Education for All: Policy Pathway(s) to Online Education in Nigeria
While the world awaits a vaccine, the novel coronavirus rages on wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods everywhere with poor countries suffering the heaviest impact especially those with weak institutions engendered by corruption and mismanagement – Nigeria, a country with immense potential, belongs to this group.
Since March 2020, schools have shut down across the country and due to lack of infrastructure for online learning, education has for the most part ground to a halt. Privately-run schools have made haphazard attempts to use digital tools to keep their student’s engaged. However, these attempts are however not fully approved by Ministries of Education and thus not guided by any uniform strategy. It also effectively cuts out millions of children in public schools.
The woes of the sector are long-standing and cut across all levels. No Nigerian higher institution is ranked amongst the top 1000 in the world; at the primary and secondary levels the state of infrastructure is poor and every possible setback exists for the stakeholders especially the students and teachers.
According to UNICEF, approximately 10.5 million children aged 5-14 years in Nigeria are not in school and one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria . Poor policy implementation, and poor investments are major drawbacks. The current government’s school feeding programme was meant to help increase school enrolment, but the program has not been consistent and is not sufficient to solve this problem. For a country that has continued to struggle to provide basic education to its teeming population, it is no surprise that mainstreaming online education across all levels of education in the country has taken a back seat.
Nigeria is one of the top 10 countries in Africa with internet penetration above 60% with 61.2% of the population having access . The number of active social media users also rose from 17 million in 2017 to 24 million at the end of 2018 with 70% of the population expected to have at least 3G access in another 5 years.
Data Source: Internet World Stats. June 2020
The data points to the fact that technology-driven education models can work in Nigeria. It only requires careful planning, a combination of methods that fit unique grassroots contexts and the political will to set up and implement policies across the three levels of government. If Nigeria will fulfill its commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all) it has to set out made-to-fit policies for the mainstreaming of online education.
Obstacles & Potentialities of Technology-Driven Education
Being technology-savvy is important for success in the 21st century and what better way to acquire such skills than through early introduction to technology-driven education. Communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and technological literacy are pivotal skills that quality education should instill in individuals – skills that are useful and necessary all through life. As Nigeria prepares its massive school-age population for a life of work and service, it is necessary to ensure that young people are relevant in that future because of the skills and exposure they have.
Though the revised National Policy on Education (2013) gives a national direction, implementation is often a challenge. While it is laudable that children with special needs are addressed and emphasis is placed on Nigerian language, there is however limited attention to the most critical skill to have in this age: digital skills. Technology should have been addressed in the policy as a foundation that propels delivery and access to education rather than as an aside.
With a smartphone and internet access, any child can have access to a world of knowledge. Although the cost of internet access is still high in the country, policy makers must begin to think about how to harness the existing advantages in the continuous rise of telecommunication penetration in Nigeria for the purpose of education. A world where a child or adult from anywhere in the country can “go to school” on her parent’s, or personal smart device for two or three hours of learning or at a resource facility, at little or no cost is possible. That is the potential that tech-driven education holds for Nigeria. Imagine how improved access to education would be? Today’s classroom is without walls and is not inhibited by geographical boundaries.
Electricity supply is definitely a problem for digital learning, but solutions like solar-powered power banks exist as a workaround with Nigeria’s tropical climate serving as a big boon. Indigenous technology companies can be contracted to develop other solutions to power learning devices.
While not discounting the importance and relevance of in-person learning, it is within the realm of possibility that technology-driven/online learning can start from the basic level through to the tertiary level of education in Nigeria. A four-year-old child can ‘start’ school online and go on all the way to junior secondary school and even beyond. Subjects like integrated science, home economics, and introductory technology that require a more physical, in-person approach might present challenges that are solvable by the ever-growing army of Nigerian digital entrepreneurs. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) deployed by global leaders like Coursera, and Udemy award certificates to students around the world every day. Incorporating similar services for basic education for all is the next strategic step but it will require concerted efforts by the Nigerian government.
There are infinite advantages that online education confers on the individual including a rich trove of resources to aid development, learning at individual pace and access to a global faculty outside the immediate community. Such access would expand the learner’s horizon beyond the limits of recommended texts which have been proven to be inadequate to real-life examples outside his milieu. Economically, an entire value chain will be unlocked with patronage from both local and foreign interests. For instance, of the 1,662,762 candidates that sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) in 2018, only 35% got admission into the post-secondary institution available . Without lowering the standards, there is a huge market, especially for Post-Secondary institutions. It is estimated that India would rake in 1billion USD by the end of the decade from online education .
While the potentials identified above appear simple and easy to see, the path to its realization will involve concrete actions.
Education in Nigeria is on the concurrent legislative list, which means it is within the purview of both the state and federal government. It is important that each state government implement solutions that suit the peculiarities of their state.
Establish a Specific Digital Learning Roadmap
Though historical records do not seem to give an impressive view on the extent of implementation of different plans in Nigeria, it still does not whittle down the importance of having one. For instance, the Rwandan Smart classroom project launched in 2018 was part of the ICT master plan. In Europe, the Digital Agenda for Europe was created in 2010 for all European countries and outlines policies and actions to maximize the benefit of the Digital Revolution for all. While this document remains the standard for all European countries, 28 of them have gone further to create a digital strategy specific to education which suits their funds and local context.
Fortunately, Nigeria through her Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy produced the National Digital Economy Policy & Strategy (2019) which dedicates a full pillar to e-learning. This is a good start but it is recommended that state governments through their respective ministries of education develop as a matter of urgency a Digital Learning Roadmap. Such bespoke documents should capture among other things a shared vision of having online learning entrenched across the educational landscape of the territories under their jurisdiction. Such a roadmap will establish key objectives, best-fit strategies, identify key enablers, required infrastructure, critical success factors, establish milestones and targets for instance on the number of courses that should be deployed online.
Review of extant educational laws, policies & frameworks
The existing policies and legal framework on education need to be upgraded to address gaps and serve as a strong foundation for addressing issues on driving digital education in the country. There is a need to review these documents to include the what, how, where and when of achieving digital education. What exactly do we want regarding digital education, how do we intend to achieve and enforce this, how do we bring in the private sector, international donor agencies and the social economy, what will be the extent of their involvement and so on.
Photo Credit: www.guac.ac.bw
The federal legislature needs to take the lead in this regard by amending the UBEC Act to emphasize digital education while the state domesticates this as it applies to them. University autonomy also needs to be given a second look. State governments need to consider the extant laws setting up and regulating public & private schools. Laws have to be amended and/or enacted to reflect current realities and these laws have to be enabled by SMART policies and strict implementation protocols across all arms of government and across all levels of education from basic to tertiary.
Encourage & Fast Track Growth of Digital Infrastructure
Infrastructural access is a major challenge students have to e-learning. If the right infrastructure is unavailable due to the government’s inability to finance it, then states must create laws that allow for private stakeholders to create these infrastructures at lower costs. Recently, Ekiti state has taken a positive step in improving internet penetration by reducing their Right of Way (RoW) charges for telecommunications and broadband infrastructure from N4500 per linear meter to N145 . A cheaper RoW reduces the amount a telecommunications company spends on laying fiber cables which means they can reach more areas within the state with internet access and provide faster internet in places where they have already laid cables. This action would attract more telecommunication companies to such states. This would no doubt positively impact students’ and teachers’ access to faster internet connections and thus promote e-learning.
With moves like this, an entire value chain in the online learning ecosystem can be unlocked. Furthermore, there is a clear line of sight between such policy actions that encourage investment in the sector to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 which speaks to quality education.
Activate Digital Education Hubs
The stakeholders in education at all levels can tap into the proliferation of tech start-ups in Nigeria and explore the option of Digital Education Hubs in at least every local government or educational district in the country. Such solar-powered hubs help address the issue of access. The hubs will be equipped with e-learning facilities to provide eligible residents with access for free or at a token. Such centres will enable students of post-secondary institutions taking online courses to have a location to connect with faculty, learn and possibly take exams.
The model run by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) can be refined to achieve this. Eventually, such hubs can evolve into digital labs where courses and projects on basic robotics, coding, artificial intelligence, 3D printing can be facilitated by interested digital start-ups. Each state government should explore a partnership agreement with private tech organizations and not-for-profit entities on this.
Photo credit: www.gettingsmart.com
Upgrade Teacher Training
The skillset required for in-person tutoring is totally different from that required in deploying the same knowledge in a virtual environment. In essence, being tech-savvy is no longer a nice to have but a critical skill and requirement for teachers irrespective of their audience. It will be difficult to bridge the online learning gap without proper teacher training and Mandatory Continuing Professional Development (MCPD) on the use of technology solutions in teaching. Nigeria can take a cue from the Enhancing Teacher Education project by UNESCO-CFIT supported by China.
States can adopt this modality and approach UNESCO on this teacher training project, or even adapt this training method which involves the systematic enhancement of teacher training institutions and then initiating a MCPD process that keeps introducing teachers to the latest development in edutech teaching pedagogy. States should initiate a policy that compels all teacher training institutions to introduce tech training as part of their curriculum with a 3-5 year time frame to bring teachers up to speed in the art of deploying digital learning.
Incentivize Open Distance Learning
The National Universities Commission (NUC) has clear guidelines detailing the requirements and mandate for Open and Distance Learning stating unequivocally its importance. The irony seems to be that despite having 170 registered universities in Nigeria, only 11 run accredited distance learning programs . Some distant learning programs designed as online programs have sadly morphed into weekend part-time courses. We advocate having a policy mandating set targets for universities to have a specific number of the courses deployed online within a time frame. This policy move should, however, be laced also with incentives not only to the institutions but to also students who opt for learning via such media. From learning subsidies (grants) to tax refunds for learning, a mix of incentives should be adopted to serve as a catalyst for growth. To address funding needs, universities could partner with tech platforms to develop online capacity to facilitate distant learning programs with course materials and requisite educational content online, a Build-Operate-Transfer model can be considered.
A New Partnership Model for Driving Digital Education
It can be argued that most projects planned and implemented over the years by different governments or MDAs do not show a positive trajectory in terms of full implementation and sustainability. The general perception of government-led projects especially in areas like education is also not inspiring even where facts point to the contrary.
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In addressing this perception deficit as well as ensuring implementation and sustainability, we recommend that a ‘Network Approach’ be applied to relevant aspects of driving digital learning in our educational system. By this we mean creating a synergy of Public, Private and most importantly the Social economy actors in the process from ground up. For example, while government provides both the policy, part funding and legal framework for success, the private sector can be organized to support funding through their already established CSR routes only that this time, their (private sector) involvement can be structured to provide in part, some form of profitability but more importantly moral leadership for them, also known as Connected Capitalism . The social sector, on the other hand, should be empowered to play active roles in the governance structure for digital education.
All of the foregoing will become more challenging with the continuous reduction of budgetary allocation to education. Nigeria is yet to meet the UNESCO minimum budgetary recommendation of 15% – 20% of the national budget for education with less than 7% of the 2020 budget was allocated to education .
Let’s face it, Nigeria is headed for a major education crisis with a population estimated to hit over 400million  i.e the 3rd most populous country in the world. Our recommendations are not magic bullets but nonetheless are still bullets with potency, there are no easy fixes.
In this brief, we have considered the issues around digital learning in Nigeria highlighting both the issues as well as the potentials the mode of learning provides to stakeholders. We see clear linkages between having a thriving digital learning ecosystem, economic growth and the attainment of the UN’s SDG4. The recommendations listed above are not exhaustive nor are they worth implementing in a blanket form, we, however, consider them a good point to start from. The obstacles are no doubt enormous but so also are the possibilities. This is not a mandate for only the public sector but all lovers and believers in education as a catalyst for individual and collective growth.
- Gbenga RUFAI
- Seun AKINYODE
- Usman ALABI
- Jubril ADISA
- Nike ALOBA
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