21, 2020 / 12:58 PM / by FDC Ltd / Header Image Credit: Technext NG
Virtual learning has become imperative in promoting and sustaining educational development globally considering the disruptive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on traditional learning. However, the closure of schools has once again highlighted the huge divide between the educational systems in developed economies compared to developing economies like Nigeria. In Nigeria, schools across all levels have been suspended for over three months and educational institutions in the country are finding it difficult to adopt digital education.
The current state of the Nigerian education system
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 of the 170 universities in the country operate a distance learning platform while most of the institutions remain poorly equipped. The low level of infrastructural development in Nigeria, in terms of energy and internet connectivity, also continues to constitute a setback for the adoption of virtual learning in the country.
Primary and secondary school education in Nigeria have also been negatively impacted by the lockdown imposed on schools. Although some schools have explored several mediums to keep their students engaged during the lockdown, many students are disadvantaged due to the prevailing inequality in the socio-economy. Students whose parents are unable to provide them with the requisite technology tools may not be able to participate. In addition, people living in rural areas, where connectivity is poor to nonexistent, are also affected.
Challenges of Virtual Learning
Advocacy for the adoption of virtual learning in Nigeria, without identifying and addressing the attendant challenges, will only amount to unrealistic campaigns. According to the president of the Association of Staff of Universities Union (ASUU), the Nigerian education system is not yet prepared for virtual learning.24 This statement is linked to a number of factors:
Infrastructural challenges: Nigeria's access to electricity rate stood at 56.5% in 2018 and only 30.95% of its rural population have access to power supply.25 Schools located in the rural areas usually have to deal with the high cost of alternative power supply despite the low budgetary allocation to the education sector. Another closely linked constraint is poor internet connectivity. The level of internet usage in Nigeria was estimated at 122 million users as at May, 2019,26 which represented approximately 59% of the country's population. However, the broadband penetration rate stood at 33.13%.27 Online learning often requires a good and strong connection both for the educators and the learners, hence the low level of bandwidth connection is a fundamental limitation.
Economic constraints: The cost implication of virtual learning is another barrier to the effective implementation of the mode of education. Around 40.1% of Nigerians live below the national poverty threshold of N137,430 ($354.66) per annum, which translates to N376.52 per day (less than $1).28 This suggests that the average Nigerian household cannot afford the financial requirements of virtual learning in terms of the technology tools like laptops, iPads, internet-enhanced mobile phones and data expenses.
The Nigerian government needs to pay better attention to the development of the education sector as a fundamental component of the country's human capital development. Nigeria was ranked 158th out of 189 countries, according to the 2019 United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranking with an index score of 0.534, behind countries like South Africa (0.705) and Ghana (0.596).
Improved funding to the educational sector: Nigeria's budgetary allocation to the education sector has consistently fallen short of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommendation of at least 15%.30 The 2020 budget allocation for education was N686.8bn, 6.48% of the initial 2020 budget of N10.59 trillion. However, this has been reduced by 54% despite the increase in the revised 2020 budget to N10.81 trillion.
Better electricity and internet connectivity: The social distancing requirements brought about by COVID-19 have revealed the need to prioritize energy development issues in Nigeria. This has implications for every sector of the economy including education. Improved electricity access and a stronger bandwidth connection in Nigeria will enhance the practicability of virtual learning in the country.
Pedagogical training for educators: Nigerian educators are generally inexperienced and lack proper training on the pedagogical approach to virtual learning.32 The traditional approach is still what is widely practiced in the country, hence, a re-orientation, review of teaching practices and training are required to bring educators up to speed on virtual learning.