It’s the maiden discourse, and Martins Isaac — a student of history and the immediate past President of the Union of Campus Journalists, University of Ibadan, Tolulope Ajibola — a student of engineering and a business strategist, and Akeju Oluwasegun — a student of law and the President of the Students’ Union, University of Ibadan join Theophilus Femi Alawonde at the roundtable to discuss and critique the Federal Ministry of Education’s directive that tertiary institutions fully embrace e-learning. The discourse centred on E-learning and the Realities of the University of Ibadan, closing with suggestions that pass as some of the most feasible solutions to the problems causing a hiatus in academic processes. Enjoy!
Theophilus: Good day! Welcome to Roundtable Discourse with Theophilus. I’m so happy to have you join me at the roundtable. The furniture’s pretty new; this is the maiden edition. Would you do us the honour of making yourselves known?
Martins: Martins Isaac here, sir. Thanks for having me here.
Tolulope : Hi everyone. I’m Tolu Ajibola, a business strategist. It’s good to be here.
Theophilus : Thank you for joining this discourse, Martins. Thanks for honouring the invite, Tolu.
Akeju: Good afternoon
Theophilus: Good afternoon, thank you for joining us at the roundtable.
Theophilus: The Federal Ministry of Eduacation gave a directive sometime ago, asking tertiary institutions to fully adopt e-learning due to the hindrances brought about by Coronavirus. Contrary to what was believed, a release by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan proves that the directive resulted from an agreement reached by heads of tertiary institutions all over Nigeria. What’s your general reaction to this?
Martins: Ah! Well,
- I see a gap in agreement. ASUU made it clear to FG it is not achievable and even UI VC made it clear as well that it will be difficult because:
A. Problem of power supply
B. Problem of data
C. Drafting notes for this would be herculean and take time…
B and A alone make a case for inequality amongst students whose financial capacities aren’t equal. And that is not considering the fact that not all students use smartphones. Also, as we all know, most lecturers are part of ASUU, so, even if A and B are met, C won’t be because the very lecturers are not only on strike, but are claiming ‘Rome was not built in a day’. Thanks.
Tolulope: It’s a smart thing to do; the world is going virtual. Learning should not be limited to the four walls of a lecture room alone. Also, I would not say that it is not achievable. It is. We just need to be disciplined, and we also need a well structured plan. If organisations within the university can hold virtual meetings, and continue their program virtually, then why shouldn’t “the first and best university” be able to do this? It leaves room for worry. Are we really growing? Are we ready to make changes? Do we want to stay on the same spot for the longest time?
Akeju: Right now, I am aware of the fact that the government is trying to have an agreement with service providers to have data free sessions. However, ASUU strike would be the greatest challenge.
Tolulope: Data free sessions? How?
Akeju: Yes. You know there are websites you an visit freely.
Theophilus: If this be the case, this question then keeps popping up: why would the meeting come to such an agreement? These fears you have listed are most likely the fears of most, if not all heads of tertiary institutions. Why then did they come to an agreement to adopt e-learning?
Martins: I think the VCs in that meeting were thinking of the future; beyond the current predicament. For example, a journalist tried to reach the Dean of Students to hear his view on this, but was referred to me. When I got in touch with the Dean on the journalist’s behalf, he simply stated that “he is a member of ASUU”, which means that as far as ASUU is still on strike, very little can be done at the moment.
Theophilus: Tolu, it’s no gainsaying you are right. However, there is the question of whether or not it is too great a leap. I mean, our school is largely geared towards traditional learning methods. Few departments have experimented e-learning. Can we successfully leap to the other side, seeing we would be totally adopting e-learning?
Martins: Exactly! This is why I said even if A and B are achieved, C would pose the challenge, still.
Tolulope: Yes we can, and yes we will. It’s really not that hard, is it feasible with the current state of things? No. But can it be done? Yes. E – learning just follows a structure, and thorough discipline. It’s not a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of what has to be done.
Akeju: I think they have to just resume negotiations with ASUU.
Theophilus: It has been asserted that ASUU strike is somewhat the “greatest” hindrance to the adoption of e-learning. Provided ASUU resumes, are we looking at an adoption of e-learning with the realities in the UI system?
Tolulope: Oh. If we’re going to be using e-learning method eventually, sacrifices would have to be made. This includes data.
Martins: Ah well! Truth is, you have to examine the situation from a holistic perspective:
- Not all lecturers teach with note. It’s not secondary schools where they go to classes with lesson notes. So they will just have to start that.
- ASUU is still on strike.
- The problem of low advancement of technology, even amongst lecturers… We have to think of not just university students but as well all other tertiary institutions as a whole
- Meetings amongst organizations can’t be compared to teaching because… Number! Organizations have limited numbers. UI, for example, has about 33-40k students, Unilorin should boast of over 50k, OAU has a large number of students too… All these things need to be put in perspective… Now, I’m not saying e-learning is not what we should be doing, I’m only saying our reality makes it utopian at the moment.
Tolulope: Most of the problems you’ve mentioned here are things that should have been prevented from the outset. Why is a lecturer not having notes? No hard copy? No soft copy? ASUU being on strike is the only hindrance here, left to me. Why is there low technological advancement in universities? Universities that have been in existence for over 10 years. Meetings in organizations can be compared to teachings. Discipline is needed. As I have said and will continue to say, we need a well detailed plan and structure. That’s all.
Theophilus: We haven’t even come up with a feasible structure. Speaking of e-learning, what exactly do we mean, Tolu?
Tolulope: E-learning is basically using electronic technology tools to access the educational curriculum outside the class room.
Martins: Structure? Not yet. Discipline? Not yet. Convenience? Not yet, too. How? We’ve not had power supply since yesterday morning, for example… I’m charging with my laptop for this discourse, only because of the long notice; I don’t charge with my laptop. As things are, I give people tasks to do, but they can’t meet up with deadlines owing to the disastrous supply of power. Even myself? I’m defaulting on a task to be done at the moment because of lack of power supply. And currently, the national grid ain’t great… It still suffered some two weeks ago. And, to facilitate e-learning, you have to ensure there is at the very least 12 hours of power supply every day… Right now, we are nowhere close to that. How is it supposed to work?
Tolulope: Charging with your laptop is part of the sacrifices to be made. That is where discipline comes in. To answer your question, here is how it’s supposed to work:
1) have a well detailed plan
2) communicate it to people long before the process starts, so they can plan ahead too.
3) provide resources that can be provided, and outsource what needs to be outsourced.
4) put a timeline to certain tasks and deliverables. People work better with this.
Theophilus: Let’s come closer to home. UI has about 30, 000 students, about 400 teaching staffers are claimed to be tech-savvy, and e-learning (Edmodo especially) has been experimented, albeit not as the sole means of learning. If ASUU were to resume tomorrow, can UI adopt e-learning, while allowing for some lapses in the submission of assignments and all?
Martins: That’s another big problem: UI, for instance, is still like 60-70% manually run… Unilorin is way more technologically advanced. Exams? Tests? Computations of transcripts too, and then, the heavy dependence on NASU… Everything that has to do with documentation in UI is manual… Though, they are trying to go electronic with things like transcripts. However, it is still failing; the portal had several crashes due to high traffic. It wasn’t coincidental that UI increased technology fee to expand bandwidth, yet we suffered the crashes… In this regard alone, government needs to pump more money, else, school fees in federal universities will skyrocket as a result.
Martins: Tech advancement is only possible where constant electricity is guaranteed… For example, UI has been equipped with smart boards for over 10 years I think, yet they are not running… Some of these lecturers have slides for DLC they can opt for, but owing to the unpredictable nature of power supply, they are not running. And my laptop will switch off soon… what happens to those without laptop to charge? My point is this, we should be moving towards e-learning, but a lot is fundamentally wrong and they will all rise as challenges against its immediate adoption.
Theophilus: Is that to say that e-learning can succeed in Nigerian tertiary institutions, but not necessarily that it would succeed if immediately adopted as the FME directed?
Martins: It can succeed, but not as fast as being said by the FME.
Tolulope: It can definitely succeed. It’s already working in private Nigerian institutions.
Akeju: You see, I believe it will be best for the school to have a good plan, putting in mind the specifics. I also believe that something can be worked on, actually.
Theophilus: The specifics, as in what have been mentioned above?
Akeju: The specifics, as in things we don’t have and have to make up for.
Martins: Trust me, universities are runned by professors; very brilliant, though they can be wicked when they want to be. Let’s talk about resources… In 2016, UI, with NGEP, started a plan involving Nigeria and Germany, to generate solar energy as private means of generating power supply… Fast forward to 4 years later, nothing has happened and nothing is happening. That’s one. Two. A whole University of Witwaterstrand, one of (South) Africa’s best, had to take loans to provide internet data for students… If we obtain internet data, what do we do to power supply or ASUU’s perennial dissatisfaction with the FG everytime… There has not been a year in the last 4 years that ASUU has not had one reason for a strike action. For me, I like the fact we are talking about ẹ-progress, but the problems are way bigger than just what universities can handle. We need a responsible FG to fund the universities for actualization to be feasible.
Theophilus: And, not to forget co-currucular activities that are essential to the learning that helps us make sound judgement. What would happen to student leadership if e-learning was fully adopted? Student organisations that breathe, thanks to campus life, what will be their fate?
Tolulope: Slowly, but eventually, everyone will adapt. E-learning doesn’t mean these things will become extinct. It only means that technological tools will be used to meet these needs.
Akeju: We can’t shy away from the fact that it will affect us. However, every organization has been trying to adapt to the recent development. E-learning is one of those adaptative techniques.
Martins: Well.. the truth is, UI for example, has never cared. Many lecturers don’t care what you do outside of classrooms… A whole professor has denigrated jaw war before, saying, “you were sent to school to read”. So, organizations would have to evolve if e-learning is eventually implemented.
Theophilus: Let’s take it this way: those activities that teach us more than we can ever learn in classrooms. Would they totally go into oblivion?
Martins: Not everyone will agree they do… But, I do agree I learned more and became better outside the classroom than inside.
Tolulope: Lol! If I may ask, what activities?
Theophilus: Leadership and membership of student clubs and organisations help students gain soft skills: Public speaking, communication, team work, etc. Will Jaw War ’20 go online?
Tolulope: These can be achieved virtually. I’ve been part of webinars during this break that have solely been on learning soft skills and maximizing them effectively.
Theophilus: Suffice to say, e-learning isn’t the way (at least, not until we have drawn out feasible plans). How long can it take to draw out plans that would be feasible? What I mean is, should schools rather not resume?
Martins: No! I will rather say e-learning is the way. But, we need to solve some issues:
- Epileptic power supply
- ASUU v. FG fracas (there will be no learning at all whenever they are at war).
- Increased funding of universities.
- The problem of data (minimal).
It is true schools in advanced countries have embraced e-learning already, but what we are missing is advanced countries have light 24/7, and they don’t have any of the problems above. Until those are resolved, nothing can be achieved. Corroborating the above, Tolu mentioned private universities, but no private university suffers any of the above… It’s even free Wi-Fi in learning environments, for most of them, their lecturers have no issue (as a body), light there is 24/7 and they are well funded and the facilities in those schools are not existent in government universities. This is why I repeat, it won’t be achievable until the above are resolved, thank you!
Tolulope: E-learning is a matter of urgency, and should be treated as such. So, it should be embraced as soon as possible. And, going by what you just said, Martins, are you assuming these students in private universities are undergoing the e-learning program in their schools? These people are in their houses like every other Nigerian student, so, you can’t say for certain that there’s free WiFi or light 24/7. All they are achieving now is as a result of the discipline already instilled in them, in addition to the few sacrifices they have to make on their own part. Which is all I’ve been saying.
Martins: In their schools… The reality of their homes could be a reason it’s not adopted and besides, I don’t know if they are doing it or not, but if anyone would be able to, they would be first.
Theophilus: Let’s remember that e-learning is a two-way thing in this case: Students are also involved; they will be learning from home. How do we solve a nationwide problem of epileptic power supply in a number of days? Or, would students be asked to go back to their campuses, where adequate power supply and free Wi-Fi would be ensured? What of non-residential tertiary institutions?
Martins: That’s why developed countries can do it easily… We need to solve the problem of power supply first.
Theophilus: The VC has called for suggestions. Needless to say, the school management is ready to adopt e-learning. Are there suggestions you can give which are slightly compliant to the problems listed (safe for ASUU strike)?
Martins: Are you adding students who can’t read at home or learn on their own to the problems? If yes, the University of Ibadan can come up with notes, upload on the portal… There is department by department categorization… Students can download these documents which are often kilobytes, and read… Then, they can request the FG to always ensure Friday to Sundays are 8-8pm power supply constant nationwide (which is difficult given the energy generation level at the moment… I think it has dropped to around 3300 or 3100…). Lecturers fix a timetable within those three days to react to questions (discussion format) on what has been read via a Zoom meeting. As for data, if they are not able to supply data to everyone, the purchase of internet data by individual students can replace allowances of pocket money, transport fares, department and faculty dues et al… Meaning, students can bear the cost as a replacement for those spendings if school was on session. That way, we can have our e-learning at a huge discouraging cost
Tolulope: No suggestions, I’m good. And, a thumbs-up to Martins’ suggestion.
Akeju: I think the school should just set up a committee to work this out. Attendance during online discussions should be made compulsory; that would increase participation.
Theophilus: Thank you for the suggestions! I would suggest an app, as against the use of the school website or students’ portal. With that, we could be looking at a somewhat successful adoption of e-learning: the provision of reading materials on a UI App, and compulsory interactive sessions during the weekend.
Theophilus: Thank you so much for joining me at the roundtable. “You too much”, to say the least. It has been an enlightening discourse. Before you say your byes, provided readers want to reach out to you, sirs and ma, how best should they proceed? Your Twitter handles? Facebook usernames? LinkedIn usernames? Instagram handles?
Tolulope: LinkedIn – Toluwalope Ajibola. They can also reach out to me via my number: 07037976428. Thanks for having me. Have a great day.
Theophilus: Thank you, Tolu.
Martins: My WhatsApp line: 08130116100. Yeah, LinkedIn too: Martins Isaac.
Theophilus Femi Alawonde is a journalist, education enthusiast, polyglot and writer of things in no particular order of interest. A journalism-for-change agent, Theophilus has, in the past three years, charged himself to ensuring changes come about in the society, using various journaliatic media. He’s a student of the Department of Arts and Social Sciences Education, and the Editor-in-Chief of Indy Press Organisation. Reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org or 08169789450