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Nigerian classes struggle with basic tech amid AI age

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While artificial intelligence garners significant attention in today’s technology discussions, Nigeria still struggles to leverage basic technologies to provide education to many learners, including children in underserved communities.

The latest estimates from the Global Education Monitoring Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reveal that in 2021, 244 million children and youth aged 6 to 18 worldwide were still unable to attend school.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to face the greatest challenge, with 98 million children and young people excluded from education, followed by Central and Southern Asia with 85 million.

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The top five countries with the highest number of children excluded from education are India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and China. Of note, Sub-Saharan Africa is the sole region experiencing an increase in the number of out-of-school children, as attendance rates lag behind population growth rates.

This updated measurement methodology has addressed significant data gaps in countries where large numbers of children have been out of school, and where quality administrative data has been lacking for over a decade.

This is particularly evident in Pakistan and Nigeria, where approximately 20 million children and youth are out of school, as well as in Ethiopia (10.5 million) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (six million).

Access to high-quality educational resources remains a major challenge for education systems globally. Technology holds the potential to enhance access to educational content in several ways.

Firstly, it facilitates content development by simplifying creation, adaptation, and sharing, aligning with the principles of the open education movement.

Secondly, digitisation expands storage capabilities, creates digital formats of resources, and enhances distribution channels through digital libraries, online repositories, and learning management systems. Thirdly, technology aids in reducing costs and overcoming other barriers, such as language, to access materials.

According to Stanley Boroh, a lecturer at the Federal University, Otuoke in Bayelsa State, tech is the new oil and anyone who is not familiar with tech is living in the old society.

“Tech has so many opportunities that people can key in even without being a university graduate. One can learn skills such as content creation, digital marketing, forex trading, graphics design, and other sophisticated skills. Also, the good thing is one can learn online,” he said.

However, several challenges must be addressed before technology can fully realise its potential in increasing access to educational materials. The vast quantity and decentralised production of digital content make it challenging to ensure quality.

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Friday Erhabor, director of media and strategies at Marklenez Limited, said the enabling environment to implement the massive benefits of tech in the education system, especially in reaching the unschooled, is not there yet.

He said: “Before you start talking of deploying AI, how many people have access to the internet in Nigeria? Deployment of radio for educational purposes was easy because radio signals get to villages and access is cheaper.

“You cannot say the same about data and telecom. The government should first create an enabling environment for the accessibility of broadband before we can talk of using AI for education for those that can’t attend traditional classrooms.”

Michael Ukonu, a professor of journalism at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said that access is key to use of artificial intelligence and that making AI platforms accessible to children is similarly key.

“Children who can’t afford schooling may also not afford access to AI-enabled platforms,” he noted.

Ukonu called on relevant stakeholders such as local governments, religious associations, and town unions, among others to assist by acquiring and training AI systems with the learning specifications of given children groups and help mobilise parents to bring their children to the centres for learning.

Stakeholders maintained that technological innovations have the potential to perpetuate traditional biases associated with content production and distribution, impacting who creates content and who benefits from it.

For instance, in northern Nigeria, where millions of nomadic school-age children encounter barriers to accessing education, the National Commission for Nomadic Education implemented a radio distance learning strategy in 1996.

This strategy was developed based on evidence indicating that nomadic pastoralists often use radio sets, which they carry with them while herding.

Despite facing challenges in implementation, such as limited funding and a lack of trained teachers, the commission has continually enhanced the programme. This includes updating the curriculum and establishing an exclusive radio station for nomadic education, broadcasting in four languages.

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Radio technology proves to be a cost-effective and sustainable method of delivering education. With the ability to equip any school with radios, the entry barriers are relatively low.

The 2023 GEM Report, citing evidence from UNESCO, indicates that nearly 40 countries use radio instruction to provide education.

Additionally, radio played a crucial role in education during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 40 percent of learners relying on radio and television instruction alongside or instead of digital options.

Since the 1980s, research conducted in at least 25 countries has consistently demonstrated significant improvements in student achievement associated with exposure to interactive radio instruction.

The initial formal experiment utilizing interactive radio instruction, where learners actively engaged with broadcasts, took place in Nicaragua during the 1970s. This initiative targeted children who were unable to complete formal schooling due to their involvement in agricultural activities.

Participating children quickly achieved levels of mathematics proficiency that matched or exceeded those of nearby formal school students, despite many of them not being fluent in Spanish.

Another notable example of interactive radio instruction benefiting marginalised learners are found in Cabo Verde. In this country, educational radio has been utilised to reach remote learners for decades.

Evaluations of the interactive radio programme – Projeto PALOP has revealed that children who had access to it demonstrated better performance in Portuguese and mathematics compared to their counterparts who did not have access.