Schools reopening: FG needs to provide infrastructure for virtual learning- Don

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School children wearing face masks gather outside their classroom at a primary school in Attecoube, popular district of Abidjan on May 25, 2020 on the first day after resumption of classes after the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown. (Photo by Issouf SANOGO / AFP) (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images)

By Ibukun Emiola
Ibadan, Sept. 4, 2020 A don, Prof. Esther Akinlabi has advised the Federal Government to put infrastructure in place that would support the use of technology in the education system as schools prepare to re-open.

Akinlabi, who is the Director, Pan Africa University of Life and Earth Sciences Institute (PAULESI), Ibadan, stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Ibadan on Friday.

The don said that what African countries could do was to leverage technology through virtual teaching and learning due to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“I am not sure what other African countries have been able to do, but looking at Nigeria we do not have the infrastructure.
“There are many other virtual platforms available on the internet though they are quite expensive, but I believe that the government should try to invest in infrastructure and purchase these virtual learning softwares that universities can use.

“It is also possible to harness collaborative efforts wherein the same platform can be used across universities, not each university having its own license.

“So, it is possible that at the Federal ministry of education level, there can be one virtual learning platform that would be agreed upon with the licensing agreement and so forth.

“A particular learning platform that can be adopted for higher learning educational institutions across the whole country.

“There are robust platforms like that that could be used. I believe that could be a way forward so that educational institutions can reopen in the meantime,” Akinlabi said.

Alluding to what obtains in South Africa where she lectured for 10 years, the don said that before COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Johannesburg in South Africa had virtual learning platforms called Blackboard.
According to her, Blackboard had also been in use in Europe and other advanced countries for quite sometime.
“It was not optional, it was compulsory that in addition to going to class to teach face to face we had to upload online all our study guides, lecture notes, powerpoint slides, assignments and everything about the course that we teach.

“We communicate with all students via the online blackboard system and we do everything via the online learning platform, but in addition to all of that we still go to class.

“So, when COVID-19 came upon us in March/April and then South Africa lockdown specifically on March 26, we went on break and on 1st May schools reopened and we all went virtual.

“The only thing we had to add to what we were already doing was to now teach using blackboard. Everything else was already in place.

“What I did was I recorded a video with my phone summarising my slides to three to five minutes uploaded on the blackboard.

“I also had live streaming via the blackboard system which works like other systems such as Zoom, Microsoft team and so on. We completed the semester via the online school,” she said.

Akinlabi said Nigeria could take a cue from this, instead of rushing to reopen schools and then risk a spike in COVID-19 infection.
The don said that the government should be allowed to put in place virtual learning platforms for tertiary institutions.

“I think there should be some more time to allow the government to put in place some infrastructure relating to virtual learning structures.

“And how to support the students to be able to get data and how to support academic staff members as well to get data.

“In South Africa where it is working the management of the institutions give data to the students and to the academic staff as well.

“So, I think there is a need for more time and not just rush to open so that we don’t get ourselves in a situation where we see a spike in COVID-19 infection due to the students and staff members coming together.

“Again, we have many students in each class in Nigerian universities and social distancing would be a problem and that could end up being what we don’t really want,” she said.