By Victor C. Ariole
We have come to take for granted that the internet enables an unparalleled diffusion of information, promising more knowledge for more people… in this hidden movement… division of learning in society shades towards the pathological, captured by a narrow priesthood of privately employed computational specialists, their privately owned machines, and the economic interests for whose sake they learn… – Zuboff (2019, 189)
Internet has enabled greater access to information than classroom teaching no doubt. However, it has allowed no fewer than 10,000 tech professionals to create extreme asymmetries of knowledge and power that throw in a value chain that makes consumption of their product to create larger slaves of humans at the bottom who must be exploited; and on top of the pyramid, fewer people who must make money to the detriment of labour or any production means not connected to the internet. And Eric Schmidt could state that modern technology platforms are nothing short of a biological virus scaling as quickly, efficiently, aggressively and making the few controlling them to use them so powerfully to the helplessness of others. Even a whole President of USA could be denied access if unwanted or undesired on the platforms. And his German counterpart, Merkel is grievously protesting against that.
The current Covid-19 infection has even connected to it to drive learning and teaching into helpless mass acceptance, enforcing “herds behaviour” that is about creating sub-human entities who are swarmed with masses of information that give no room for the thinking faculty; like Zuboff states, the process is creating pathological subjects and objects. This is what Nigerian universities are finding hard to adapt to as the facilities are not there for them to obviate the pathological flow in which make-belief quality humans are to be produced to be awarded degrees in character and in learning as if the interactional process that yield character value content is no more important, in an avoidable human extinction headed world.
Climate change is an erosion to biodiversity but human extinction beyond pathological virus activation, could also be linkable to humans’ quintessential values of apprehension and neuronal presence, giving way to soul-less human beings. Online learning as learning democracy is welcome but it is not adaptable to producing humans in character and in learning. A state like California, as the biggest state in USA and the biggest in accommodating subjects and objects of learning still sees Stanford University as a flagship University where most of their products are produced in character and in learning, as against University of California with the highest number of students, 10 campuses and over 285,000 students. Stanford University has about 16,000 students with 19 Nobel Laureates as part of their community.
In effect, online learning is well packaged in University of California than elsewhere and their products exhibit mostly what one sees in Hollywood, a great ground for robotic display of character – make-believe characters – either to force a herds approach that pushes the masses to future repositioning or learning that could turn out hoax the way some religious cults had led to mass suicide in USA in the past or could turn out the best for a new world. Make-believe world and real world like investment world and realty world are in competition even in the design of school curriculum. Imagine the whole world constructing its curriculum along the line of cyberspace dependence – albeit beyond over 99% of humanity – controlled by servers that dictate when knowledge could happen or not. And Africa has no access to such cyberspace control just like Nigeria is even worst with no steady electricity supply, and all gadgets relating to online learning depend on servers and availability of electricity. And no Tier 1 Internet Service Provider like the acknowledged big ones – Verizon and AT and T – could lead any Tier 3 or 4 ones, mostly seen in Nigeria, to the WWW, from an environment that cannot electrically power Fiber-optic, cables, or even for remote rural areas that could access via satellite, primitive conductors. That alone escalates the cost of accessing “Learning Democracy in Nigeria”; that is: learning made available to the majority for majorly vulgarising learning extracted from the behaviour of the majority. Artificial Intelligence is meant to design what make mass production viable and learning democracy produces what mass behaviour can absorb for it to be profitable. For Nigerian University the platform is very shaky as it turns out that even contact or face to face learning seems more affordable to the masses than internet learning.
Lagos State University Students just protested the hike of their school charges (not even tuition) above the usual N25,000. Now, imagine a student being available for internet learning for a minimum of 15 hours a week. The availability of electricity to charge battery and the amount to pay for data or the frustration that goes with network fluctuation could lead to neuronal and physical breakdown of both teachers and students especially when the University platform is being accessed by over 30,000 students.
The teachers who must be navigating the education or learning platform on his/her computer so as to prove competent in their field as well as in sequencing learning input processes for up to 3 courses and above, of 9-hour a week for 12 to 15 weeks, in order to achieve the desirable learning outcome of their “Ghost” learners.
Ghost learners, they could be, because a demotivated teacher could not be interested in seeing their faces on the platform. And what is more, the control system could be lacking in making sure that, indeed, deserving students earned their degrees in learning and in character. One of the best ways of doing that, which is getting the students on the platform to peer review the contributions of their mates in a team work manner on the platform, could be ignored. And, again, submitting all the processes and interaction on a platform to another auditing lecturer could also be ignored. And, again, the learning sequencing and input process as could never be the same for different disciplines. And in which ever discipline, the students must be required to turn in an agreed quantum of pages as a test of competence to write a logical report or essay.
Some students from private universities who decided to do masters’ degree in some better established universities are already proving incapable of writing examinations without textbooks in the hall, as most of them operated that way before. Even, at that, the examining process, if well designed, could make the presence of text book useless. Nigerian teachers that are already demotivated by weak government interest in education would also find themselves greatly challenged by further greater deficit of learning facilities and weaker reward system. Online administration of test or examination involve great psychological disposition reserved for greatly motivated teachers.
It is either Nigeria discards its universities if it has no needs for future wellbeing, as no money is invested in them to make them human capital development centers that must sustain the viability of a nation, or hands them over to their Alumni to raise funds and manage them for the glory of the Alumni and for a better yield to Nigeria and a greater contribution to the world. Nigeria must not be seen tomorrow as robot-filled country; and as one tech expert said, when you develop humans to behave and act as robots, you do not need soldiers to occupy their territory; you use the results obtained from learning democracy to push them aside or crush them and take over.
Ariole is Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos