OP-ED Opinions 

COVID-19: What Nigeria And Its Higher Institutions Can Learn From Their Obvious Failures By Olabisi Deji-Folutile

By now, it should be obvious to everyone that the performance of the Nigerian Government and its publicly-owned higher institutions amid this COVID-19 crisis has been woefully inadequate. The advanced countries of the world are today celebrating the “Class 2020 graduates-” the special set of graduating students,  who for the first time, in many universities’ history, are having their convocation virtually. What this simply shows is that academic activities never stopped in these countries despite the outbreak of coronavirus unlike in Nigeria where everything had to take a pause.  Since it is of no use crying over spilt milk, the best the nation can do now is to use the ongoing crisis to advance its higher institutions and the education sector in general for it will amount to double jeopardy if we simply allow this great opportunity to slip away without converting it to our benefit.   

Generally speaking, it is good that some government agencies are beginning to come to terms with reality. I read a report this week where the National Universities Commission confessed that no public university in Nigeria had the capacity to offer online lectures. The commission through its spokesperson, IbrahimYakasai, in an interview with Premium Times, had said no government-owned university in Nigeria could do online teaching. Never mind that the commission knew this truth well before the Education Minister Adamu Adamu gave a fiat order that all public higher institutions in the country should go online and it didn’t advise him against giving such a directive. Some government officials even went to the extent of assuring Nigerians that some universities had already migrated online. Anyway, the minister’s order is not even relevant now. After all, the directive was never obeyed and the minister was smart enough to let sleeping dogs lie. The same way, those who told us that our communication satellite was the solution to remote learning have since kept quiet. Likewise, higher institutions that had hitherto boasted of hosting multi-million Naira ICT centres, have all ended up eating their word.

Nigeria’s educational sector is poorly funded though our leaders may have a different view.  A total of N3.9trn was budgeted for the whole sector in ten years (2009-2018).  Compare this to Harvard’s total fund value of $40.9 billion for the 2019 fiscal year alone and you have an idea of what it takes to run a world class university. Before I am accused of comparing apples and oranges, let me state that the problem in Nigeria’s educational system goes beyond underfunding.  The country has a funny way of defining its priorities; this is probably the major reason why it is underdeveloped today.  In 2020 for instance, a total of N691.07bn  representing 6.7 per cent of the year’s budget was allocated to the education sector. But, in the same year, a whopping N27bn was allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly complex alone. With this kind of fiscal planning, you will agree with me that Nigeria’s problem goes beyond being a poor nation. In fact, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, who are currently on strike, will tell anyone that cares to listen that but for their incessant strike actions, the Nigerian public university system would have been long dead.  

For me, as crucial as good funding is to education,  I think we should also look into the problem of corruption which has also been the bane of the sector. It is unfortunate that the people that are paid to oversee or monitor government’s projects in these institutions are the real culprits. Some examples will suffice to illustrate this point. As an education reporter, I once covered the visit of a minister of state for education to one of the higher institutions in the South-West part of Nigeria. The said minister was barely a week in office at the time. But, sadly, the minister’s main reason for visiting the institution was to collect money from it. How did I know? The flabbergasted school bursar had complained aloud. Now, the minister did not only force the institution to release money to him, he also made the institution pay his hotel bills for a visit that added nothing to the school. On another occasion, a public relations officer of a federal university stopped by my former office on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway for a chat after escorting some members of the National Assembly to Lagos from his state. 

The National Assembly committee had visited the university for the “usual oversight functions.”  Ordinarily, the essence of such visits is to among others, monitor and evaluate government projects to ensure that  funds are being well utilised.  But, apparently, some lawmakers have turned such oversight functions to money-making ventures.  This is why they shamelessly fight over what they describe as ‘juicy’ committees. So, according to the PRO, the committee had gone to the university for the usual oversight function, however, its members never inspected any project. Rather, they simply took money from the university and continued their onward journey to Lagos. The PRO had to see the lawmakers off to Lagos as a way of showing them respect. He said he was also rewarded with a sum of N20, 000, for being “a good boy.” How much accountability can anyone expect from an institution’s administrator in this kind of situation?  How do we ensure that the little funds injected into the system give maximum returns? These are some of the areas we need to beam our searchlight post-COVID-19 so that we don’t remain in the league of failures.  

I had over an hour of telephone conversation with a lecturer in one of the federal universities in the country in my last article, titled, “How effective is online teaching now? My experience”. The lecturer, a professor of Chemical and Processing Engineering, who claimed to have been in the system for more than 20 years, told me that he does not have an official laptop. To him, it is immoral for a government that failed to provide tools for online training to expect lecturers to deliver.  He said that many Nigerian public universities rely on centralised ICT systems that are rarely efficient and that lecturers often borrow projectors for use in the classroom. In spite of this, he said the lecturers are frustrated by incessant outages on campus. According to him, there are myriads of challenges confronting universities in Nigeria. Some lecturers don’t have office spaces. Besides, universities borrow lecturers as well as equipment from one another for accreditation purposes.  I sincerely don’t know how the NUC can claim to be ignorant of these anomalies. I even learnt that one of the major reasons why ASUU is kicking against the implementation of the Federal Government Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System is because the payment system will expose members earning salaries from multiple sources. But, is it  really possible for lecturers to hold on to one job with Nigeria’s present realities? There is an acute shortage of experienced lecturers in our higher institutions and the government cannot pretend not to know this. The Nigerian university system cannot even survive without lecturers teaching in more than one institution. Teachers migrate from Nigeria to other parts of the world on a constant basis in search of green pasture; the government can’t deny the problem of brain drain in the country. 

So, to convert the current crisis to gain, the government should focus on developing  and deploying  ICT to learning in Nigerian schools and its higher institutions. There should be enough ICT facilities in our higher institutions. Government and higher institutions could work with donor agencies to provide laptops for indigent students. There is no reason why the government should not provide ICT tools for its lecturers. Laptops are mere work tools. Serious attention should also be paid to enhancing internet penetration and connectivity in educational institutions. Both teachers and students should have access to subsidised data.   No one can do virtual learning without good internet facilities. Government should also work towards the delivery of uninterrupted power supply not only to schools, but also across the country.

We have reached the point where the NUC may have to mandate all lecturers to prepare their lecture notes in modules for online delivery. Of course, lecturers should be trained in the use of ICT for online teaching delivery.  In the same vein, university ICT departments should be manned by real professionals. There should be a new focus on ICT development in all learning institutions.  If this is the only thing we can achieve from this COVID-19 crisis, it is worth it. The impact of this crisis is too big on our educational system than for it to be wasted.  

Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief of franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: [email protected]

Feedback on ‘How effective is online teaching now? My experience’

In the last few decades, advancement in technology has revolutionised the way of doing things in the business world and educational sector. Distance is no longer a barrier, you can stay anywhere to conduct your transaction and even learn. Thus, we can now boast of e-banking, e-marketing and online learning, amongst others.

The emergency of COVID-19 has underscored the need to embrace online teaching in order to reduce social and physical distancing. Good enough, this is the boom period for distance learning institutes that have already migrated to full online teaching. However, others in the mainstream of face-to-teaching in the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, movement to online pedagogy, must be done with care.

Online mode of learning requires adequate planning in terms of infrastructural facilities, students’ reception, readiness of facilitators, learners support services and quality assurance. Besides, all the stakeholders must be well trained before the commencement in order to avoid unintended consequences. This is my comment on your last posting.

Prof. Wakeel Isola

Professor of Economics and Chairman of Board, Human Resources Development Centre (HRDC), University of Lagos.

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