Uchechukwu Nnaike highlights the contributions of MTN Nigeria and other stakeholders towards the development of e-learning in the country to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 on the education sector
The novel coronavirus pandemic, which has stunned Nigeria and the entire world, has affected global markets in all ramifications. With the Nigerian health care system, teetering, social distancing has become the most effective precaution that the government has taken to contain the spread of this virus, as there is currently no vaccine available to treat diseased persons who have contacted the virus.
Social distancing is a set of non-pharmaceutical measures taken to prevent the spread of a contagious disease by maintaining a physical distance between people and reducing the number of times people come into close contact with each other, this has led to the shutdown of many educational institutions in the country, especially in states like Lagos, Abuja, Osun and Oyo that have recorded quite a number of COVID-19 cases.
According to UNESCO statistics, by March 26, 2020, many governments had advised that schools be closed down temporarily due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It estimates that more than 1.5 billion school students, approximately 89 per cent of the world’s student population have been affected by this. The percentage of affected students varies by country and it is much higher in sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria where the affected student rate stands at 92 per cent. One of the factors responsible for this higher rate can be linked to the lack of distance learning facilities available in the region.
To ensure that the education process continues despite the circumstances, steps must be taken by stakeholders. For instance, many schools in developed countries and a few private schools in Nigeria have resorted to technology to facilitate learning and continue running their businesses. Teachers are able to teach via video conferencing applications like Skype and Zoom while some others have tapped into unconventional methods such as Instagram live feature to teach their classes. Students also participate using Padlet, a virtual post-it note system that lets students share ideas; and Flipgrid, which allows teachers and students create short videos to share. Many teachers no longer use email, but Microsoft Teams with all their students for ease of information sharing.
With much of the world urged to stay home, Harvard Business School also began running free lectures for students and professionals on various topics like Entrepreneurship Essentials, Global Business, Sustainable Business Strategy, and Leadership in Turbulent Times, the offering consists of approximately 10 hours’ worth of material to engage students and sharpen their business skills.
Presently, in Nigeria, there exist some diversified technological devices and online learning resources that offer students comprehensive materials and convenient approaches for online learning. The MTN Nigeria’s Mpulse platform is a prime example, a website designed for secondary school students aged between nine and 16. It offers free resources needed to maximize their learning potential, providing materials across a wide array of subject areas and specialisations to enable them become all they want to be. Students are able to access their class curriculum, watch videos, read notes, play games and take online assessments to track their learning progress. In order to address the implications of the stay at home order caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, MTN Nigeria made access to all the learning materials on the Mpulse website free for registered users.
According to the Chairman, MTN Nigeria, Ernest Ndukwe, “the threat that COVID-19 represents to Nigeria requires an unprecedented response from the public and the private sector. We must all work together to develop and deliver the solutions that will allow us to contain this threat and protect the most vulnerable in our communities across the country.”
Evidently, the public sector has been actively exploring innovative solutions to ensure that students are able to continue learning despite restrictions on movement across the country. For instance, the Oyo State government partnered with a telecoms operator to provide registered students in the state with 500MB worth of data daily, enabling them to work and learn from the comfort of their homes while physical classroom sessions are temporarily unavailable.
The Edo State government has also begun televising one-hour classes daily for students who are due to take their WASSCE and NECO examinations. The televised classes cover various subjects including Mathematics and English Language.
The Edo State Commissioner for Education, Jimoh Ijegbai said: “Edo State Ministry of Education, in collaboration with Edo State Broadcasting Service (EBS) and the Academic Staff Union of Secondary School (ASUSS) is organising a television programme for students in senior secondary schools, particularly those writing the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and National Examinations Council (NECO) scheduled for May/June/July 2020.”
Experts believe that the rise of the pandemic is a revelation to the government, educators, parents and students alike to think critically and be creative in how they communicate and collaborate. It has also revealed that there are means for effective learning as real change only takes place in deep crises such as this.
Students have been forced to take ownership of their learning, understanding more about how they learn, what they like, and what kind of support they need in personalising their learning without a structured system.
Technology firms are using the pandemic to gain insight into what human development and learning look like, allowing them to be able to shift from just content dissemination to augmenting relationships with teachers, personalisation and independence. This may be seen as a short-term commercial opportunity for these tech firms, but when the storm of the pandemic passes, schools may be revolutionised by the experience. Or, they may revert to what they know. But the Nigeria in which they all exist- one marked by rising unemployment and a likely recession- will demand more. Education may be slow to change, but the post-Coronavirus economy will demand a change.