Public universities still struggling with virtual learning

As the world battles the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, public universities in Nigeria are still struggling to cope with virtual learning, despite the attention
Undergraduates in a lecture room

Undergraduates in a lecture room
As the world battles the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, public universities in Nigeria are still struggling to cope with virtual learning, despite the attention brought to it in the wake of the lockdown occasioned by coronavirus disease.

Nigeria’s education system is still largely built around traditional pedagogical learning, which is more focused on the physical learning environment. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has revealed the inadequacies of this mode of education. Only 11 out of the universities in the country operate a distance learning platform, while most of the institutions remain poorly equipped. The poor infrastructural development, in terms of energy and internet connectivity, also constituted a setback for the adoption of virtual learning in the country.
Although some public universities, including the University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, University of Abuja and Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), among others, have embraced online teaching mode, findings, however, indicated that apart from inability of the institutions to provide the needed support for the platforms, there is also the lukewarm attitude by lecturers and students, apparently over challenges of funding, electricity and networks.

While private institutions had to some extent, successfully migrated online to continue learning since the COVID-19 outbreak, their public counterparts, on the other hand, have been struggling to get things right. The pandemic period has been tough for the nation’s higher institutions, as they did not have any virtual infrastructure in place before the pandemic and have had to struggle for months to ensure that learning continues online.

Former Vice-Chancellor of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Prof Olugbemiro Jegede, in an interview, has said that government must give an enormous guarantee and strong strategy towards distance learning for education to meet a worldwide standard.
Another scholar who pleaded anonymity said both the Federal and State Governments should pay greater attention to educational development, as a fundamental component of the country’s human capital development.

Already, UNILORIN said it has recorded 90 per cent success in its virtual learning, while UNILAG, which had initial teething problems at takeoff, has assured continuous Improvement in its Learning Management System (LMS) platform.

Acting Director, Centre for Information Technology Systems (CITS), Dr Florence Oladeji said the LMS has been improved upon with enhanced user experience. She added that the centre has created Zoom accounts for all the departmental e-learning officers. “Every department would have a minimum of three unlimited Zoom accounts for virtual meetings and scheduling of real-time lectures,” Oladeji added.
Investigations at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), showed that laptops have been made compulsory for students, especially for freshmen, while free wireless networks have been provided at specific points in the school premises for students and lecturers. It was also confirmed that the majority of its staff have been trained in the art of virtual learning as a means of reaching their students faster and delivering their lectures.
But a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Guardian that the cost of data and several other factors had affected virtual learning in the institution.
“How many lecturers are acquainted with the use of ICT not to talk of delivering lectures using such means? There are ones who have trained on their own and are using the platform to reach their students. But the issue is how to reach the students when you cannot account for electricity supplies and data usage. We all know the advantages inherent in adopting that model of teaching and learning and that is why, it is important that we brace up to it for the good of the society”, he added.
The Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) is still struggling to develop a virtual learning platform, even after it had trained some lecturers on the new learning system. Students are still taught in their classrooms by their teachers, while assignments are given through other platforms like WhatsApp.
A lecturer in the Department of Applied Biochemistry, Dr Innocent Izuchukwu Ujah, said although the school had trained and retrained its lecturers on virtual teaching, technical issues arising from network challenges had been a problem.
“Virtual learning in ESUT has been in existence for some years now, but the support from the authority and interest among lecturers in adopting this learning method became very obvious during the COVID-19 period. There have been training organised by the school for virtual learning, and I have participated in two of such trainings. I started an online classroom for my project students to enhance my interactions with them. I am also employing this method for two of the courses I teach in the final year. In this classroom, additional materials such as recorded training, lecture materials and an additional source of information as well assignments are given”, he said.  
Ujah noted that the use of virtual learning might not be very popular, particularly with lecturers of the old generation.  However, he noted that most of the students have smartphones, which they use for online learning. According to him, the students can easily download lecture materials using their smartphones, while information dissemination is also faster. 

“Missed lecture notes can readily be obtained by taking pictures of such notes. During my time, you will have to collect notes from course mates and sometimes keep it for days while trying to copy such notes.”
However, Ujah identified the major challenges to include poor knowledge on Information Technology, technical issues and lack of resources. He noted that special skills are required for virtual learning, which some lecturers do not have.    

He said: “One of the major complaints from my students has always been a network problem. They have to scout for areas with stable network to enable them to participate in such quizzes. Some offices in my school do not have stable network and this poses problems to lecturers. Finance is another big challenge, uploading and downloading of information requires data, money is required to obtain the devices and fix facilities required for virtual learning. Sometimes it may not be easy for me adopting this learning method due to the finances required. There is a need for every institution to key into virtual learning, as it makes teaching easier and faster.”
ALTHOUGH University of Ibadan (UI) opened its door to students on February 22, the Director of Public Communication, Mr. Tunji Oladejo said online registration is ongoing while learning management platforms like Google Classroom would be used.
Registrar, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Prof. Oladiran Tayo Arulogun, said the institution is enhancing its infrastructure and training lecturers to embrace virtual learning for regular students. Arulogun said access to mobile devices and internet access are some of the challenges being faced by students.

The Director of ICT centre, Dr. Baale Adigun, said the centre has trained academic members of staff on how to teach virtually. 

VICE Chancellor, Delta State University, Abraka (DELSU) Prof. Andy Egwuyanga has said that virtual learning, which commenced last year in the institution is the major means of instruction to its over 20,000 students. Egwuyanga said the software, known as “Delta University Learning Management System’, has come to stay. He said DELSU virtual learning, which commenced during the COVID-19 outbreak, has gained momentum in the institution.
Egwuyanga said: “Our online learning is quite interactive and effective, we have a website that all lecturers subscribed to; students also use their matriculation numbers to log in to submit assignments.”

He however identified poor network as well as training of students and lecturers on the new technology as some of the challenges of online learning in the institution.

The vice-chancellor added: “Developing online content is another challenge because face to face teaching is quite different.”

Prof. Egwuyanga said the school is improving on its ICT so as to solve the problems as they come. The challenges notwithstanding, the VC said with virtual learning, the school has moved from 78 in ranking a year ago to 32.
MOST public universities in Ondo State are lagging behind in the use of technology for teaching and learning. Of the four public universities in the state, namely, Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko (AAUA), Ondo State University of Medical Sciences, Ondo (UNIMED) and Olusegun Agagu University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa (OAUSTECH), none is fully prepared for virtual learning.

Stakeholders identified poor funding by the state and Federal Governments, who are major financiers of the institutions as being responsible.

In AAUA, though the institution was closed shortly before the commencement of 2019/2020 first semester examinations through a circular dated January 24, 2021, the management is yet to explore the vast opportunities in virtual learning. 

A staff of the university, who pleaded anonymity, said activities in the school were based on a physical meeting between students and lecturers, as there was no official gazette to begin virtual learning. The source noted that the institution is suffering from an acute shortage of funds and members of staff are being owed five months of outstanding salaries, thereby making most infrastructural development to achieve virtual learning a mirage.  
Public Relations Officer of UNIMED, Mr. Temitope Temitayo, said the university has made adequate plans to utilise the vast opportunities in virtual learning before the COVID-19 lockdown last year. 

“We had a semester online last year and were about starting an online examination when the Federal Government re-opened schools. Despite the reopening, we still had all general courses online instead of physical classes, to reduce the number of students in lecture rooms,” Temitayo said.

Following the successes recorded in the last academic session, the university spokesman said the institution is planning to adopt virtual learning for 100 and 200 level students.

OAUSTECH spokesperson, Mr. Abdu-Majeed Adebayo, said all 100 level students would write their examinations virtually, while others would be physical. Adebayo, however, said the university management has been trying to improve on its ICT, which has been stalled due to a paucity of funds.

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