Keeping up With Classes During a Pandemic; A Tale of Nigerian Tertiary Institutions
It’s no longer news that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all aspects of the economy. The academic and educational space is not left out. Following the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria, the Ministry of Education had in March ordered all schools – Tertiary, Secondary and Primary, to close their premises.
This course of action was necessary to secure the well-being of students and staff, as well as members of their communities.
The directive, on the other hand, meant that the education of millions of students across the country has been halted as students are unable to physically attend school.
This has forced some schools across the country to quickly innovate, moving their programs/classes online. Some state governments have also taken to radio and TV to bring education to students at home.
For tertiary institutions, the minister of Education has ordered the commencement of the academic sessions. In response, the Academic Staff Union of Universities responded, highlighting the challenges of the space. These include internet access, restructured curriculum to accommodate virtual learning, and facilities for both students and lecturers.
Despite these, many tertiary institutions have gone on to train their staff to deliver the course curriculum virtually as well as to make use of the available online platforms for learning.
Schools like Babcock University, Lagos State University, Elizade University, American University of Nigeria, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos State Polytechnic, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Bowen University and Covenant University have all explored the remote medium for learning.
“WhatsApp and Zoom have been very effective in the classes,” says Simeon, a Theology student of Babcock University. “A group is being created for a particular course, at a set time, the lecturer sends a document of the topic for the day and uses WhatsApp Voice Notes to explain. Questions are entertained after, and in a situation where the lecturer wants to see the students or show a presentation, Zoom is utilised.”
The Nigerian Law school has also been using WhatsApp to teach but in its case, a video is sent by the lecturer to explain what’s in the document. For some other schools like Laspotech, WhatsApp is the only medium being used.
“Groups are created with the course code, department and level as the name, students are added and the time table is sent so that it doesn’t clash with other courses. Assignments are also given and submitted to lecturers via mailAkin*, a student of Lagos State Polytechnic.
For other schools like Bowen University, Covenant University, ABUAD and Yabatech, lectures are been delivered with video conferencing platforms. “The Zoom links/ID is sent to students before class and students are requested to join for classes at least 5 minutes before commencement,” says Grace* a student of Bowen University.
Beyond classes, schools like Babcock have begun examination using an online portal accessible by students. Also, Bowen is set to begin theirs, although the model is yet to be revealed to students.
New Model – Same Old Challenges
Online teaching is a new adventure for most Nigerians schools. As such, the schools can expect to be faced with several challenges. The first challenge, as expected, is the poor internet connection across the nation.
While lectures are going on, there might be lapses in communication. Zene* a student of ABUAD explained that such lapses range from inability to join the lecture to unsteady voices.
“Sometimes a student might be unable to join a video call as he/she is having network issues, sometimes it’s from the lecturer’s end and voice will keep cracking or be unheard”Zene
Students have also had to deal with the cost of data which for many has been overbearing. Many students can’t attend classes due to the rate of consumptions of internet data by some of the apps and platforms – Zoom and Edmodo.
This is coupled with the shortage of funds and the fact that businesses were closed for a long time in some states, and therefore, new funds are not coming in.
The other challenge is the familiarity with technology. Bayo*, a computer science student of Yabatech says lecturers in his department still find it difficult manoeuvring the Zoom platform. This has led to the stoppage of the classes after a while.
“For most of the lecturers, we the students had to send a video tutorial on how to use to platform to them on WhatsApp. Some didn’t know how to create meetings, show presentations or even how to unmute themselves, which is weird as they are computer science lecturers”Bayo
Another major challenge is the “flow” of the classes via the online medium. Having been using the physical medium for years, several lecturers who already find it difficult to pass information to students, now have it more difficult to express themselves during online classes. Also, corrections for assignments are not as seamless as during a physical class.
Thus in the cases of most of the schools, students are allowed to ask questions on unclear areas after the explanation.
There’s also the issue of distractions during classes and attendance. So in some cases like Laspotech, the Lecturer blocks every other participant from sending messages for a period while he explains. Also, students are given 15 minutes after class commencement to drop their matric numbers for attendance (which is used for their CA).
For schools like Babcock which have started exams, the integrity of exams is another challenge as there’s no supervision since it’s a remote exam, although there’s a strict time limit.
Despite these challenges, some students are happy to continue using the online mediums on the interim, as they can record video classes for future reference a well as star messages on WhatsApp to go back to.
With no set timeline for the resumption of school activities yet, many tertiary institutions will have to adapt to using a few of these channels for their lectures. And the truth is, the universities that innovate during this time will come up with stronger technology solutions and student support systems that will serve them when things return back to normal.
Names with * have been changed to protect identity.
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