Virtual learning at lowest ebb in states as poor electricity, lack of connectivity mar process
From primary to secondary schools, there has been a complete stoppage of real-time teaching and learning following the nationwide closure of all educational institutions occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic. To ensure that learning continues, the Federal Government had launched a free e-learning portal for all students in primary and secondary schools.
Minister of State for Education, Mr Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba said all students in Nigeria were granted free access to the e-learning portals: the schoolgate.ng and mobileclassroom.com.ng App. These e-learning platforms were declared subscription free for students in primary and secondary levels.
Nwajiuba said the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Education, would collaborate with telecommunication sectors and network providers to grant students free access to the portals on their mobile phones.
He added that the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) in conjunction with the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) is coordinating the virtual learning programme.
But despite the intervention of the Federal and the various state Governments, most students, particularly those in rural areas were completely shut out. Stakeholders observed that online teachings in states during the lockdown were characterised by poor internet access, power failure, especially in rural areas as almost all technologies used to deliver education while schools remained closed required electricity, inadequate data and lack of funds since parents could not afford the cost of data and Android phones.
ON April 20, 2020 Oyo State government began airing lessons in English Language and Mathematics for pupils in primary schools. The programme tagged: “Oyo SUBEB Learning-on-air’ was aired on state-owned radio stations -Oluyole FM for those in the state capital and surrounding communities; Oke-Ogun FM for Oke-Ogun axis and Ajilete FM for those in Ogbomoso and environ.
The state Ministry of Education also added an interactive instruction for students in secondary school.However, the virtual programme was marred by poor power supply, lack of access to devices and funds to obtain data.
A teacher, Mr Ayodeji Ehinmola said as someone who participated in the virtual teaching, he would put the success rate at 45 per cent. Ehinmola said about 60 per cent of students do not have the facilities to connect to virtual learning from their various homes.
How many homes could afford the use of internet devices? The issue of constant power supply is also a problem. Ehinmola said the success rate in the rural areas of the state is 15 per cent due to factors such as lack electricity, while teachers from these areas lack information on ICT.
Cost of data was also an issue as most parents were already feeling the effect of the lockdown and could not afford the charges. Mrs Omotayo Mala-Adebayo also shared the same view. She noted that electricity in the smaller cities is a major challenges while most of the parents could not afford Android phones.
In situations where children managed to get second hand phones, purchasing data and getting it to work was a problem. She said: “There are connectivity, data and lack of concentration challenges. Power challenge is also there. If your mind is connected, everything you need to do the connectivity is not there, then the purpose is defeated.”
A school owner, Mrs. Josephine Abiodun-Kolawole, said initially parents managed to tag along but were overwhelmed at a point because they could not afford to buy tablets for their children.
For virtual learning to thrive, Abiodun-Kolawole said government must deploy computers, a central modem for the schools, generators to power the facilities, good internet facilities and well-trained teachers.
An educationist, Muyiwa Bamgbose, said some people were excluded from the programme.
We did not have time as a people to look at the effectiveness. We didn’t make room for the students for interactions because learning is not telling stories but must be interactive.
To make virtual learning inclusive and participatory, the educationist stressed the need for government’s willingness to provide the resources and enabling environment. He said: “The internet in the rural area is very poor. Inclusiveness is different from participation. Inclusiveness has to do with getting to those who are not accessing it now.
IN the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state government commenced teaching of pupils on state -owned radio stations. The then Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Prof Francisca Aladejana said the 30-minute daily programme tagged: “School on Air” was also designed to positively engage school-age children.
The pupils were taught one out of English Language, Yoruba, Basic Science, Civic Education and National Value as well as Mathematics. However, as laudable as the programme is, it was partially successful in Ado Ekiti, the state capital. Firstly, not many parents were aware of the radio programme due to poor publicity. Secondly, many parents didn’t encourage their wards to participate because they were more preoccupied with what the family would eat due to the lockdown.
The greatest challenge was poor electricity supply to most parts of the state. Besides, there is poor transmission of the radio airing the programme in many local governments.
Mrs Olawumi Adeyanju who has two of her children in private schools said Whatssap was used to teach her children but added that the programme did not succeed because the children depended on her phone to take classes and do assignment. She added that the teachers were not very committed to the exercise due to lack of remuneration.
“What finally killed the whatssap initiative was a demand for a fee of N3000 by each student which many parents could not afford.”Mr Ojongbede Ilesanmi, a farmer said he was not aware of any radio programme being organised by the government and his phone was not internet enabled.
Mrs Ibidunni Abiola, a resident of Ado Ekiti and a civil servant, said the programme failed due to lack of proper coordination by the government. She reminded that most Ekiti communities are largely rural and therefore lack ability to adopt other virtual learning apart from radio.
“Many radio sets do not require electricity while some can be used with batteries and some phones also have radio channels. That to me is the future of learning in the state because it permeates every stratum.
TO engage pupils and students during the COVID-19 pandemic, governor Okezie Ikpeazu introduced an innovative education programme tagged: “Radio Classroom”.
The children were taught over the state radio. These classes were accessible to all that availed themselves of the opportunity from their various locations..
Parents procured radio sets and arranged for their children to sit and listen to the lessons, which aired from 8 am to 12 noon and 2pm to 4pm.
Under the radio classroom initiative, parents were to set up seats; tables and transistor radios at home to enable their wards participate in the programme.
A parent, Mrs Joan Ogbonna said her children have got used to the lessons and now mimic the teachers after the lessons conducted in both English and Igbo languages. A retired Inspector of Education, Chief Israel Kanu said the programme could outlive the pandemic if properly handled.
In his assessment of the programme, the Education Commissioner, Dr Nwangwa said the state government procured radio sets and distributed them to rural areas while those in the diaspora donated as well.
AS a way to support learning among students, the state government introduced the radio school programme for primary and secondary schools. Government said radio school was the most convenient and affordable means of reaching more households in the state.
The radio school, which began on April 21, was to run in conjunction with the federal radio of Nigeria, Enugu, on daily basis between 11 am to noon. Teachers were selected from various public schools to anchor the subjects in line with the timetable released by the Post Primary Schools Management Board (PPSMB).
Part of the challenge, The Guardian observed was the inability of the initiators to obtain feedbacks from students participating in it. Although the radio school has run continuously since it commenced, investigations showed that participations have been very low. Some residents have either not participated for once or have no means to be part of it. There is the challenge of lack of electricity supply and other house chores that normally conflicts with approved learning periods. These have conspired to account for the poor participation.
A mother of five, Mrs Monica Okwe, who resides at Ugbene in Uzouwani, told The Guardian that her children have never participated in the programme, which started four months ago.
“We don’t have access to power supply. Our radio frequency is more stable in the evening. Then there is farm work to do among other things”
Asked how her children have coped since the forceful closure of schools, she said: “They do attend lessons in the school organised by a private teacher. We pay their teacher. They have been attending a public school and that is where they would continue when school resumes”
Another housewife, Mrs Chinyere Chukwu from Nsukka said though she heard about the radio school programme, her children did not regularly participate in it.
“It is the same problem of electricity supply. They bring our light in the morning but most times before the lesson, it is taken. You also discovered that the teachers choose any topic and students did not have the opportunity to ask questions; so, there is this tendency of delivering whatever they like and that is not teaching. They dropped phone numbers and asked students to call if they have questions but how many students have phones? How many parents can agree to recharge phones to be calling teachers one after the other after lessons? I think the initiative was good but there was no proper plan on how it can benefit the students.”
ALTHOUGH the culture of virtual learning was not entirely strange in academic circles, its deployment during the COVID-19 induced lockdown in Kano opened a new vista of opportunity and clear alternative to teaching and learning.
During the lockdown, the common platforms of virtual interaction with students include social media software like Whatssap, Google Classroom and the conventional radio and television channels.
Essential private school owners predominantly engaged the social media platform with internet facility enabled, just as the ministry of education took the advantage of the live radio and television broadcast to broaden the horizon of the students.
However, parents and stakeholders expressed divergent views as to the success of the programme. While some expressed satisfaction, many lamented the challenges that reduced the gains and benefits of the new technology.
Atinuke Alimi, who has three children in one of the private schools in the city, expressed satisfaction with the virtual learning system, which she claimed has actually saved the children from idleness during the six months lockdown.
But for Ibrahim Maryam, the virtual learning platforms deprived children in public schools especially those in the rural areas. He lamented that internet facilities and power failure remained the major challenges, while many children mostly in the rural communities were excluded in the virtual learning programme.
Ibrahim suggested the full introduction of computer programmes in public schools to enable children get used to ICT usage and social media platforms.
“My concern is the fact that millions of children were deprived of this opportunity due to one form of challenge or the other, especially those children of the poor in the rural communities. Kano has 44 local government areas with only eight in the metropolis. Majority of the local communities have no internet facility. Some parents cannot even afford to buy data where there is network.”
Reacting to the radio and television learning programmes organised by the state ministry of education, Ibrahim explained that epileptic power supply had almost crippled the opportunity, besides the inability of many parents to afford television sets at home.
“Don’t forget, many rural communities in Kano don’t have electricity so the issue of television learning is out. As for radio, let us even agree that a large number of parents can afford it, how many parents would release such radio to their children? When you have six children, how many times will you release your radio and to how many children?”
THERE is no form of virtual learning system or policy put in place by the state government for any of the public schools in the 27 local government areas before, during and after the COVID -19 induced lockdown.
The Commissioner for Education, Prof. Bernard Ikegwuoha said the government was yet to take the decision for reasons known to it. But The Guardian’s investigations showed that most parents engaged the services of private teachers to teach their wards at home, while those who could not afford it resorted to self –help.
Alternatively, those who could receive signals from the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State (BCA), radio tuned in at appropriate time for usual radio lessons.
But there were distortions most times as the radio station is far away from the town.A parent, Alex Manu, told The Guardian that issues of network, data, financial resources and power supply to charge the devices affect radio and television lessons.
A secondary school student, Nnamdi Nwosu said the conventional learning system, which enables both the teacher and learner to interact with no issue of delayed feedback is the best form of learning.
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