By Bianca Iboma-Emefu
Prof. Tony Bestman Ogiamien is Founder/Chancellor, American Heritage University of Southern California (AHUSC), Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA, an online university. The former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Benin, speaks the challenges of e-learning in Nigeria with proposals for universities on how to tackle the issue.
Has e-learning come to stay in tertiary institutions?
E-learning is becoming a way of life tertiary institutions all over the world. It has revolutionised the old mode of teaching. You can receive lectures in the comfort of your office, home or even while sitting in a car. It has a tremendous effect on our culture and religion.
I don’t think National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is actually e-learning compliant. There are unsettled issues in their mode of delivery. It took many years for NOUN to graduate its first set. It came at a time when online started but it chose to go the way of Rapid Result College.
At NOUN, there is no two-way interaction between the teachers and students which e-learning does very well. With the right personnel and technology, e-learning succeeds.
At American Heritage University, every faculty member was given five weeks of intensive training before he or she was appointed. Initially, some saw it as something very boring. As for students, they should be taught how to log in and use the portal where payment can be made without going to the bank.
A duplicate of his records are always stored in the portal right from day one to graduation. Students are sent to the students’ portal individually.
How can Nigeria turn the adversities of COVID-19 pandemic to opportunities in e-learning?
I believe that COVID-19 pandemic has forced Nigerians out of the old mode of teaching to a situation which I will call ‘whether they like it or not.’ E-learning is expensive to maintain. But COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. It resulted in schools shut all across the world. Consequently, education has changed dramatically with the distinctive rise of e-learning whereby teaching is now undertaken remotely and digital platforms.
Are the older folks comfortable with e-learning?
There are five barriers why e-learning may remain difficult to sustain in Nigeria. They are connectivity/acceptability of e-learning as a mode of teaching, lack of interest by the learner and those teaching them, evidence of fraud/cheating, lack of knowledge of information technology and regulatory body that will monitor outcomes.
However, it appears that we are surviving or rather coping with the realities presented by the viral disease. Today everyone is carrying one form of handset or the other and for the most part, the device is invariably android, iPhone etc.
One of the dynamics of the pandemic is the virtual environment it created and it is possible to synergize campus education with virtual education if those barriers are not there. The older folks should go back to relearn e-learning if we are to meet acceptable global stands. The older folks will continue to remain cheated by the younger ones who are social media conscious.
What steps to take to safeguard devices for the minors against predators and Internet sites that are decadent?
There is really no straight answer. At best the answer is left to law enforcement agencies. There are devices everywhere and therefore difficult to monitor activities of minors. Use of the Internet is almost free, needless to buy data.
The future of work is going to be hybrid and virtual. Hybrid is where you teach online and in class. This is the best system, I would recommend. The education system would need to encourage teachers. Learn from the best and the brightest.
For example, AHUSC joined the e-learning platform in 2003. We belong to the first generation of the e-learning system and have gone through different certifications and finally were able to stand up with others and built our own online campus in 2004.
We now refer to the mode of learning as distance learning. Our Law graduates are practicing Law in California. We pride ourselves with good name recognition and 17 years old. We are available to assist any institution in this regard.
What do you think are the barriers to e-learning in Nigeria?
The first is connectivity. This is where the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) could have encouraged the government to find a bandwidth that would make distance learning to work but it left it to private subscribers like MTN, Airtel and Glo.
Nigeria didn’t have the foresight to ensure that everybody has enough bandwidth on campus like the University of Benin (UNIBEN), for example. I spoke with Prof. Godwin Oshodin when he was the vice chancellor. If there’s enough bandwidth it will work but it was left to individuals. Our bandwidth is very low.
A bandwidth for only the campus can be created. We can get experts from India, South Africa and other countries to help set up the bandwidth. It is worse outside the campus. An average student cannot hold lesson outside the campus for long.
The question is how zoom can be used to teach 300 students at the same time, who do not have the means. How do you connect with bandwidth? You can’t teach Nigerian students for three hours without the call dropping and when it drops, it may not be able to reconnect again.
There is also the problem of personnel, which requires the training of lecturers for e-learning. The lecturers will have to be trained for e-learning and also familiarize students for e-learning.
There is the question of how they will know what to do if they are not trained. You need technologists with highly skilled computer knowledge. In Nigeria, we are not doing it with seriousness. The universities should be in the forefront and do the thinking and not the NUC. The NUC should give directives to ensure that e-learning is established in every university in the country.
How did your journey to teaching begin?
After my graduation from Western State University College of Law in 1980, I taught at a nearby community college for a year and was able to secure a Life Teaching Credential. My interest to teach began to grow. I became interested in workshops and seminars to learn the art of teaching.
At a time I even taught in a secondary school. It was in 1981 that I actually felt a desire to return to Nigeria. I sent employment applications to the University of Maiduguri and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. While Maiduguri replied that my application was receiving attention, OAU almost employed me.
In the acceptance letter, UDSS scale was mentioned and it struck my interest to return. Shortly thereafter, Prof Itse Sagay who was then the external assessor to a new Faculty of Law in Benin sent me an interesting letter that it was okay to return to Benin since I was from the old Bendel State now Edo State. That was how I settled for Benin to begin my teaching career after completing my NYSC at UNIBEN in 1982.