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Deepening online learning culture in challenged society

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UNTIL the emergence of COVID-19 outbreak that has forced pupils out of schools for over two months and still counting, online learning model has not been accorded desired attention in Nigerian educational system.

  Of a certainty, COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on global order has been overwhelming. One such aspect of life adversely affected and may never return to its primordial state is the educational sector in Nigeria.

  The country’s academic calendar which runs from September to July per session witnessed an abrupt alteration in year 2020 with suspension of further activities by the federal government due to coronavirus pandemic.

  This decision became crucial given government’s concerns for the safety of pupils as well as families they come from due to contagious nature of the COVID-19 infection in addition to its mortality capacity.

On this premise, the directive for all schools to be vacated by all pupils and immediate closedown pending further outcome was announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in an address to the nation on 29 March, 2020, when many primary and post primary schools were at the peak of their second term exams, while Senior School Certificate Examination was barely getting underway.

  What many people did not envisage at the onset of this development was a possible turning point in the long existing educational culture in the land, necessitating a paradigm shift from the well mastered format; perhaps, a development that heralded an advent of a new structure that may take some good time to get assimilated in the system.

With the school children having to spend great time at home, it may not find any sync with rationality leaving them completely shut out from formal teaching system they are used to for such an unknown duration, hence; government’s efforts to make up for the unfortunate fallout through online teaching and learning programme for pupils.

  Anambra State Government has been proactive in engaging their school children in this learning programme using TV, Radio and internet platforms with qualified teachers to anchore the contacts with pupils through the media.

Apparently, the sensitivity of the government over people’s plight could be seen here and deserves commendation too. This is a clear signal of a government that sees the need to build its future by grooming the present human resources to fit into the future challenge through educational instrument.

  The questions that agitate the mind at this development are, can the project – learning from home make the desired impact of creating intelligentsias and academic gurus that can compete fairly with their counterparts across the world? Can the social system and the attendant infrastructure provide adequate support to this neo learning process for maximum effect or is it really an era preluding a doomed future where literacy level may witness a sharp drop?

  Many factors signpost real impediments to achieving much with this system despite its flowery promises. First, it may be argued that even before the emergence of internet, Nigerians have been excelling in long distance learning programmes. Records corroborate this fact as people are known to have sat for Cambridge examinations from Nigeria and obtained certificates even up to Masters degree levels in the past. They got the materials for the studies through correspondences, yet, they made use of the materials to achieve their goal. Suffice it to say from this premise that learning for academic purposes are not entirely hinged on convergence at a formal structure called classroom. For the very fact that some people broached the odds to achieve this feat outside the confines of regular classes, it will remain contentious to situate face to face contacts system as last pathway to achieving academic excellence but there may be more in Nigeria’s context than hasty postulations.

  Facts point to conclusions that Nigeria is good at copying things, especially, Western and American models of programmes and policies. However, not all things copied from these civilised climes had succeeded in delivering on the target given the perculiarities of the contexts they are primed to operate on. 

The emergence of the pandemic is already reshaping the educational system, prompting authorities in the sector to consider online learning system as alternative to the traditional classroom clusters, given the unsuitability of close contacts or group activities as previously obtained in the school system at least as the pandemic lasts.

  While the pilot phase of this programme has taken off in earnest in Anambra, the impact assessment on the target pupils is an issue not properly contained in the exercise. This is very important as the focus capacities of pupils may vary, leaving some unquantifiable class shut out of complete comprehension of subject matters during electronic lesson sessions or internet since immediate feedback options conventional classrooms offer may not be possible. This is even for those who have access to the media and power source to partake in such programmes.

It is important to acknowledge that there are other groups who may not be fully captured in this programme due to unavailability of either power source or media reach.

  For those at remote rural areas, the situation is more complicated. While most facilities supporting e-learning may not be available, pupils adaptability to the system may pose more difficulty. The alternative would be face to face teaching of selected groups’ arrangement. What this system will throw up in the next 10 years if the situation stretches beyond a passing phase lives more for the mind to ponder.

  The educational future of the Nigerian child may be heading for a real bad turn if the situation does not improve in good time. It could be inferred from the impact of the pandemic in the system that while it is imperative for a new general curriculum to be evolved, it is equally important to incorporate health facilities into school system to provide immediate health response to emergencies when the need arises. Suffice it to say that every school should have mini medical department manned by qualified medical personnel when normalcy returns to the system.

  Beyond the sophistry appeals of Online learning, it requires thinking out of the box to make it effective in the system than the inchoate exercise that currently obtains. Without discrediting ideas of those who put up the exercise – one that at least brings palliatives toward mitigating redundance, pupils brains may be thrown into in the run of the pandemic, it is important that ways to internalise it in the system be fashioned out.

  This may require giving pupils an off-day out of the normal school days routing for them to receive lessons from their various homes at designated times. Outcome of this exercise should pass through periodic evaluations. To a large extent, this will mould pupils into compliance with infotech operations. The hiccups even some university admission seekers encounter with Computer Based Test (CBT) will be reduced to barest minimum if these pupils across all social categories and barriers can be exposed to online learning system. However, this can only be possible if the supporting facilities could be put on ground.  Part of the operational elements may include pupils’ compulsory procurement of PCs to practice with. This is achievable if goverment, parents and guardians should put on their thinking-caps. Perhaps, public schools may rate better if pupils from their system are granted subsidy on PCs to be defrayed within reasonable time without inducing pressure on parents and guardians.

  For students at the tertiary levels, online learning may be easier to implement but the success rate is much also dependent on the supporting facilities. Often times had virtual meetings been mared by poor network. The same situation can turn a planned good lesson into chaos if pupils cannot get anything out of it.

  Obviously, online learning culture is good but Nigeria has more work to make it effective.

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