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Rallying to widen access, increase knowledge through e-learning

By Ujunwa Atueyi
12 May 2017   |   3:06 am
Stakeholders have at different fora cautioned that Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb, if it fails to meaningfully engage its teeming youthful population and make them productive.

Chief Executive Officer, Olawoyin Awosika School of Innovation Studies (OASIS), Prof. Abiola Awosika; Executive Director, Sterling Bank Plc, Mr. Abubakar Suleiman; Senior Special Adviser to President on ICT/Senior Personal Assistant to Vice President, Mr. Lanre Osibona and Chief Executive Officer, Afrigrants, Mrs. Thelma Ekiyor, during the E-Learning Policy Round table in Lagos.

Stakeholders have at different fora cautioned that Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb, if it fails to meaningfully engage its teeming youthful population and make them productive.

Their argument is that a country growing rapidly in population needs to invest heavily in human capital, else the population becomes a huge problem since they lack the capacity to produce. They are likely to become miscreants, criminals and a social burden.

Nigeria by now is supposed to be benefitting socially and economically from its demographic dividends, as evident in China and India, where their population turned out to be their economic strength.

But that is not the case with the country as lack of access to education has continued to mar the yearnings and aspirations of its teeming youths seeking entry into tertiary institutions.

A survey by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) showed that 65 million Nigerians are illiterates. The ugly implication is that illiteracy has adverse impacts on both individual and the society. People who are illiterate are far more likely to live in poverty, face a lifetime marred by poor health and social vulnerability.

Also in the last edition of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (the GEM Report), Nigeria will achieve Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 2070; Universal Lower Secondary Completion (ULSC) in 2080 and Universal Upper Secondary Education (UUSC) in the next century.

Based on current trends, Universal Primary Education (UPE), which was supposed to have been achieved in 2015, under the 2000 Dakar Education For All agreement, won’t be realised until 2042. Universal Lower Secondary Completion (ULSC) won’t be achieved until 2059, and Universal Upper Secondary Completion (UUSC) will only be attained in 2084.

This therefore means that the sector requires an urgent intervention not only to meet the current challenges facing humanity and the globe, but to also create accessible route through which education for all could be achieved.

It has been generally established that if people are educated, they can produce their way out of poverty and all kinds of problems, but when they are not educated, their capacity to add value to the world diminishes and they therefore become a problem to the society.

This perhaps explains why concerted effort must be made to ensure the first-ever ever policy forum on E-learning organised by Olawoyin Awosika School of Innovation Studies (OASIS), in collaboration with Sterling Bank, Afrigrants Resources Limited, and UNICAF, comes to fruition through proper implementation of policy recommendations in that regard according to the organisers.

The forum themed “E-Learning for Higher Education Institutions in Nigeria,” brought together stakeholders in the education sector, government representatives, financial institutions and technology experts and practitioners to brainstorm and formulate policies that would develop every aspect of e-learning for the benefit of the country.

The intent according to the organisers was to develop an e-learning degree programme that would guarantee and grant Nigerians who have quest for higher education access to quality education without space constraints.

Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who spoke at the summit, while affirming that e-learning is vital to widening access to education, regretted that majority of Nigerians have been on denial of higher education due to lack of access and affordability.

Osinbajo who was represented by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Information and Communications Technology, and Senior Personal Assistant to the Vice President, Mr. Lanre Osibona at the forum, restated that technology is a big focus for the present administration owing to its benefits and impact on job creation and information sharing.

He said, “It is laudable that the average Nigerian family desires the highest levels of education for their wards, resulting in unprecedented numbers of Nigerians seeking entry into institutions of higher learning. However, many of these dreams are held up if not outrightly rendered impossible simple because the spaces are just not there! The situation is not improved by merely accrediting more institutions and construction of more physical facilities, as these are only good short-term initiatives that will prove insufficient in the future.

“Globalisation and technology mixed together is redefining the perimeters of knowledge and the potentials of humanity while offering our world new impetus and a formidable agency for rapid transformation.  Science and technology for example has re-dimensioned educational curricular in a way that has delivered exponential transformations before our very eyes around the globe. This global trend is well enunciated and reflected through the use of e-learning as a complement to traditional classrooms, with online learning or mixing the two modes, to support and enhance learning in higher institutions. 

He continued, “The most important potential of e-learning is the opportunity it provides the learner to access quality education at their convenience and from any location. Following on this, we/stakeholders can attest that it is necessary for higher education in Nigeria to explore holistically how to use technology to enhance access, quality and affordability.”

The vice president while affirming that the government alone cannot transform higher education to meet the needs and aspirations of Nigerians stressed that collaborative effort is a must, as a success in the e-learning project will guarantee success in meeting the targets of Sustainable Development Goal Four.

“The infrastructural requirements and capital intensive nature of deploying e-learning, as well as the disruptive changes it will cause in any institution deploying it, requires educators, policy makers, the private sector and students to come together to deliberate on how a conducive policy environment can be created for innovations in e-learning to thrive in Nigeria, and how institutions can effectively adapt to the technology to suit it curriculum.

“Our initial contributions in the educational sector were inherited from colonial times but it is evident that we must chart our own course in education,” he said.

Osinbajo while commending the efforts of institutions that have either introduced or are in the process of introducing e-learning, said asserted that their experience in the deployment of technology serve as key lessons for institutions aspiring to commence the e-learning path. “I hope these experiences are documented to support future empirical research.” To the organisers, he said, I look forward to receiving the policy recommendations and partnering with you more comprehensively in future events.”

Executive Director, Sterling Bank, Abubakar Suleiman, said the rate at which the country’s population is growing is worrisome, thus the need for a deliberate effort and pragmatic plan that would ensure meaningful engagement of the teeming population before the situation worsens.

He said, “We have to think of what to do to make our people productive. This country will not advance in its current form unless we do something very intense about education. And this is not just about tertiary education or the certificate. We need to think about digital education and the value it creates across all levels of education. The data on the number of out-of-school children is terrifying, for this to be holistically addressed, education must move beyond the classrooms.

“Crisis of existence is what we are facing now. The National Universities Commission must sit up; all the affected stakeholders must be at the forefront. If we do not find something for our people to do, the so called youthful population will be our last,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer of OASIS, Prof. Abiola Awosika, declared that the conventional way of doing education is not working for Nigeria and so e-learning seems to be the solution that will positively address the yearnings and aspirations for higher education.

According to her, “All parties must be involved to create the right environment for human development and put progressive policies in place with constant innovations. If we continue to leave our youths out there without direction, then we are asking for trouble. The conventional way of doing education does not work for Nigeria because we are many. So e-learning seems to be a solution. A lot of people don’t understand e-learning yet and so we have to come together those of us who work in the education system, those who fund education, every support sector for education to determine what kind of policies the government need to put in place.

“So we envisaged Public Private Partnership, where the government provides the enabling environment, and the practitioners develop a policy for each aspect of e-learning education so that we can move our country forward. So that the Nigeria child can have hope for the future where he/she will be able to get to whatever level of education they desire. It is neither going to be restricted by time, nor by place.”

On the perception people generally have about distance and online education, she said, “That is why we bring the government to get involved in this, if there is a policy that says every university must have at least one online degree programme as in e-learning, then people will come to the realisation that this is something they have to do and what we are finding is that students now know the benefit of education. When you graduate, your certificate is not going to say through distance learning or e-learning. People are getting educated about it, people are being sensitised, but government has to support this initiative to make sure it profits the nation.

On mobilisation for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Awosika assures that students that passed through the e-learning programme must be mobilised for the scheme. “The issues are being addressed as we speak and graduates from the e-learning programme will be mobilised for NYSC, all the students that are taking degree programme at Obafemi Awolowo University and Ahmadu Bello University will be mobilised for NYSC,” she assured.

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