By Onoja Johnson Integrity
The Kogi State University (KSU), recently renamed as Prince Audu Abubakar University (PAAU), has notified her students on the decision to deploy e-learning as a measure to minimize the effect of the novel Covid-19 pandemic.
As contained in the information passed to the students, the educatees who get the messages are expected to log on to the school portal to participate in a poll that would make the school finalize its decision and make plans.
While e-learning is indeed a welcome development and also a plus for the management of KSU to have swiftly tapped into that idea, let’s briefly examine how feasible and achievable it is considering the circumstances surrounding the studentship of the Kogi State owned university and the possible way out.
As an old student of KSU, I can categorically say that about 90% of those who come to be schooled there are from average and poor homes who can barely afford gadgets compatible with standard e-learning. Affordability of huge mobile data required for e-learning is a challenge too. This is evident in how most of those students go to cafes to do assignments that require an electronic gadget and internet connectivity.
It’s also evidential in the students standard of living on campus. Unlike University of Lagos, Uniport, among others where students come to school with fleet of cars and sophisticated gadgets and among whom are working class individuals, KSU students are still on motorcycle level with dots of working class people among them with a spoonful of good devices owners.
Thus, more than half of the students would be left out on e-learning.
Similarly, more than half of KSU students reside within the state. Only few are in Lokoja where things are little better. The rest residing within the state are either from Ofabo in Ofu local government where Glo switches their network on and off like electricity or from Emodu Ogugu in Olamaboro where you can only make calls with the weak Airtel signal and browse at night with the fluctuating MTN Network.
Some are in those suburb communities in Okehi where you would have to climb a hill to make calls. Others are in those remote communities in Kabba where you wave your phone to drag in network. Overall, the poor internet accessibility in our locality is an impediment to e-learning.
In my First Degree dissertation titled ‘Asessing The Accessibility of Online/Internet Radio by Kogi State University Students’, it was discovered that 92% of the students did not know up-to two internet based radio stations. It was also discovered that 99% of students don’t access streaming online contents because of poor network connectivity, lack of electricity to power gadgets, affordability of mobile data among others.
Even most of the students who reside outside the state couldn’t return to Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt as at when the closure came up and for the fear of the ravaging Corona Virus. So, E-learning is near unachievable in this case. Even the portal for the pool will experience a low turnout considering the aforementioned factors.
This is also coupled with the hard times everyone across the world is passing through right now. Those students whose parents are struggling to meet up with a one time daily meal shouldn’t be laden with other burdens of data subscriptions for children’s e-learning.
More so, there is a need to consider students performances in the normal one-on-one learning before thinking about online learning. If students were not doing extremely well from their normal live classes, it would be a waste of time taking them online where they can’t be monitored on concentration.
Albeit, we can’t afford to fold our hands awaiting normalcy to return before seeking a way out. Education is the bedrock of our society. We must do everything possible to keep it running. Even though the e-learning pattern plan by the schools management looks unrealistic, measures can be put it place to make it work.
If we must keep any aspect of the society running irrespective of lock down or any form of natural disaster, it’s the education sector. Considering the importance of education, nothing can be seen to be too much to sacrifice to make it work effectively.
To make e-learning achievable and accessible to all students, the government should look into providing appropriate mobile devices like tabs and power banks for all students. Going by this, the government of Kogi State would need an estimated fund of about N1,760,000 only to provide these devices for the 22,000 students currently enrolled in KSU. The estimation means N80,000 only would be earmarked or spent on each student to get a portable Samsung Tab of N60,000 and N20,000 worth of NewAge power bank of over 6,000 milliampheres capacity. This includes the pre-degree and diploma students.
Kogi State is not on a complete lock down, so, students can urgently be invited to come and pick up such devices from the school while they observe social distancing and other protective measures. The government can as well consider subsidizing these same gadgets if the cost burden will be too much on the government in this critical period. By subsidizing, the devices would become affordable to almost all.
The government and the school management can also collaborate with network providers for customized data plans for the students and customized SIM cards that can be used to browse irrespective of the students’ locations.
However, considering the procurement challenges and time factor that the above suggestions could face, the management can kick start classes now with social media platforms awaiting the provision of the appropriate gadgets used for better and efficient online learning.
Instead of opting in for streaming live videos on websites and attempting teleconferencing that would require strong network connectivity, huge data and standard devices for accessibility, social media platforms are better to start with. Most of the students are on Whatsapp, Facebook, telegram and other social media platforms irrespective of their challenges earlier pointed out. The devices needed for this are lowest android devices with less data consumption.
The social media do not require much data and strong network to be accessed and this is evidential in their current massive activeness in their students social media forums. A good example is the Kogi State University Students Newsline on Facebook.
In this case, Whatsapp webinar can be employed for lecturing on certain courses through audiovisual presentations. It enables live interactions too. Telegram is another viable platform for group learning. Here, students can be assessed too via submission of assignments or tests in PDF or Doc and other easy to upload file formats. However, social media platforms are never the standard form for e-learning as obtainable in other parts of the world.
Howbeit, until the appropriate gadgets are made available and the enabling environment is created for standard and effective online learning, e-learning in Nigeria, especially in Kogi state, would be more like a child’s play. It would finally collapse the already staggering quality of education delivered in our institutions.
– Onoja Johnson Integrity writes from Lokoja.