Musa Jibril And Elizabeth Ogunbamowo
You only have to listen to Mrs Damilola Agbejule, Administrator, Olive Dave Learners School, Idimu, Lagos, to get the big picture of the challenge facing schools, the huge financial distress of school and teachers are grappling with.
“We really have a strong support system for our parents especially those that are unable to pay their children’s fees on time but we do ensure we get the money in towards the end of the term when the exams are approaching but unfortunately the day we were meant to start the exam was the same day the school lockdown started so we were unable to retrieve any money from anyone.”
Her school is owed over N400,000 by parents. With the lockdown extended for over a month, she can only pray that the economy bounces back so parents would be able to pay.
The other side of the coin concerns students. Tosin Orodiran, a postgraduate student of the University of Ibadan: “My course ought to run for three semesters but now everything is on hold and I have lost the zeal for studying.”
One of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, no doubt, is education. Countries that adopted lockdown as a containment strategy promptly shut down educational institutions, from kindergarten to universities. There is yet no indication on when academic activities can resume. Pupils and teachers face the possibility of a long spell at home. There is fear that such a long lull in academic activities will negatively affect pupils.
In a bid to continue academic activities, educationists and institutions across the country have scrambled unto the digital learning platform and are trying their hands on remote learning.
The true picture of the state of the country’s educations is digitally, however, is not encouraging. Not many tertiary institutions seem inclined to embrace the technology, while mixed reactions trailed the e-learning methods adopted by some schools; just as well, there were loopholes that leave parents vulnerable to exploitation. On both sides of the fence, there are pertinent concerns.
Victor Akuma, 400 level Mass Communication undergraduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) confirmed to Saturday Sun his institution was yet to formally adopt any form of e-learning, even as the Academic Staff Union (ASUU) of the institution had embarked on an industrial strike before the commencement of the lockdown.
According to Victor, e-learning is a concept promoted only in mainstream media. “As at the early hours of Tuesday when I visited my school’s website, there’s no such information regarding plans for e-learning platform,” he submitted.
Chukwunwenwa Chinenye, another final year student of UNN explained the frustration she is facing due to the total shutdown of academic activities. She said: “I travelled home to get foodstuff in the second week of ASUU’s warning strike and couldn’t return because of the lockdown in Lagos. I came home with a handful of books. Unfortunately, the annoying part is that I didn’t travel with my laptop. As a result, I have not been able to continue with my project. Certainly, my academic interest has been greatly affected.”
While her university is yet to formally adopt a digital learning strategy, a lecturer in the department, in a bid to fast track his course created a WhatsApp platform where he teaches his students.
Chukwunwenwa, however, conceded that: “Students are yet to get acquainted with this pattern of learning.”
Oko Odinakachi, a student of Abia State University, claimed she is yet to get any significant update from her school towards adopting the e-learning strategy. She, however, expressed little faith in digital learning. “According to my school calendar, I should be on the verge of writing my first-semester examination. How possible can we do that digitally when there are issues with even JAMB CBT here in our country?” she stated.
Sozo Nwogu, a final year student of Abia State University said that the school had adopted the digital learning strategy. But she gave a gloomy verdict on the effectiveness of the new learning platform: “Since the pandemic broke out, my education has moved online, but I’m much better at learning in a physical class; learning virtually via computers is harder.”
The same sentiment was conveyed by Daniel Omonokhua shared the experiences of his siblings who are studying in one of the private tertiary institutions in a South West State. According to him, the past few weeks have been unusual for the students who are not conversant with online classes.
“It’s not as if the school has adopted a specific app for learning online; rather the students make use of Telegram to connect with their lecturers. They don’t have the opportunity to ask questions because the stream is disrupted by chats that pop in at any moment. According to my sister, the lecturer just drops PDF file in the group and ask them to form their notes; sometimes, he drops assignments. They do not have the opportunity to see their lecturers one-to-one.”
Nwogu pointed out other hurdles inherent in the system, notably the challenge of data expenditure. With the stay-at-home order which grounds all economic activities, where will students get money to spend on data for online classes?
He concluded on a negative note: “There’s something about Africans and being in class physically and their learning capability; the majority is not familiar with virtual classes.”
Saturday Sun also spoke with some students of secondary schools on the effectiveness of the educational broadcasting strategy adopted by some state governments via radio and television where students are taught English and Mathematics.
Abolade Kunle, a JSS 3 student of a Lagos public school, said he is aware of the lessons but rarely tunes into the station. His classmate who lives around had informed him of the class, he was excited at the first instance, and the class was insightful as he was able to comprehend what was taught. But it was not feasible for him to draw the benefits: “We don’t have a radio set in the house and I use my Daddy’s phone once in a while but he doesn’t allow me to use it all the time,” he said.
His father berated him for draining his phone’s battery and that made him lose interest in even listening to the programme.
One of the teachers at a public school in Mushin further harped on the obvious drawback: “In the past five weeks, we have had barely three days of electricity supply. It is not every parent that can afford a generator. Is it not when you have electricity supply that the children can watch the television?”
A litany of complaints from parents
Where tertiary institutions are foot-dragging, most private primary schools did not tarry before they jumped into the virtual learning space using various means available. The result is that parents found themselves in a strange experience where they become surrogate teachers to their children.
A mother lamented: “I have been running around the house since morning in the name of online school. The school sent email links to parents which provided the scheme of work using Microsoft Team. Now I have to study and teach the kid.”
The mother of two, who falls into the category of frontline workers during this challenging COVID-19 period, bared her mind on the development: “The school should stop it or make it optional, especially, considering the age of my boy who is just three. For the boy, school is about leaving the house, meeting friends while learning.”
Although, the school is yet to demand payment from parents, she was certain it is something to be expected, and this is another sore point with her. “In fact, they should pay me,” she said.
Another parent also complained: “My kids are in Primary Three and Nursery Two. Their school created Whatsapp group chat for each class and posts scheme of work, daily class works and assignments. We are required to give our phones to them so they can follow the class. How do I make use of my phone during the day? Secondly, it has not been easy for my daughter in Nursery 2. I spent hours, reading the instruction on the phone and supervising her work.”
While she is not against digital learning, she, however, think, the school failed to fine-tune its e-learning strategy.
“They are too much in a hurry to find a way to make money and therefore failed to pay attention to the process they adopted,” she said.
Other parents raised issues bothering on exploitation. One of them pointed out that the prevailing condition has given room for mercenaries to masquerade as e-learning groups.
With a daughter in Federal Government College Shagamu preparing for her Senior School Certificate Exam, the father was compelled to find a suitable e-learning portal when WAEC advised students to be studious during the lockdown as they are likely to sit for their exams as soon as the pandemic is over. The search led him to an online WAEC Preparatory Class that invited people to “join the class by clicking the Whatsapp chat link sent.”
However, things became complicated when he was directed to the requisite online resources. “One subject is N1, 500, four subjects N4, 500 and six subjects cost at N6, 500. I didn’t go further because of the fee, which I think is exorbitant, in view of the current state of the country,” he stated.
Speaking on the prerogative of switching to the e-learning platform, Dr Luke Anorue, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said he’s not aware that so many schools are adopting digital learning. According to him: “If few private schools are, it remains a smokescreen of an idea; an academic gimmick touted to close the gap occasioned by lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is very effective, but ironically, we should bear in mind that that only few universities could efficiently make use of the technology as against the majority that lacks the enabling environment with regards to equipment and the logistics required.”
Had digital learning been instituted in public schools before now, he has no doubt that it would have been easier to switch to that mode in this period of lockdown. Without mincing words, he affirmed that lecturers and their students that are in different parts of the country will find it difficult to organise online classes under the prevailing circumstance.
“How many universities can boast of free and efficient Wi-Fi? Some students are in remote villages without internet connectivity; and even where it is available, is data subscription affordable this period?” he said.
Izundu Artino, a teacher in Plateau State said it is difficult to adopt e-learning for the students because the majority are from low-income backgrounds. He noted that one of his colleagues have been able to get some electronic tablets for some of the students to aid in teaching and learning. The big question from him: “How many parents can afford such gadgets?”
But for Daniel Taiwo, director, City Top School, Lagos, “e-learning is the way to go.”
He said: “I run a Nursery and Primary School. Before now we have started online teaching and this period now makes it more important for us to continue. Our students have been trained to be technology inclined; it means that when this pandemic started just before we commenced our exams, we simply moved online because the students are already acquainted with how to use a laptop and are conversant with the digital learning stuff. For instance, the exam was done via an online platform and the students got their results, which wasn’t quite different from what they would have scored if they had written it in a physical classroom.”
On parents’ fear that student might not learn much, he said: “Even in a physical classroom, students don’t get everything at a go but by repetition; that is why they go to school every weekday to learn. The same can be achieved with e-learning – when students can see, hear and be engaged if you combine these three, there is no way the child will not learn.”
Assuming the lockdown drags on for months, and schools are taking place online, how do you bill parents?
According to him, school fees will stay, but other charges will be whittled off including fees for third term party, school bus, clubs and other extra-curricular activities, PTA, etc. “These payments will be reduced, but tuition fee have to be paid because schools still have to pay their teachers.”