Worldwide, the Coronavirus pandemic has led to school closures, disrupting learning in the process. Many developed countries have switched to online learning to minimise disruption of the academic calendar. Though not currently the case, should closures happen in Nigeria, KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE asked educators if e-learning could be a reality for most learners.
In Wednesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted on its website that the Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) had spread to 150 countries – with 179,111 confirmed cases and 7,426 deaths.
To contain the pandemic, many countries have had to reduce day-to-day activities to the barest minimum. As a result, schools have been closed.
According to the UNESCO website, 105 countries have ordered school closures – a directive that has affected over 952 million learners.
A statement on the UNESCO site noted: “The number of children, youths and adults not attending schools or universities because of COVID-19 is soaring. Governments in 115 countries have now announced or implemented the closure of educational institutions in an attempt to contain the global pandemic (link is external).
“According to UNESCO monitoring, 105 countries have closed schools and educational institutions nationwide, impacting over 959.2 million children and youth. A further 10 countries have implemented localised school closures and, should these closures become nationwide, tens of millions of additional learners will experience education disruption.
“UNESCO is providing immediate support to countries as they work to minimise the educational disruption and facilitate the continuity of learning, especially for the most vulnerable.”
Top schools in the U.S. like Harvard, University of Florida and others have all shut and transited to online classes.
Eighteen of the 22 African countries that have reported cases of the Covid-19 have announced full or partial school closures.
With only three cases, Nigeria has neither shut schools nor closed its airspace. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in its Covid-19 Guidance Control for Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) released March 5, 2020, noted that it was not necessary to close schools for now.
The document states: “As of today (05/03/20), it is not necessary to close schools or to cancel large gatherings.”
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education (FME), Mr. Sonnie Ochono, told The Nation that the situation was being monitored; and as schools remain open, pupils would be taught to observe basic hygiene.
However, should the pandemic spread to the point of necessitating school closure, not many Nigerian schools are ready to transit from face-to-face to e-learning mode.
e-learning not feasible in a jiffy
Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), Prof. Kayode Soremekun, said it would not be possible for his students to learn online as there was no infrastructure to support such learning.
He said: “I have read it that some universities have switched to the other mode of learning. But I do not think that this can obtain in Nigeria for now.
We lack the infrastructural network for virtual mode of learning. For instance, a basic resource like power is not available. So how then can we switch suddenly to this mode of learning? Putting in place this mode of learning is not instant coffee! So what is to be done can only be feasible in a long-term context.”
Chairman, Mind Builders School, Ikeja, Mr. Tunbosun Falore, said the school, which runs both primary and secondary levels, could only offer assignments online – and only to secondary pupils.
“We don’t have facilities for lecturers but only assignments and notes can be sent online to be returned. If will send assignments, we will send only for high school pupils. It is not something we have prepared for like is being done abroad. With this situation now, it can be considered,” he said.
Chief Executive of Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC), Mrs. Oreoluwa Lesi, said poor internet connectivity was the bane of e-learning in Nigeria.
Mrs. Lesi, whose centre offers digital training for young girls and women, also said poor power supply was a limiting factor.
“Most schools in Nigeria definitely will be unable to conduct only virtual classes, due to the largely widespread unavailability of electricity and Internet connectivity in many parts of the country.
“Where Internet is available, it is often not fast enough to enable webinars. Just last week, I was participating in a conference that had been cancelled and moved online and even being one of the relatively privileged few with ‘broadband’ Internet, it was not a smooth experience for me with many disconnections and poor sound quality,” she said.
Chief Executive Officer of Readmanna, Mrs. Edna Agusto, who offers digital training and listed the barriers facing e-learning as: “Most teachers cannot use technology and are unable to teach with technology; lack of relevant ICT infrastructure in schools and homes; lack of WiFi infrastructure in schools and homes.”
A lecturer at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Dr. Oluwakemi Olurinola, said not only were internet and ICT equipment not available in most schools, teachers were also not competent to use the e-learning platform.
“I see a lot of schools abroad embracing remote learning, yet tere are complaints of internet access even in those countries.
“We would have more than Internet access as a problem should the need arise to close schools in Nigeria. Do we have the technology infrastructure? Do we have technology pedagogical knowledge as teachers? Do our students have the basic computer skills to harness this option,” she said.
Olurinola said teachers need special training to be able to pass on knowledge online.
She said: “We have what we called the technological pedagogical knowledge – that is how you use technology for teaching – so that I have a laptop and internet access does not automatically mean that I have actually been engaging in the teaching and learning process effectively.
There has to be know-how. How do we ensure that the students in front of this laptop or these devices are actually engaging in learning or how to do we measure? What is the analytic we look at? How do we ensure we guard and guide interactions?”
On his part, Dr. Niran Oyekale, CEO, Commit Technology and Consult, said for teachers to be able to deliver lessons online, they needed 18 competencies which they can get by undergoing two important certification programmes – IC3 and MSCE – among others. He noted that providing infrastructure without empowering teachers would not yield results.
He said: “What is the essence of gadgets we cannot use. All we need is to strengthen the capacity of our teachers to get better results. The teacher needs 18 competencies to teach in the molecular classroom of today.
The SDG 4.4.2 UNESCO ICT teacher education states that teachers should take the Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3) and the Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) programmes to build basic competency. After that, teachers can take special certification programmes in their areas of specialisations,” he said.
Some schools are ready
Some schools, especially private schools that have entrenched e-learning practices said they can continue lessons should schools be forced to go on a break.
A teacher at Greensprings School Lagos who does not want to be named as she had no authority to speak, said the school had prepared for e-learning since the time of the Ebola epidemic six years ago.
She said the teachers were well trained to handle e-learning.
“In my present school, Greensprings, we have had a platform right from the days of Ebola – the Virtual Learning Environment. We still use the same platform to send home work and projects.
We also have another platform for mathematics, My i-maths. As a child is attempting questions, the teacher can view what they are doing, record their scores and make relevant corrections.
“We have gone beyond using white boards. We now use Wowbii interactive boards, which allow us to do much more. The wowbii can be used as a board; a teacher can call up a video on it; and at the same time go online. We have gone beyond 21st century learning in my school,” she said.
The school has announced closure for March 23. Head of Admission at the School, Mrs. Oluranti Bankole said “Learning will now be done online using the virtual learning platform.”
The Lagos Preparatory and Secondary School (LPSS), Ikoyi closed on Wednesday. Its Public Relations Manager, Lois Isemede, said the school would use its Google platform to continue learning.
“Within our school, we utilise Google classroom and all our students have school email accounts with which they can log on to the learning portal and take part in the activities. If the school has to close, we will continue using the Google classroom platform to optimise learning for our students.
We intend to also introduce other online platforms, recorded videos and live streaming. As is our practice, we will continue to encourage research based learning and project based work, and with the help of our parents and innovative teachers, we are assured that our students will remain fully engaged,” she said.
A student of Covenant University, Temi Lucas, said she believed closure would not interrupt learning in her school.
“We can continue classes online because the way my school has programmed each student, they attend to us on our individual portals. So what I know my school can do if this thing should affect us, they can drop our notes and put videos of our lecturers talking on our portal so each of us can have access to our notes and classes and would never miss anything,” she said.
UNESCO tips and others
To prepare for e-learning, UNESCO advises countries to consider solutions based on their realities in terms of power, equipment and internet access.
The UNESCO website lists digital-learning management systems, purpose-built systems for mobile phones, Systems with strong offline functionality, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Platforms, and Self-directed learning content that schools would find useful in implementing e-learning policies.
The agency also gave 10 recommendations that schools should consider including: choosing the tools; planning lessons; monitoring learning process; creating communities and inclusion.
Mrs. Lesi suggests that schools could use WhatsApp as platform for virtual classes.
“Perhaps there are ways to explore the sharing of video lectures in compressed formats delivered via WhatsApp, but this would still be limited to segments of the population with data and the know how to access this information.
“To get the entire country to a place where virtual classes are commonplace, we need widespread high-speed internet, more stable electricity, build the capacity of teachers to use technology and more good quality online teaching resources,” she said.
- Knowing that many teachers worldwide may not be prepared for e-learning role, the Poynter Institute, a journalism training institute, organised a free webinar for teachers to learn teaching.