Hope deferred maketh the heart sick… – one of the Holy Books
At the announcement of the adoption of a fully virtual mode of learning for the first semester of the 2020/2021 academic session, one of the chiefest concerns of University of Ibadan students and the academic staff members was the predicted high cost of staying connected to the internet. When the University Management finalised plans on its synchronous and asynchronous means of learning, and announced Zoom and Moodle as the school-stamped platforms, students lamented, and their pockets wailed in anticipation of the blow that was on the verge of hitting them constantly.
It was then relieving when the University Management started showing signs of supporting the learners and teachers during the virtual semester. The earliest signs of support were shown prior to the school’s official resumption, when students in some departments were asked to pen down their names for internet data support. More organised plans were rolled out between the third and fourth week, where a registration link was shared with students. Students basked in the euphoria of getting internet data support. For one, some students no longer saw the need to challenge the surge in the technology fee, since it seemed the University was about showing workings for the said increase.
The Problems Affronting University of Ibadan Students
The data collation for the allocation of internet data support could not have been planned for all students, and here is why: the link was not shared in a way that it would reach all students of the University, and there are indeed claims by some students that they never saw the link, talk more of registering for the data support. While it would seem justifiable to say that the University cannot possibly provide data for all students and academic staff members (which is false, by the way), the question we should ask ourselves is: what then will be the reason for the payment of technology fee by all students if some students are left out of the promised support? And if the claim is that the data support is not hinged on the technology fee paid, what then is the essence of the said technology fee during a virtual semester where students are not on campus to use the school Wi-Fi? And what just reason is there for the increment in this technology fee?
It has been weeks since students were asked to register via a shared link, yet, there is little to nothing to show for it. The silence is so acute, that it is deafening. From the era of readily available information and periodic updates to an era where students and staff alike are largely in the dark as to the goings-on. The burning question is: when will the promised data support be rolled out? There is something with expectations; when people continually wait and their waiting is not rewarded with as little as reaffirmations that what is being waited for will eventually be given, their hopes become frustrated. The University of Ibadan students have been waiting for weeks, yet, there has been no information to refuel their hopes that the technology fee they paid will be put to good use.
Students are undoubtedly spending a fortune on data subscription since school resumed, and no, this is not justifiable by the claim that students would subscribe to data plans even if learning was not virtual. Why? Because the average student should be spending at least double of what they used to spend on data subscriptions. Zoom is an exhaustive platform, and it does not help matters that students are required to turn on their cameras during some lectures. There are justified lamentations by students from all quarters. The average UIte did twice as much as is required in order to get admission into Nigeria’s first and acclaimed best university, because they knew they could get quality education at an affordable cost (regardless of the incessant strike-action-induced delays). Therefore, it will be grossly insensitive and plainly out of scope to tell students that the cost of education is expected to be high, so, they should bear the seemingly unbearable cost of frequent data subscriptions. If we wanted to get costly education, we would have opted for private universities, foreign universities, or state universities with seamless academic calendars.
The Solutions in Some Quarters
One of the most enviable qualities of humans is that we know how to find our way around things and seek solutions to whatever problem we are faced with. This has manifested during the University of Ibadan virtual semester, as some students and lecturers have found seemingly cost-effective ways of holding lectures.
Alternative Platforms to the Data-consuming Zoom Platform
One, is the use of Google Meet. Google Meet is a tried and trusted platform when it comes to minimal data consumption, as compared to Zoom. Google Meet equally has amazing features such as screen sharing, screen recording, and what not. An amazing feature of Google Meet is that lecturers can collate students’ email addresses, and plan classes ahead till the end of the semester. All they need to do is add students as participants of the meetings, and students will always get email notifications for each class. Some lecturers have opted for Google Meet, and it would be better if the University made Google Meet its official synchronous learning platform. There is no reason why we should continue using Zoom, except the management has been able to strike a beneficial agreement with Zoom.
Another option that is becoming popular is the Telegram app. Telegram allows for more members on a group, as compared to WhatsApp, and there is also the option of a synchronous voice chat. The downside of this is that the voice chat cannot be recorded for future use. Telegram is not largely suitable for learning, save for its minimal data consumption.
AFAS: The Saviour of University of Ibadan Students
It was both relieving and surprising when the Association of Faculty of Arts (AFAS) students rolled out a subsidized data subscription plan for students; both AFASites and non-AFASites. The sale of MTN data plans at 1, 050 naira for 5 Gigabyte and 2, 100 for 10 Gigabyte is one of the most relieving initiatives for University of Ibadan students at this time. How AFAS was able to achieve this, we do not know. However, we highly commend them for that move. It is soul-lifting to see a reduction in the amount MTN users will spend on data subscription, in a period where we wait in bleak anticipation for the allocation of data. The Association of Faculty of Arts students did a great thing, that we must say.
No one, except for the school management, knows when the data support will be kickstarted. We do not know if it is going to be in phases, or at once. We are not sure if it would be allocated to lecturers first, before students receive their allocation. We are not sure if it would be a one-off allocation, or on a rolling basis. We are in the dark as to how things will play out on this data support. These are reasons enough for us to find alternatives for ourselves. This is a time when student organisations should toe the path AFAS followed, synergise, and collaborate with network providers in Nigeria to get subsidised data plans for students. AFAS has sealed an MTN subsidy, what is stopping NUESA or FASSA from sealing an Airtel subsidy? These subsidies would go a long way in helping students.
The University Management should also consider giving updates on the data support. It is true that students have opted for various means of survival while waiting for the support, but that is not to say students are no longer interested in the support the school promised. Students are anxiously waiting for something, anything that would shed more light on this data support. When will we get this support? Will we get it at all? What is the expected size of support for each student? Will it be a one-off support? These are questions bouncing off WhatsApp statuses, student groups and student discussions. They are questions reverberating through the folds of the Fourth Estate; echoes of the concerns, fears, expectations and deflated hopes of students. They are questions begging for answers; when will the answer(s) come?
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