EDITORIAL: Our universities and e-learning

NUC, Universities

The National Universities Commission (NUC) has said that Nigeria cannot efficiently operate e-learning programmes in its universities due to lack of infrastructure, electricity supply and internet access.

These shortcomings will require some time to address. Sadly, lack of infrastructure and electricity supply has been the bane of our existence in Nigeria for many decades now – with internet access joining the list more recently.

These have affected not just e-learning but, every other sector, industry, and the general quality of life in Nigeria.

This year, the pandemic and consequent lockdown highlighted the critical need for an online alternative for almost every sector. With physical schools closed for nearly three quarters of the year, e-learning has become a veritable and practically mandatory requirement for the education sector worldwide.

At the onset of the lockdown, even developed countries struggled to transit seamlessly to e-learning, and many developing countries could not.

In Nigeria, the private education space adopted a pseudo solution for e-learning. However, majority of the learning population were left stranded. Even in private schools, the factors listed above have made e-learning less efficient and more expensive than it should be.

The need for e-learning or online education is not only occasioned by the lockdown or inability of many schools to operate physically.

E-learning is the future of formal education. For example, in a cosmopolitan university that cannot accommodate all students on campus, we often have students commuting to and from the campus from far-off places.

Online classes should be an option to make learning for such students more convenient. It will also allow the schools to reach potential students across state and country lines. Currently, Nigeria has 92 public universities and 79 private universities.

Most of the public universities lack basic requirements for efficient learning. There are not enough computers, and most students cannot afford laptops.

Where there are available devices, an epileptic or absence of electricity supply means devices cannot be powered or used as needed.

Additionally, battery life is always at risk with erratic charging and sometimes suboptimal voltage.

Alternate power supply is available but requires additional financial capacity. Internet data is still relatively expensive in Nigeria, and we do not have enough fibre network across the country (or even in states) to provide the seamless streaming required for online educational interaction. Given these challenges, the NUC needs a plan to address these issues for e-learning to be fully adopted.

Currently, lecturers and students use personal resources to augment the almost non-existent infrastructure. These personalised solutions are not secure or properly coordinated.

They are also costly. Some options to mitigate these infrastructure and cost challenges include the NUC or educational institutions entering partnerships with leading infrastructure providers to procure equipment in bulk and take advantage of economies of scale.

Corporate bodies and multinationals can also devote some of their CSR budgets to enabling e-learning in tertiary institutions which act as a feeder into the pool from which they search for and recruit talent.

Indeed a few companies in the Telecoms, Technology and Banking sectors have supported some universities by providing free Wi-Fi hotspots.

These gestures are, however, merely drops in the ocean! It is also pertinent to note that Infrastructure is just one aspect of the system. Another significant aspect is the content.

To successfully implement and adopt e-learning, the content needs to be prepared in suitable e-formats and modules. Platforms for testing, recording, assignments also need to be created and populated.

Yet another aspect which is probably the most critical is training and change management.

Teachers that will deliver training via e-learning and the students who will interact via this mode need to embrace change. Finally, the entire e-learning system must pass integrity and quality tests.

This is crucial for our accreditations from an e-learning system to be viewed as credible anywhere in the world. Putting all of this in place requires planning, investment, and resources.

This will take a bit of time but obviously should be prioritised over an acceptable timeframe as it is evident that the rest of the world is not waiting or slowing down.

A point to note is that of sixteen countries with the best conditions for implementing e-learning in the world, ten were ranked as having the top education systems in general.

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Given this interesting correlation between the quality of education systems in a country and their ability to implement e-learning successfully, a disturbing question comes up.

Is implementing e-learning in our universities akin to merely putting lipstick on a pig? Whatever it is, we cannot delay e-learning.

The time for a thorough overhaul of our educational system is now!

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Ada Ada

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