In the last decade, there have been growing concerns over the need to incorporate Information and Education Technology (ICT) into the educational system of developing countries like Nigeria. E-learning is the wholesome integration of modern telecommunications equipment and ICT resources, particularly the internet, into the education system. Shavinina (2001) defines ICT as all the digital technologies, including computers, scanner, printer, telephone, internet, digital satellite system (DSS), direct broadcast satellite (DBS), pocket-switching, fiber optic cables, laserdisc, microwaves, and multi-media systems for collection, processing, storage and dissemination of information all over the world.
E-learning, to a larger extent, is relatively novel in Nigeria’s educational system. It’ll amount to a sudden departure from the conventional approach in curriculum implementation, should stakeholders tailor it to meet the current demands in the wake of the pandemic that has brought the world to its knees. The main purpose of e-learning is to transform the old methods and approaches to curriculum implementation and not to dampen the contents of the curriculum. E-learning is driven by the curriculum. It should follow the curriculum and should never rob the curriculum of its essence.
In his study, “Problems, Challenges, and Benefits of Implementing E-learning in Nigerian Universities”, Manir (2009) posited that
‘E-learning has become a new paradigm and a new philosophy in education with a mission to serve as a development platform for the present-day society based on knowledge.’
It is obvious that the concept of E-learning is a fascinating one and will no doubt contribute to the development of the educational sector in a country like Nigeria. But, introducing E-learning at a time when the world is faced with a pandemic is more like trying to jump the gun without following the procedures that will necessitate the effective running of it.
It’s amusing that Nigerian Universities suddenly want to migrate to E-learning in the wake of the ravaging Corona Virus (Covid-19) that has grounded activities globally cum ASUU strike. Although many might argue that some Nigerian universities have introduced Distant Learning Institutes (DLI), the million-dollar question is how effective or functional has it been? Impressive, some Nigerian universities have directed their staff to get prepared to move online to prevent a disrupted academic calendar. Sadly, most Nigerian universities saw the handwriting on the wall like the biblical king Belshazzar, but we failed to look at the looming danger and chose to enjoy ourselves like a line from one of Ebenezer Obey’s song ‘Maa jaye ori mi, mi o meyin ola’ which translates ‘I will enjoy myself today, I don’t know what tomorrow holds’, realistically, Covid-19 exposes the Achille heel of most Nigerian universities.
Truth is when I was greeted with the news that some Nigerian universities are planning to start online lectures, a very conspicuous smile invaded my face. I could only commend them, but it’s more like we are skipping the whole process and trying to take a shortcut. The first big question is, how many Nigerian universities have standard and well-equipped ICT centres? Manir (2009) in this study found out that ‘The lack of sufficient, trained ICT professional has been a recurring focus in ICT studies and reports in Nigeria. Nigeria produces only a small number of ICT-trained University graduates (high quality) each year. The number of positions in the state-funded universities is severely limited. However, the quality of training is highly variable. Nigerian universities face a serious shortage of experienced ICT professionals that could support the real E-learning implementation.
Most of the staff and students do not have the requisite technical knowledge on how to use the e-learning programme’. These are universities that go way beyond the stipulated time for their examination timetable and struggle to conduct CBT examinations for students. These are universities that don’t have accurate statistics of their students without a gaffe. These are universities that don’t have a fast and reliable internet connection and most times tell students that ‘server is down’. Let’s take a clinical look at the websites of Nigerian universities and we will be amazed at the outdated information at the disposal of students.
Are all these not pointers to the fact that our universities are not ready or well equipped to move towards E-Learning?
Let’s say the universities provide a platform for online learning, do we know the capabilities of our lecturers? These are lecturers who bagged their doctorate degrees years ago and have failed to equip themselves with the technology needed for a 21st-century learning environment. These are lecturers who can’t use projectors for classes, yet we expect them to use Zoom, Google Scholar amongst others to teach students. How then do we expect them to effectively deliver lectures to students via the internet? How many lecturers have gone on refresher courses in the last 5 years? How many lecturers can effectively use these platforms?
These are some grey areas we need to amend before we consider moving to online learning. These are things the universities must put in place for this to work effectively.
What about the students? Are they even aware of educational learning apps, aside from Instagram, Twitter, making TikTok videos and the likes? Are students updated about the happenings in the world, aside from waiting for the live scores from NCDC every night? As a student, I have a deep understanding of how nonchalant students can be. I remembered the first reaction of some students to online learning, they complained about electricity and data but will have data to upload the videos from their gallery and will have the time to jump on any trending issue. Students, who are not attentive in class, how sure are we that they will pay utmost attention to online classes and not put the blame on lecturers trying to victimize them later?
Covid-19 is more like an eye-opener to what the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Nigeria Ministry of Education, and other key players have shied away from in the past. There’s a need to reach a consensus, and have a blueprint of how E-learning will work in a developing country like Nigeria with our attendant problems the crux of the consensus: internet access, electricity, inadequate skills; low literacy etc. This will avail us of new technology to midwife e-learning of global standards.