The rabbit hole of uncertainty, confusion and fear that pupils and their parents fell into in the dying days of March when the country was in lockdown was best captured in a Saturday Sun feature of May 16, titled, “COVID-19: Troubles of e-Learning.”
The story catalogues the challenges that erupted out of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the fears and frustrations brewed by the new abnormality foisted on the world, the pessimism that pervaded the globe from developed to underdeveloped countries and the possibilities that blew up in the aftermath in the education stratosphere.
With the new order of social distancing, self-isolation, government-enforced quarantine and the ubiquitous lockdown, the prospect of indefinite stay at home until at least an elusive vaccine is found, loomed. This precipitated a distress as never seen before in the education space.
Yet, a panacea was at hand: Digital learning, though hitherto given scant attention. But crossing into that nirvana was an uphill task, especially, in this part of the world. Why: The existence of a huge digital deficit both in infrastructure and the requisite skill.
The dilemma confronting parents, pupils and tutors are multi-dimensional as illustrated by these three vignettes from the story:
Oko Odinakachi, a student of Abia State University, faced frustration on two fronts: her institutions dillydallying about adopting the e-learning strategy on the one hand; her little faith in digital learning, on the other hand. “I was on the verge of writing my first-semester examination. How possible can we do that digitally when there are issues with even JAMB CBT here in our country?”
A father whose daughter, a student of Federal Government College Shagamu preparing for her Senior School Certificate Exam, was compelled to seek a suitable e-learning portal because WAEC advised students to be studious during the lockdown as they’d be going straight into the exam hall at short notice as soon as the pandemic is over. The search led him to an online WAEC Preparatory Class that demanded payment for requisite online resources. “One subject is N1, 500, four subjects N4, 500 and six subjects cost at N6, 500. I didn’t go further because of the fee, which I think is exorbitant, given the current state of the country,” he complained. He joined the rank of other parents who raised concerns over exploitation by mercenaries masquerading as e-learning groups.
Abolade Kunle, a JSS3 student was aware of the government-sponsored tutorial on the radio but he was unable to enjoy the benefits: “We don’t have a radio set in the house. I use my dad’s phone once in a while but he doesn’t allow me to use it all the time,” he railed. A related drawback was cited by one of his teachers at the public school in Mushin: “In the past five weeks, we have had barely three days of electricity supply. It is not every parent that can afford a generator. Is it not when you have electricity supply that the children can watch [government educational programme on] the television?”