The global world woke up to a pandemic, Coronavirus, popularly labeled as COVID-19 late December, 2019 in a community of Chinese people in Wuhan.
While there are different narratives as regards the emergence and causes of the pandemic, the loss in human fatality, economic recession, socio-psychological meltdown, religious and social distancing; and educational halt cannot be overemphasised. Obviously, the world is in a state of emergency and humanity is grossly pained. While the loss in humanity and economy can be statistically estimated, same cannot be accounted in educational loss because of its social value. Thus, one of the less reported incidences of COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant consequences is education. Fortunately, education remains the best tool to combat the scourge of COVID-19 and other likely future deadly viruses.
Unfortunately, as at March 2020, schools in about 185 out of 193 United Nations recognised countries (including Nigeria) are shut arising from the threat of COVID-19 pandemic. From primary to secondary institutions; and also to higher institution, there is a complete stoppage of real-time teaching and learning. The percentage of the affected learners (pupils and students) globally could be as high as 80% given the fact that not all states/provinces are lockdown in about 185 countries. The social and mental health costs of keeping such a great percentage of population of learners at out of learning conclave could be very huge. This calls for serious reflection and critical thinking amidst continuous announcements of heads of government in many countries.
Our educational system in Nigeria till date remain not too challenging not entirely in contents, but substantially in the mode of delivery. While a negligible percentage of schools (including higher institutions) leverage on technology to deliver pedagogies, a good number of our schools are still far behind in modern form of pedagogies delivery. These call for unbundling of our educational system with a view to accommodating the 21st Century mode of delivery and assessment.
Unlike in the past, where a teacher is all-in-all, the modern teacher is just a facilitator of knowledge and she/he is a netizen (Information Technology compliant) simply because she/he is surrounded by digital native learners who are highly mobile technologically.
The above again, calls for some reflections as we interrogate our educational system amidst COVID-19 motivated lockdown. In the true sense of it, the country did not prepare for the challenge of learning amidst the ongoing pandemic. The seeming interventions being deployed in some states are fire brigade approaches as there are no functional learning applications on ground. The mode of contents delivery in many schools (including higher institutions) is still rudimentary and unscientific in a world that is gradually moving to G-5 technology. Many teachers still go to the classrooms with outdated learning materials and still deliver the contents in an archaic form. In so doing, the future of learning is not only compromised, it is also not being prepared for the kind of emergency the world is now contending with. The question is, should learning stop because of COVID-19 lockdown?
Learning cannot stop because it is not in its nature. Unfortunately, in most cases as obtained, it is the drivers of learning that are not prepared for the challenge of virtual learning. The future of learning requires all hands to be on deck. This would first require adequate funding of educational sector in which teaching and learning facilities would have to be provided by the government and other stakeholders. Other than in private schools and perhaps few higher institutions, there are virtually little or no technologically enabled learning applications in government-owned schools. Where this is so, the country would seem to be ill-prepared for education without boarders as being witnessed currently in many countries. Fundamentally, it stands to contend that given our limitations arising from some logistics, achieving full virtual learning may not be visible. Even in some advanced countries, they have not fully achieved the feat. Nevertheless, there should be provisions of internet bandwidths and electricity to ensure a seamless virtual learning. These are two of the logistic challenges of virtual learning in Nigeria. There are others like the technological applications/tools through which virtual learning can be deployed. More often than not, the latter should be the preoccupation of the system (the school). These, the system seems to be too lethargic and not motivated perhaps because of the fear of living their comfort zones.
Akin to the immediate challenge above is that of the personnel to deploy virtual learning. Experience has shown that personnel remain the most disturbing clog in the deployment of virtual learning. And this is also linked to inability to leave the comfort zone. And most profoundly, there are many digital immigrants (also fondly refer to as ‘Born Before Computers’) who are not willing to go extra miles in the deployment of learning contents using some learning apps. Ironically, this set of teachers (lecturers inclusive) have digital native learners to contend with. What a paradox! This danger of digital nativity and immigrants’ conundrum is a big challenge for virtual learning to thrive in our educational system. And as long as this is not addressed (especially the challenge of digital immigrants), our educational system would not be at par with what we have globally. And obviously, the challenge of COVID-19 pandemic is a wakeup call in that regard.
Given the reality that our education system is confronted with amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and consequential effects of making our children and learners vulnerable to psychopathology of crime and other unguarded online behaviours, it is time stakeholders in education look inward and face the reality of Virtual learning in Nigeria through which pedagogies will be delivered and assessed online with the aid of computers, mobile phones and other learning devices. And with the reality of the challenge of COVID-19 pandemic that has brought about lull in the educational sector, a complete need for blended learning as a national policy is desirous. Furthermore, the quest for virtual learning at this period would rub up on the need to break barriers in learning and opening up access to education. Presently in Nigeria, delivery of pedagogies due to COVID-19 come by different names like School-On-Air, Mobile School, Online Forum and others. While this initiative by some state governments is commended, the euphoria should outlast COVID-19.
Professor Oyesoji Aremu is of the University of Ibadan.