly only 1 percent said mobile learning was their main form of learning, a further 3 percent learned on mobile TV, 5 percent from their parents and 5 percent from home lessons.

Reasons given for preferring online learning platforms included broad content such as core skills outside the school curriculum, flexibility and independence gained from self-study, and more learning time, as well as the opportunity to practice independent learning, mental toughness, digital skill acquisition and the ability to access quality and experienced tutors.

When students rated the learning platforms, they identified several challenges such as network challenges, access to devices and other related infrastructure such as electricity. When the respondents were questioned on what resources they needed to help their learning, the majority, which is about 66 percent, said they would need a laptop to learn from home, on their own terms.

For a country like ours, what do you think are the challenges that new age parents have to adapt to, especially learning from home? How do they overcome these challenges?

As a parent, I understand the challenges that we have had to face in this new normal. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, no one was prepared; we thought we had time. In Nigeria, we were faced with infrastructural challenges, such as data costs, and unstable electricity supply. But as parents we are determined to ensure our children’s success. We have learned that the best way to equip and prepare our children during a pandemic, particularly in light of different waves and variants coming; it is vital to provide them with the tools and access to technology such as laptops and other devices at home to enable a blended learning approach. This will prepare them and increase their exposure to resources focused on science, technology, and mathematics; and strengthen their foundational skills.

As noted by the respondents in the Learning in a Pandemic Report, laptops enable a child’s learning process. While many people might focus on a smart phone, the smaller screen size, limited battery life made shorter by running various e-learning apps, and the need for data to access learning portals mean it is a useful, but not ideal learning aid.

A laptop is an investment in your child’s future, and it can be overwhelming choosing the right one to enable a positive learning environment.

So, how do I identify the perfect laptop for my kid? What should parents and guardians look out for in getting an educational PC for their children?

When it comes to choosing the right laptop, choose a laptop that is built for tomorrow’s success, not just today’s needs. Make sure the processor is current generation don’t be sold on older stock. Currently, 10th Generation Intel Core i3 Processor is a good choice because it is responsive and reliable.

Also, ensure the hard drive can handle the workload – a 1Terabyte hard disk drive will help to comfortably store schoolwork and projects safely. Don’t forget they need to connect – wireless connectivity (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) is a must. Whether your child is at home, at school, or at a coffee shop, they should always be able to keep learning. The battery also needs to last for more than five hours and has fast-charge technology – one of the biggest challenges to online learning and studying in Nigeria is erratic electricity supply, so when you’re choosing a laptop, pick one that can power through the power cuts, so your child can create and study all day. A good laptop shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to reach 50 percent charge, and the battery should last as much as 7-12.5 hours.

The laptop must have a USB Type-C® port – consider buying an external USB-C-based power bank for those times when you’ll be away from home for extended periods. Choose a laptop with a high-definition camera with an integrated microphone – remote learning means not only watching your teachers present to you, but turning the camera around and confidently showing yourself, and your work, to your teacher and class. A bigger screen makes things easier to read – Choose a 14” or 15” screen so it’s easier to concentrate, and view presentations, and online applications and websites.

Durability matters -whether they are studying from home, or carrying their laptop to school, remember to make sure their laptop is reliable, lightweight, but durable.

Buying a laptop for your child, will not only help them succeed at school, it will also empower them and prepare them for future challenges. Having a laptop can also help them to acquire critical skills necessary to thrive in the digital era.

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