If there is any year public institutions wouldn’t forget in a hurry, it would be 2020; a year that didn’t just reveal the incompetence of our system, but also smeared it all over our faces.
March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic upgraded to another level. What was thought to be a passing illness that would overtime disappear even without active response (cue Ebola), took a new turn and brought with it a realisation that it was here to stay. But what happens to a system where unpreparedness is the order of the day? Total shutdown, and this was the story of several academic institutions.
For near 10 months, undergraduate students of most Nigerian higher institutions went on a forceful academic hiatus. A virus had disrupted the physical classes convention and in the absence of alternatives, or more accurately, earlier neglect of alternatives, our system surrendered and risked students losing touch with their studies.
So while basic and secondary education schools had to cease academic activities, even ‘higher’ institutions that were supposed to be more sophisticated and better prepared followed suit. Like pupils, students of these institutions waited with hands akimbo for a virus no one knew nothing about, to determine their academic progress. Disappointing to the very least.
But are these institutions to be blamed?
No and yes.
No because they find themselves in a country that doesn’t only pay little regard to the education sector, but lacks foresight.
In 2019, when the budget for 2020 was announced, it stirred an uproar among well-meaning Nigerians. Why shouldn’t it? When N691.07 billion constituting only 6.7% of the National budget was allocated to the ministry of Education, a figure that was futher splitted among the several levels of education. And this was amidst the repeated cries of ASUU for more funding, even before the IPPIS tussle set in.
What do you expect from a country whose concern for the education sector is worth only 6.7%? Of course, students and pupils would sit at home doing nothing when any thing that threatens normalcy arises. Or a country whose health allocation constitutes 4.14% of the budget? No surprise the pandemic struck freely because there was nothing in place any where to fight it.
Notwithstanding this, our higher institutions also take part of the blame. As much as the country continues to fail us, these institutions had several opportunities to introduce alternative learning systems, like e-learning. Instead of only availing computer systems for tests and exams, instructors should have encouraged students to also normalise receiving lectures on public virtual platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and the like. This normalisation process could have come by alternating classes; this week, physical, next week, virtual; accepting submissions of assignments online; e.t.c. Besides the fact that this would have prepared students for times like this, virtual classes have proven to be more comfortable for both the instructor and the learner. But again, lack of foresight takes the most blame.
Digital UDUS: A COVID-19 Lesson
A bigger woe to that person who after being shown their mistakes, fail to correct it.
In the heat of the pandemic, Nigerian popstar, Korede Bello made a tweet that continues to resonate. The tweet reads, “The world paused, so we could catch up”. The pandemic while being responsible for loss of lives and the grief that summed the entire 2020, was an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection; an opportunity to figure out (or realise) where in your life was lacking and work toward improving it
COVID-19 had and is still teaching a lesson. And with the development in our UDUS so far, we can say that UDUS is learning. First it was converting all exams of juinor undergraduate levels to CBT, then more recently is blended learning—a teaching/learning system that alternates between physical and virtual classes.
We can only however hope and be optimistic that this lesson stays with us for good and not go extinct after 6 months. More efforts must be put in seeing that students internalise the new normal. Students too should avail themselves in the numerous trainings going on and adapt to the system.
A digital UDUS is now. It should have been long ago, but now is not too late.
Pen Press UDUS.