By Victor C. Ariole
Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, these are the conditions, now what happens next. (P.Peynman). Distance Learning Institute of University of Lagos, directed by Professor Uche Udeani and the Vice Chancellor Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, convened a colloquium with great experts in Open Distance Learning (ODL) as panelists, both virtual and in-person; and Eugenia Abu performed well as the moderator linking the virtual and the in-persons in a world expecting a lot from knowledge production out of the clouds.
It turned out a great debate on “trichotomised” outcome – universal exposure of the digital citizen/learner, usefulness of the citizen/learner as outcome of such exposure, and the beautiful or ugly outcome such exposure portends for a beautiful or ugly world that intends to integrate or segregate humans who share the virtual space but are not all integrated in appreciating its beauty.
The chairman of the occasion, Professor Pat Utomi hinged his opening remarks on teaching quality that must be mindful of appropriate selection and application of tech materials available so as to achieve the usefulness of a learning outcome which was also the position of Engr. Kayode Odedina as the “e” in e-Learning must always be small letter to de-emphasise the electronic process seen in the tech materials. He categorically states that distance learning is just a mode of delivery and must not be equated with part time learning. In effect the usefulness of part time learning does not imply mandatory universal exposure to learning or integration to a universal virtual space. It is the same way Prof. Olu Jegede sees it, “remote teaching is different from on-line open learning”. The usefulness of any of them differs; however, there is beauty in the latter as student engagement and satisfaction exclude, a priori, quality of the student as well as examination process; hence it could not be said to be remote teaching for examination purposes.
It is at that point Professor Yemisi Obashoro-John intersects beauty with usefulness – to relate ODL with SDG-4 (Sustainable Development Goal of UN), it must aim at inclusive, equitable and quality education, in which the emotional, physical, economic disabled elderly people, especially women, could see a life-long learning platform involving them being able to discuss and express their learning experiences; the interactive way, either virtual or localised, so that no age group or impairment disabled, is excluded in the learning process.
Professor Moeketsi Letseka from South Africa corroborates Obashoro-John’s concern as linked to UNESCO’s concern of social justice systems and accessing resilient and inclusive education through Open Distance Education (ODE). Indeed, it could be a beauty to behold if the world could ever work that way, everybody glued to ODE. If indeed, it could work that way, like the youngest panelist expects, the youth wherever they find themselves could easily aspire to get jobs anywhere in the world as digital natives to avoid “thinking outside the box but still living inside the box”. Space and time for the digital natives must see the continent they originate from as the superstructure that could identify their broad capacity as against base capacity attributed to just the country they come from.
Like someone said, “we are all pulling levers on a giant machine (space and computer enabled processes) and the consequences of these actions go far beyond our localized perception, making our ability to comprehend the outcome difficult”. The African youths, in a continent that is seen greatly as underdeveloped, with enormous resources, are pulling the levers with the greatest of difficulties and, so, the machine needed to be reconfigured, or different and quality levers provided for them; may be as Utomi proposes, quality teaching so as to be in tandem with universal expectations.
So, as Dr. Akanimo Odon was making his point on how the levers could be difficult to handle if the youths “think outside the box and still remain in the box”, Engenia Abu called on the youths in-person and virtual to stand-up for recognition, and their population was quite instructive of what Prof. Udeani intended with the colloquium.
Quite emphatic, because Odon who read science in his first degree in UNIBEN was questioning why he did that in the first place instead of choosing what fits his passion – degree in English; as he has excelled more in writing proposals than it should have been remaining in science laboratory. That has brought both beauty and universal exposure to him. In effect, it points out that knowledge is becoming more integrated and liberal than compartmentalised.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Neil Fassina, President International Council for Distance Education, was unequivocal in sounding the warning that ODL is an upgrade in proving the “essence of jurisdiction in learning space and quality, hence the discernment in tools and approach is very key, as it will never replace face-to-face learning experience; and that as Covid-19 forced the world into isolation, education must never be stopped because classroom is not in use. No one intended to make ODL the absolute way of educating humans but what if the digital natives take over the population of the world, and robots become the expected manpower in the world, like Aimé Cesaire said, it could turn out to be: “no one colonises innocently”; so, no one projects virtual colonization innocently too.
In effect, would the expectation be a beautiful world that integrates all or an ugly world that excludes all. The real problem of humanity, according to E. D. Wilson, is living with Palaeolithic emotions, educating with medieval institutions and using god-like technology – uncoordinated three features that is not meeting concurrently nature’s expectation.
Like Peynman noted, the conditions are always there the information accessing patterns are always there, even at primordial state, including current Google search machine – so for what ends do humans intend them for; beauty or ugly.
Ariole, Ph.D is Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos