COVID 19- The Messiah for Nigerian Tertiary Institutions?

Education is viewed as a major tool for transforming nations and its denizens. Higher education exerts a direct influence on national productivity, which has a strong influence on a country’s standard of living and serves as a driver of growth by stimulating the local economy. Tertiary education is extremely essential and plays a vital role in producing quality graduates needed for any economy that aspires to flourish. It also provides equal opportunity and capacity for personal development as well as promoting collaborative accomplishments.

According to the World Bank Group, as of April 8, 2020, universities and other tertiary education institutions are closed in 175 countries cutting across over 220 million post-secondary students among which 13% of the total number of students affected globally have had their studies ended or significantly disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Several countries have responded to the exigency of the closure of physical campuses of learning by fully diving into distance learning. Institutions all over the world seem to have gone digital and now conduct virtual lectures, orientation, exams, graduation ceremonies, etc. Harvard recently announced that it will continue to hold its classes virtual into the year 2021 and many schools globally are now making plans and provisions to accommodate the new reality.

The decision made by the Nigerian government to lull the academic session in a bid to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 came as a shock to many public and private tertiary institutions.  There are a lot of uncertainties regarding the impact of this pandemic on students and various academic calendars. This is why alternative learning methods need to be explored and implemented even after the pandemic period is over.  However, despite the immense benefits of alternative learning channels available, not many Nigerian tertiary institutions have embraced it.  Factors that play a key role in the setback of this current predicament include: – Lack of sustainable internet facilities, IT literacy level of students and lecturers, poor budgetary allocation, corruption, misappropriation of educational development funds ASUU strike action, etc.

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However, not all tertiary institutions in the country are facing this situation. Some private universities in the country have adopted e-learning in a bid to keep their academic activities going. These universities seem to be in the vanguard of e-learning capacity among other tertiary institutions as they are effectively applying ICT tools to facilitate learning.  It can thus be assumed that the disruption to tertiary education in the country due to this pandemic has brought to light pertinent short-  and long-term challenges plaguing Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.

The issue of literacy inequality can be a major consequence if no action is taken. Students who do not attend private universities might not be able to keep up with their peers due to inaccessibility to digital tools and contents and the effects of this divide may last long after the pandemic is over. It can also affect the quality of young adults equipped with the necessary skills to become relevant in various industries. With Nigeria already behind in preparing its young people for the workplace of the future, the effects of the pandemic further exacerbate this issue.

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It is now clear that the country’s educational system needs to be re-evaluated to achieve Inclusive education. This pandemic is revolutionizing digital and online education globally but a large percentage of Nigerian Tertiary Institutions are yet to embrace its full potential. Clear and concise measures must be put in place to help bridge the divide when the dire needs of the pandemic subside. They center largely around Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and government aid.

Furthermore, the way learning is delivered and accessed before the pandemic should be rejigged. Partnership with telecommunication companies to provide subsidized mobile data packages for students should be considered by the Federal government. The academic curriculum for schools should also update courses to permit the application of e-learning as a new normal.  It is pertinent to ensure learning never stops during and after this pandemic. 

Despite the challenges posed by integrating and embracing the e-learning system, it has become the most preferred platform to learn during this period. The adoption of the e-learning system for universities will enhance the efficiency of knowledge as both students and lecturers will have convenient access to a large amount of information within the global village. In most tertiary institutions, class spaces for lectures usually pose a huge problem due to the frequent occurrence of timetable clash or class venue can’t accommodate the present population. With e-learning, this issue will be eradicated as students can easily take the lectures online without any disruption at their convenience. The knowledge of e-learning will expose both lecturers and students to the reality of the world outside the classroom bearing in mind that the word is a global village. It will also help to foster student’s integration into organizations where such platforms are necessities.

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The journey to the resumption of operations might be long and recalcitrant, and some of the changes that this crisis will bring to tertiary education systems around the world will not go away. The country’s education system is being challenged and it is expected that measures taken revive and continue academic activities in the tertiary institutions are here to stay.  This pandemic has brought about recent changes, learnings, insights, and disruptions in the educational sector which serves as a driver for the development of any nation. 

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