Are Nigerian varsities ready to go virtual?

By Elizabeth Osayande

Mallam Adamu Adamu, Education
Mallam Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education

FOLLOWING the directive of the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, that tertiary institutions across the country should resume lectures by going virtual in order to cushion the effects of the lockdown occasioned by the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic, reactions have trailed the directive.

Recall that Adamu in a teleconference in Abuja, with 237 Vice Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts last Thursday directed that that varsities, polytechnics and colleges of education should activate their virtual learning environment for students to continue their studies through digital devices.

Adamu had said: “We cannot be held down by COVID-19. We have to deploy all e-platforms to keep our universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other schools open. COVID-19 has changed everybody. I am pleading with you to devise alternative ways, make sure the education of our children will not stop. We have to create virtual learning environment.

“This is the second meeting I am having. All I want is that we should fully engage our students. We are already speaking with the World Bank and UNICEF on how to create platforms for virtual learning classrooms. We need to take advantage of technology like the case in other parts of the world. We cannot shut down all schools when we have other means to teach our students.”

Meanwhile, some academia who spoke to Vanguard argued that the directive cannot be implemented owing to lack of structures and facilities.

A good talk that cannot be implemented now – Prof. Akinfeleye

Reacting to the directive, renowned Mass Communication guru, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, stated that the directive cannot hold sway owing to lack of necessary infrastructure such as power and conducive learning environment.

His words: “A good talk, but not achievable for now. The students are all over the country, some of them have not been able to get light for the last three weeks or more; some have light but no computer to work; and even the café is closed due to Coronavirus. So, it’s a good talk but not achievable for now. We need to have constant light for messages if we are going viral for lectures.

“I don’t know the capacity of all the universities, but I know majority do have the capacity to go online. But the point is that going online will not be workable as of now because of shortage of electricity.

“My advice to the government is first of all to solve the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, issues so that lecturers can go back to classes. And on going virtual, they should put structures in place such as power before rushing into what is happening in US or Europe where they have facilities and uninterrupted power supply; and good environment where they have good food among others.

“I also think what the Minister of Education should do is to appeal to all the Medical Schools to go into laboratories during this period and find the vaccines or the solutions such as providing sanitizers and facemasks for the Coronavirus. Create avenue through campus radio and television to sensitise people on social distancing. The more we are able to do these, the quicker we resume rather than talking of resuming during this dangerous period when he knows it’s not possible.”

Where are the facilities to do online? – Dr. Alawode

For an Associate Lecturer in the School of Communication, (Broadcast Department), Lagos State University, LASU, Dr. Olayinka Alawode, going virtual is not an issue, but the question of facilities. He said: “With which facilities? Laptop, iPad, Internet, electricity. It is not a joke when you hear professors are grappling with poverty. The government should first fulfil the 2009 ASUU/FG Agreement.

“However, universities are ever ready to resume work online and readily available. But as I responded above, basic tools and facilities to work with are just not there. Except you say I commit my meagre salary to this use. Lecturers live in poverty trying their best in all situations. If our universities are equipped up-to-date, we can do all things properly comparable to best international standards. With automatic connection to virtual libraries, we can work effectively from home or anywhere.

“Personally I spend up to 4.5GB internet data monthly and I burn my personal generator close to four hours daily and seven days of the week. That is after driving long distances in traffic jam every day except Sundays that I compel myself to stay home. But, remember, it takes two to tango.

“If I have what it takes to link up my students online? Do all my students have what it takes to link up? Some lecturers are already into online lectures. But not all. Don’t forget, some students come from very poor homes, they cannot even afford five thousand naira small torchlight phone, not to talk of laptop.”
However, the Special Adviser, SA, on Education to Lagos State Governor, Hon. Tokunbo Wahab, stated that institutions in the state are already going virtual. He said: “Our tertiary institutions are going online already.”

Varsities going virtual cannot hold water – NANS

The Global President, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Comrade Danielson Akpan, said the directive is not feasible due to lack of basic amenities. According to the NANS president, “The instruction of the minister asking that institutions and lectures should continue virtually is word that cannot hold water at this time. The question is ‘how many institutions have the facility to go online? Even the institution that is established to give lectures virtually, NOUN how efficient is it? Not to talk of universities, colleges of education, polytechnics not used to online to do all their activities.’

“We have hardly even moved away from lecturers using chalks or markers as found in some institutions. Is it where you want to ask lecturers to hold lectures via the Internet? The lockdown is just an opportunity for lecturers to rest, dust their archives, and look at the papers they are yet to mark to make up with it. That is the position of the Nigerian students.”

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