Continued from Monday
In mapping out an effective delivery of online education , the Federal Ministry of Education may need to take a look at some of the steps taken by other countries in the Southern African region, Asia, Europe, and South or North America when COVID- 19 forced all governments to close schools. The Chinese example readily comes to mind. I must hasten to add that I am not unaware of the general sentiment about China with respect to the COVID- 19 pandemic and the conspiracy theory. The idea here is, therefore, not by any stretch of imagination, to project China especially at this time or impose the Chinese concept on our system. Yet, there will surely be one or two fundamental things to , at least , adapt from the country’ s experience.
To illustrate this , the story was told of a teacher who informed his students largely populated by teenagers that there is always something good about everyone and everything . A student then asked him what is good about the devil to which he responded : consistency .
China was as agitated as we are now when the virus first struck it and had to send its students home . Here is a country that , as of 2018 , boasted 518 , 800 schools at all levels, 16 , 728 , 500 full time teachers and 276 million students . The figure is according to its education ministry. Realising that there was a need for a well – defined and coordinated approach , it strengthened its National Public Service Platform for Educational Resources. We need a unit , if not an agency , in this realm .
Apart from providing appropriate learning resources during the emergency , the Chinese education ministry worked with enterprises to provide tools needed for effective e -learning .
For instance , Net Dragon , a top company in building Internet communities , deployed its platform , One Stop Online , to provide free live streaming of courses to over 10 million users . In addition , China enjoys the Alibaba – powered DingTalk , which , among others, provides free access to online conferencing for teachers , principals and other managers . As documented in Handbook on Facilitating Flexible Learning During Educational Disruptions: The Chinese Experience in Maintaining Undisrupted Learning During COVID- 19 Outbreak , the Chinese Ministry of Education worked with some 22 online platforms for all levels of schools . In Nigeria , the federal and state governments should appreciate the need for such strategic partnerships too towards making e -learning a robust reality in our clime .
Indeed , government should , as a matter of necessity and urgency , provide special funding and mobilise support from entrepreneurial and other institutions to provide tools and services that will power strategies for online education . For instance , smartboards should urgently be made available in our higher institutions. And since only very little or nothing can be achieved without an extensive and reliable telecom network , this is a time to encourage our providers to make special provisions for the e -learning experience. This is what the like of Alibaba did in China . Both the authorities and the schools need to guarantee the core elements that support undisrupted learning despite disrupted classes, borrowing one of the slogans that drove the Asian giant ’ s passion . These include reliable communication infrastructure, suitable digital learning resources , friendly learning tools , effective learning methods , instructional organisations , effective support services for students and teachers as well as close cooperation between government , enterprises and schools . It is the availability of these that will give life to whatever strategies the universities and other higher institutions want to adopt .
It can be argued that this is an emergency time in which we don ’ t have to get everything right and available before we can jumpstart e -learning . Yes , a good argument . Even, China , as sophisticated as its technology is, suffered setbacks or contradictions in the past four months, with a New York Times report detailing how many of its rural areas and poor folks have been literally cut off from the reach of online education due to lack of access to the Internet and other components of social communication – including phones ( for students ). So , this is not a time to insist everything must be Eldorado- ready before tertiary institutions can do the needful of online education . Yet , there are some basic provisions that must be made to achieve minimum results .
I believe one thing the government should do is to see the need to provide quality online education for our children locked down at home as an essential service now. As a result , it should guarantee the sector the urgent special funding to provide essential hard and software , including Internet wherewithal. If the government is soliciting funds to tackle coronavirus , it should consider the desired e -learning as part of the things it needs to urgently also invest in . As a matter of fact , there is nothing wrong in consulting or cultivating those countries where online education has been inspiringly deployed .
Lecturers and school authorities have the duty to develop strategies they consider relevant for this trying season . Available resources and tools are key and may not be immediately within their control , yet it is a time to be proactive and think not jut out of the box , but without the box . How simple and clearly structured are our methods for e – learning ? Is there an economy of contents and time ? Is there a well- designed and timely feedback system ? Are assignments to be given weekly or how periodically ? By the way , have the universities , polytechnics and colleges of education ascertained the e – readiness of the tutors and organised for their training where necessary ? What this means is that for us to deliver reliable online education , the government , enterprise and higher institutions must be ready to play a role . Of course , parents too have a great role to play here . The reality is that e – learning imposes on them the added burden of having to provide beyond school fees. For students to enjoy virtual education , there has to be power , Internet facility and hardware such as laptops and good phones , with the parents , guardians, governments and philanthropists having to be there for learners in making such available.
Generally speaking, this is the time for Nigeria to rethink and reconfigure its entire educational system . Beyond e – learning, we need an education system that develops the thinking capacity of students . We need the one that can make beneficiaries easily adapt to situations and anticipate eventualities . Disruptions will sometimes come , whether locally , nationally or internationally. It could be a natural disaster or pandemic like the COVID- 19 , it can be political or economic . In Nigeria , the dominant educational system that feeds our children with usually monolithic theories is not helping matters and will not help us the day the unwanted guest comes.
If we must diversify our economy now , it means we must also diversify our education in content, form and strategy. We should rethink our curricula and embrace more practical , entrepreneurial and vocational education . This is what we , for instance , advocate and practise at the First Technical University : teach the brain and skill up the hand. We need an education that will make graduates problem solvers , especially in this clime that is burdened by problems almost on all fronts .
We must reinforce health and agriculture education . What is happening now has taught us how crucial the areas are . When it comes to a matter of life and death, nothings else matters other than health and food . And health first because anyone seriously sick will not even be able to eat . So , we need an education system that can yield improved health and existential abundance . Of course , now that revenue from oil may no more be there for us , it is high time we also dedicated more pedagogical energy to sectors where we have strength – say , agriculture and the creative industry ; and where we have shamelessly lagged behind : technology.
Prof Salami is the Vice Chancellor , First Technical University, Ibadan .