Education during COVID-19;the backside of virtual learning in Nigeria
The COVID-19 pandemic break struck when no one expected. It surfaced at the beginning of a new year when most businesses had barely started recovering from the previous year’s festivity.
Although it was very inconvenience, schools, just like every other sector, immediately shut down for the initial 14 days quarantine period. Schools shut down close to the end of second term. Most schools did not even wait to complete their terminal examination. They vacated immediately because they thought the pandemic will ease off before it was time to commence the third term of the 2019/2020 academic session. Things have not turned out as we all expected. The lockdown has extended more than we anticipate. Thing has forced various sectors to look out for newer ways to deliver their service including schools.
Test running online platforms to continue learning
The pandemic has stretched into the set commencement date for third term in the 2019/2020 academic session.
Immediately, government and owners of private schools (secondary and primary) are beginning to look for alternative approaches to continue teaching and learning. The government and owners of private schools as well as shareholders in the education sector have decided to leverage of electronic, digital and social media for virtual schooling and learning. Schools in states including Imo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom among others started right away.
They test run various online platforms to continue the teaching and learning activities amidst the pandemic. Social media platforms and video conferencing platform such as Whatsapp and Zoom have been used by schools in Imo and Rivers. Ogun state runs its virtual learning via a dedicated website while it has been rumour that Akwa Ibom state is using the radio and TV to carry learning activities. Tech Mirror earlier reported a failed attempt by OAU to use virtual learning.
Issues arising from the test
After chats and conversations with a few facilitators of these programmes, parents as well as following social media memes on virtual learning; the following are some of the challenges mitigating the effective application of virtual learning in Nigeria:
Lack of facilities
Lack of facilities to conduct classes via virtual learning is one of the challenges mitigating the use of virtual learning in Nigeria. Teachers in most of the schools do not have access to the needed facilities in their homes. These facilities include good cameras, video editing software and skills, laptops, among others. Take for instance, a teacher wants to prepare video content of an online class on google class and/or whatsapp. He or she is immediately faced with lack of proper facilities to it effectively. Using his mobile phone camera in most cases affects the picture quality. He or she will have to look for video editing apps. And some of the teachers before now do not have video editing skills, since it isn’t one of the needed skills in teaching.
High cost of data bundles
Secondly, high cost of data bundles is any challenging factor in virtual learning in Nigeria. Take for instance, we decide to ignore the first challenge or a teacher happens to have a phone with a good phone and good video editing skills. He or she successfully goes through the rigour process of shooting the videos and editing them. The problem of data bundle to upload learning videos becomes another challenge. From conversation with virtual learning facilitators, a video for a 5 minute training session will need between 400 to 450 megabyte of date bundles to upload. The facilitator said this might not look like something burdensome until the project manager in charge of the virtual learning makes one or two corrections to a single video. This means shooting and uploading one video for three times before the final copy is approved. With this, over 1 gigabyte of data is need for the shortest video. You can imagine what happens if the video is up to 8 minutes. And the teacher is expected to produce at least three videos in a day throughout the lock-down period.
Poor internet/browsing network
Even if the teacher has successfully produced the video and has sufficient data to upload his or her video, the inconsistency in internet/browsing network quality in Nigeria becomes any problem. There is no fastest or best internet/browsing network as far as Nigeria is concern. This depends on location. So take for instance the teacher is in a location where there is poor signal for internet/browsing services. This alone has thwarted the first two efforts. Browsing network in Nigeria has been a problem decried in Nigeria for a very long time. Nigerians whose businesses are internet based adopt various approaches to combat this challenge as they face it on daily basis. They use universal modems and have to subscribe for data plan from different service providers. They do this because they are faced with the challenges every day. It is difficult to attain such flexibility in the educational sector at such short notice.
The parent’s point of view
The problems of high data cost and poor network does not affect the teachers alone. From the parent’s point of view, it is difficult to manage the virtual learning approach. For a family of four kids with just two mobile gadgets there comes the first challenge. Two of the kids have to wait while the first two use the devices. This, mind you, can only happen when the parents are back from their day’s job fending for the family. The parents are to buy data dandles sufficient for all four kids. That is huge. A rough estimate from some parents shows that they will need at least 10gigabyte in roughly one to two week for virtual lesson ignoring the fact that they have to guide the children through the process and relinquish their right to their phone throughout the period.
Our educational sector is not ready for virtual learning
Last but not the least; the educational sector is not ready to effectively run virtual learning. Only a few schools have the facilities and logistics needed carry out effective virtual learning. Most schools lack the systems and structure required to run virtual learning. There do not have websites where these videos can be stored. Their teachers are not virtual learning ready. The school do not have the logistics ready such running cost for the project, facilities such as cameras, etc.
We need to do more
Summarily, it is worthy to note that the instance of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed our ready for a digital era. As a nation, we have to use this as a pointer to what needs to be put in place to prepare the country and all its sectors to fit into the digital world. Some things such as access to PC and internet services should be included as social amenities in this 21st century. Nonetheless, it is inimical to commend the efforts of teachers and educators fighting hard to overcome these challenges to reach out to their pupils and students.