Schools across the world have been under lock and key since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Like a faulty airplane, education has been grounded. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom—the entire population of the African continent is about 1.3 billion. This has caused a dramatic change in the way in which education is being thought off. Approaches that stretch beyond the borders of classrooms walls are being broached world over.
From cancelled conferences to disrupted office calendars, nothing has been spared since the pandemic began. But conferences have since moved online and work meetings are now a regular on Zoom. The rigidity that was once associated with gatherings have since been replaced by fluidity.
People now spend more time at home especially since countries have had to declare a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. There has been a spike in global time spent online. E-learning has benefited greatly from this; it has witnessed a drastic rise. In fact, this rise is expected to continue far beyond 2025.
Globally, teaching is now migrating online and being undertaken remotely on digital platforms. Teachers and students are quickly learning to interact over devices that were once labelled as tools of distraction. Researches have also discovered that online learning boosts the retention of information, and is less time consuming when compared to conventional learning methods.
The mainstay of conversations since the pandemic begun has been around the rise of a new normal. For instance, businesses are innovating ways to remain relevant, and in South Korea, students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online. Before the pandemic began, the dance of technology with education was slow and steady; global edutech investment reached about US$18.66 billion in 2019 and it was estimated that online education would reach $350 Billion by 2025. But since the pandemic began, e-learning has become a saving feature for education. Schools such as Yale, Harvard, and others have since moved their semesters online.
One would think that a nation with about 200 million people and an internet penetration rate of about 46% as at January 2020 would almost seamlessly adopt e-learning. Even recently, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, announced that the federal government was launching a free e-learning portal for all students in primary and secondary schools. He disclosed this sometime in April, 2020, but as at the time of writing this, nothing substantial has been done or achieved in this regard. For a country that constantly budgets below the 15 per cent to 20 per cent international benchmark, of it its yearly budget to education, not much was expected anyway.
The NUC, the body responsible for accrediting courses in Nigerian universities does not allow universities to fully provide learning remotely. In a world that is quickly shifting online, the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) license that allows university function online, still has a lot of limitations and has only been adopted by a few schools. A lot of universities, in order to save face have resorted to conducting classes on WhatsApp, which is at best limited and restrictive.
Although, a lot of private schools—universities, secondary and primary—have better adjusted themselves to the realities of the lockdown. Some of them have since switched to online platforms to complete their academic session, but a bulk of students are home doing nothing, just waiting. Some states commenced electronic learning for pupils on their local television and radio channels. However, education is communication between students and teachers, and therefore has to be bidirectional to be effective.
While the rest of the world is shoring up to adopt e-learning and probably integrate it into their educational system completely, Nigeria is waiting for a return to normalcy.
COVID-19 is arguably here to stay. Like every other disease it would find its place on earth. Humans would hopefully find a cure, and create a vaccine. But there would not be a post-COVID world, there would only be one where we live side by side with it. And until a cure is found, and a vaccine is created, schools would still have to be shut. Students in Nigeria cannot continue to wait while the ones in the rest of the world are being offered ways to continue with their education.