All undergraduates should get two-year intensive training in entrepreneurial skills — Babcock University VC, Tayo
Prof Ademola Tayo is the Vice-Chancellor of Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State. In this interview, he tells GRACE EDEMA about e-learning in Nigeria
What are the challenges of running e-learning in Nigeria?
The basic challenge is exposure to new technology and building the capacity of the lecturers to use it for their teaching purposes, and students’ adaptability to the e-classroom environment. The second challenge is the huge financial requirement to make success of the e-learning module. Much is required to build the technology infrastructure. There is the additional challenge of offering teachers and students unlimited data for video conferencing time, and engaging in real-time co-editing of project work by lecturers and students, and other learning activities.
Equally a big challenge was planning a lesson in a completely different format such as video, and also getting to prepare digital content. Unplanned and rapid move to online learning resulted in a poor user experience that could not have been conducive to sustained growth if there was no training, if there was insufficient bandwidth, and little preparations to engage with it.
For us in Babcock University, e-learning is not completely strange to us because we have adopted it over the years in conducting our General Studies examinations. But we had to ramp up our server infrastructure and engineering capabilities to ensure reliable connectivity.
Your university and some others engaged in online learning when lockdown started and till now. What is your experience?
After a few initial glitches, occasioned by the sudden switch over to online learning, we are more than happy to report that things are working and running smoothly as expected. We have been able to adapt quickly to the situation and we are now using Google classroom, zoom, Edmodo, and WhatsApp to provide live online classes. In this way, our students are able to continue their academic work uninterruptedly, and receive the same quality of instruction from our faculty. As an institution whose philosophy of education is anchored on the incremental acquisition of knowledge with the training of the head, the mind and the hand, we operated a blended learning module of instructions. While there were online learning activities across the length and breadth of our programmes, students were also engaged with the practical aspect of learning. In this way, you are able to train the hands as well as the mind and hear. Our medical students, computer students, agriculture students and other students whose courses require physical contact with people and facilities had on-site lectures.
E-learning has dramatically changed our perception of the mode of education delivery. Now teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. Our virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, and online learning software have surged significantly. There are many online learning platforms. It is incumbent on each institution to decide which best suits its type of learning instructions. We adopted a calm and positive approach, believing that the future is bright for us and our students.
What are the areas (in e-learning) needed to be improved upon the country?
It is the area of rapid capacity expansion, such as acquisition of new servers and launching of cloud servers. However, I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education. E-learning can be improved upon by making it more interactive between lecturers and students. Another area is to break up long lecture recordings into bite-sized chunks. We can use a mix of content delivery methods such as text, audio, video, and presentations. Have short video lessons of 10 minutes or less, as they are easier to watch.
E-learning can also be improved by encouraging accountability. Lecturers can send automated emails to students to do their assignments. They can carry out period check-ins to get feedback from their students. Constant contacts with students can enhance success in studies. There is a need to build a community where lecturers and students interact regularly without any feeling isolated. Conversing online is different from real-life conversation. It is therefore important to ensure a strong sense of community among the class. Faculty or lecturers can create a private chat room where students can virtually hangout during a class break, just like they would at school.
Compare e-learning in Nigeria with what’s happening in developed nations.
In Nigeria, some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning. This gap cuts across different income brackets within the country. There are many without laptops and other technology devices to enjoy the benefits of e-learning. I read somewhere an article by Cathy Li and Farah Lalani of the World Economic Forum that about 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork. I also learnt that in the US, virtually all 15-year-olds from a privileged background were reported recently to have a computer to work on. Some schools and governments in developed countries such as Austria and South Wales provide digital equipment to students in need. It is not the case in Nigeria. I wish it were. The pandemic might widen the digital divide in Nigeria, I’m afraid.
Public universities would likely resume January 18th, what advice do you have for the Federal Government on e-learning since you have already tried it out?
My advice to government is to provide the infrastructure that would enable e-learning fascinating and rewarding. There must be commitment and sincerity on the part of both government and the institutions to facilitate a robust experience for both lecturers and students with e-learning. Therefore, governments need to provide the enabling environment for the training of lecturers, and for the lecturers to in turn take their students through the various learning platforms to ensure quality academic instructions as it is the case with on-site learning model. Lecturers must be willing and ready to adapt and adopt the new learning modules. It will boost their capacity for academic and knowledge impartation and relevance at conferences, whether local or international. The move to online learning could be the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of educating students.
What do you have to say about entrepreneurship education in tertiary institutions?
Entrepreneurship education in Nigeria has not been what we generally expect it to be. The original purpose of establishing polytechnics, for example, was to promote entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, there is poor promotion of polytechnic education, as much as the university education. This partly contributes to the rising population of the unemployed in the country. Government universities as well as some private universities with centre of entrepreneurship have poor investment in the facilities needed to provide adequate and productive skill training to make graduate from such centre become entrepreneurs. Besides, the entrepreneurship curriculum needs to be broadened and retooled to allow a minimum of 2 years unhindered intensive training of the student in a chosen area apart from the student’s primary course of study. Students should be graded in that chosen skill area by the quality of what they produced at their completion of the entrepreneurship programme. More importantly, there should be collaboration with relevant industry in the training of students during their entrepreneurship programme. There should be hands-on training as against theory. It should be 80% practical and 20% theory.
What are your suggestions to the government on how to make education system effective (in problem solving) and progressive in Nigeria?
The worldwide economy is yearning for top talent in problem solving, and it would be unwise for the country to assume that our system is inherently superb as it is. Everyone believes schools should be places where what students learn is important. Problem solving is a new global imperative of educational change. We have to develop a curriculum that is able to foster creativity and innovation. War, environmental degradation, poverty, diseases are some of the problems that have endured over the decades, and which our young ones will increasingly face as they grow up. Our education curriculum needs to prepare them towards solving these real-world problems around them. Schools must prepare them for such challenges. There must be shifts in pedagogy. Schools need to focus more on students’ complex problem-solving skills. For example, students can team up with their academic supervisors to look around them for problems facing their community and find solutions to them. Through this they can learn new ideas, principles and processes of problem solving in practical terms. This type of learning may be called Applied Learning System. This type of learning model can contribute to a national strategy of curricula and pedagogical advancement.
In what areas are the private universities looking up to the FG or public universities for intervention, assistance, collaboration?
Private universities, like public universities, are established to provide for the current pool of capabilities in the society. This is a strategic approach to advance development of a nation. Government institutions are often not in the position to admit all applicants due to lack of facilities. Private institutions help to close this gap. Since students of private institutions are also citizens of the country, who also serve their nation with their talent and time, it would not be out of place for the government to offer assistance to private universities to enhance teaching and learning in those institutions. Opportunities available to students of government institutions should also be available to students of private universities. Government should consider giving scholarships to students in private universities. Private universities are helping government to roll away some responsibilities which they are unable to perform. The effects of the absence of theses private institutions are better imagined than experienced. The glory they bring to the state does not go to the institutions alone but to the nation as a whole. Government can give complete tax exemption on any land the university holds. They can also give research grants to private universities. After all, our research is geared towards the development of the nation, not to private university or government university.