By Muttaqa Yusha’u Abdulra’uf
The Coronavirus pandemic, popularly known as COVID-19, is an unprecedented health and economic crisis for the twenty-first century. Since its emergence in Wuhan-China in November 2019, more than one million people have been infected, with over sixty thousand deaths so far recorded. Preventive measures have led to the lockdown of major cities amidst the closure of learning institutions.
While the work-at-home and other related learning activities perfectly worked for the developed world, courtesy of their digital infrastructure; for the developing countries, it is challenging due to the poor or absence of the needed digital infrastructure, epileptic power supply and host of other challenges. There is an apparent need to therefore enhance digital infrastructure as a necessary requirement for post-COVID-19 reconstruction in developing countries like Nigeria. This call became imminent on the basis of the arguments I have advanced below.
Closure of schools sent many children and wards home as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Whereas the developed countries have conveniently conducted lessons through online learning – as pupils log-in to their computers which makes learning unhindered, in many developing countries including Nigeria, children remained idle at home. And as the saying goes; the idle mind is a devil’s workshop.
Our lack of digital infrastructure for e-learning in our schools, especially public schools, makes the stay-at-home a debilitating experience for our children. This poses policy concern for revamping the digital infrastructures in our learning institutions as an utmost priority of democratizing access to an online learning experience.
The ontology of access to education has changed from access to the physical structure of learning in the schools and extends to access to modern instruments of teaching and learning. Hence, demand for access to quality education has been a key component of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) which argued for the provision of digital infrastructures for online learning in our schools. Ironically, the closure of schools without alternatives following the national lockdown amounts to infringement of the fundamental rights of citizens to learn in the twenty-first century. Bridging this digital divide is the surest way of harnessing the potentials of digital platforms for online learning.
Even before the COVID-19 national lockdown, public universities in Nigeria were on strike for avoidable reasons bordering on imposition of IPPIS on the payroll of the universities and other issues related to non-compliance to the collective bargaining agreement between the Federal government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
While industrial crisis over bread and butter issues and other demands bothering on infrastructural decay are ruining our universities, the clear lack of vigorous competitiveness among Nigerian universities in research and teaching and driving the university-industry link remains a major challenge. For instance, the universities through their centres of virology and laboratories would have been in the forefront in responding to the infrastructural needs of converting the COVID-19 pandemic, through the production of, among other things, testing kits, ventilators and training of health personnel.
The tripod of university-business-industries link can never be achieved when occasional lockdowns of Nigerian universities remain a permanent ritual that is observed almost annually. Thus, the COVID-19 epidemic calls for decisive action from the stakeholders involved to re-open Nigerian universities and boost their capacity to transfer knowledge in both real and virtual terms. This is the time to re-open the Nigerian universities, restore the salaries of the striking teachers to ameliorate their suffering in the midst of the national lockdown. Social dialogue is the only tool to address the industrial crisis, not executive fiat.
Post-COVID-19 reconstruction in the education sector should leverage on virtual learning using the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) approach as a key instrument of knowledge production and dissemination.
For example, some countries have made it mandatory for universities to introduce MOOC courses in certain subjects as a way of enhancing virtual learning. The introduction of MOOCs became more imminent with the teacher-student ratio in Nigerian universities. With MOOCs in place, Nigerian universities can address the challenges of learning outreach to a wide range of students and could also make the universities’ outreach programmes on a wide range of topics to different stakeholders. For example, Nexford University offers a wide range of online courses across the world, with affordable fees across the emerging economies in Africa, the Middle East, and India.
The future of knowledge production and its dissemination lies in the application of digital infrastructure. The post-Covid-19 reconstruction of our learning institutions depends on our level of creative imagination in terms of (i) design of courses tailored on the needs of the market and industry, (ii) targeting of participants, and (iii) retooling of learning infrastructures using online platforms.
The regulatory institutions such as Federal Ministry of Education (FMoE), National Universities Commission (NUC), National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE); being regulators of universities, colleges of education should include online learning as a key requirement for licensing and accreditation for public and private institutions of learning.
Dr Yusha’u, a staff of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abuja, will be a regular columnist for National Record. He can be reached via email @: [email protected]