E-Learning and the Future of Education in Nigeria

E-Learning and the Future of Education in Nigeria

By Bethel Okoye

It is often said that opportunity comes to those who are ready to take it on. But what happens when such opportunities do not come even when you are ready for it…you create one.

This is the example of Godfrey Okoye University with the hosting of the first International Virtual conference at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the world stood still and all hope seemed to be lost, doors of educational institutions shut against students and scholars.

As the world was lamenting and on lock down, the Vice Chancellor of Godfrey Okoye University Enugu, Rev. Fr. Prof. Christian Anieke was strategizing on how to move the University forward and maintain the global recognition the University has had. This gave birth to the hosting of the first International Virtual Conference on E- Learning and Training Workshop.

The One Day International Zoom Conference on E-Learning and Training Workshop was the first of its kind in Africa, attracting over 460 participants from across the continent with 7 guest speakers from Nigeria, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

The Vice Chancellor, Godfrey Okoye University, Rev. Fr. Prof. Christian Anieke stated that the conference became paramount as Nigeria and the world battled the COVID-19 pandemic which halted educational activities around the world and consequently revealed new ways of doing things.

 “COVID-19 is not a curse from God but a challenge that opens the windows to different opportunities and the conference is a confirmation to it. For the first time, we are staying so connected, getting all categories of professors all over the world to be online and talk to students and their colleagues all over the world. The virtual conference is the first of its kind in the University”.  

Universities all over the world should embrace the situation and make utmost use of the opportunities it has provided, especially the ones in Africa, to tap into the resources that abound in the European world”.

In his paper presentation on the “Changing Face of University Education and its Challenges in Africa”, Rev. Monsignor Prof. Obiora Ike, Director, Globethics.net Geneva reinstated the agenda of Globethics.net Geneva which is to strengthen the ethical compass in education that has become relevant than before.

 “Godfrey Okoye University is leading one of the first E- Learning conferences in Nigeria which has been challenged by many fronts such as unreliable electricity, public institutions with big buildings and spaces but lack of technological innovations. Covid-19 has brought these challenges and more into the fore for everyone to realize that a building does not make a university.

The digital conferences reinstates a sense of involvement of all those who are participants towards creating a new phase for higher education on the African continent”.

Key points concerning the changing phase of higher education institutions globally and particularly in Africa.

  • The school and role of education is the formation of all round personalities. The school not only impact knowledge but add other elements such as the social, psychological, the personality and sole dimensions that have mentors, role models who enter the larger scope of the world to add value.  It is in the university that talent initiative, orientation, livelihood and above all, personal ingenuity is conceived.
  • A library, and teachers make up a university, not just halls. The library gives the student a knowledge of the past, present and future (research potential) and teachers help you to realize and understand that which a student needs. A university is not just the space but the knowledge that helps you develop the character, ethics, information, link out to the world behind you and helps you add value.

The Changing face of the University in Africa

  • The constant basic is that the university is recognized and centralized within a country, space or environment as the point for development. A university is at the heart of a community. It is where the human rational person adds value, by thinking and acting with an ethical compass which includes character. The changing face of the university globally is that the university succeeded in giving young people knowledge and reach out to the social component but didn’t give them models for character reformation. We have people who attend university but come out not as professors or qualified persons but like people who are charlatans.

“The marketing of universities is what universities should never do. Where student are often called customers, education is described as commodity, universities are labelled as service providers and centres of business; buying them cheap and selling them to the highest bidders.

Teaching is not seen as a vocation; education becomes about ranking and targets, and running low quality. Courses are taught with no heart, spirit and no meaning. Taught by stressed, fatigued, overworked and not valued faculty. Education becomes the delivery of the lowest possible cost, exam results are hugely inflated to keep the customers happy and not complaining.

This is what the university has become and it is happening because of an agenda of what they call the new liberal module where we have opened the doors to the destruction of all that makes life good and worthwhile.

The changing face of the university is that the university must become the centre, space and place where human beings, especially the young have an orientation for life. This is where ethics comes to the centre stage. The Globethics.net agenda, is to ensure that ethics in higher education is the way to go. The founders of Globe ethics where motivated and inspired by deep emotional commitment and sense of responsibility to bring into the forum for global conversation, the topic of ethics.

C. S. Lewis said “education without value as useful as it is seems rather to make humans more clever devils”.

We need the university, the universitas and the universe, where the world meets itself to achieve that a great global problems like climate change, population growth, environmental degradation, extinction of species, inequality, intolerance, racism, refuges, xenophobia, terrorism, economic irresponsibility, displacement, exclusion, division and inequality is addressed.

The changing face of the university is not to exacerbate the fact of marketing of knowledge but to integrate knowledge to serve the human being. To serve the human being means that the challenges we face is conquerable and this is the example of Godfrey Okoye University.

There is in no inhibition to integrate our ability to translate powerful motives into action and this powerful motives needs tools like digital technology, the online technology, and the face to face teaching models.

Human experience has shown that through the living of what we teach, society retains their original power for the realisation of their full potentials.

Applied ethics would engage the various fields of knowledge, learning, research, sciences and help them build a human ecology that leaves no one behind. This is where the changing face of a university in Africa and Nigeria, the model of Godfrey Okoye University has to lead us”.

Prof. Monsignor Obiora Ike on the connotation of ethics gave the meaning of the six words acronym.

E- Empowerment. A university in its changing face must lead people to be empowered.

T- Transformation. A university must help the new student to be transformed into someone better.

H- Holistic. Holisticism is the moment when the young, dynamic graduate comes out and is a fit for all. 

I- Integrity- This is key in university education. Integrity must be 100 percent.

C- Competence. The changing face of the university must lead students and graduates to competence.

S- Sustainability.

“These are not just words of the United Nation lingo but are necessary component of the wellbeing of the communities we want to serve. The changing face of the universities in Africa is that the university must become that model where young people go and come out to serve society but they cannot do it without bringing government to accountability.

Ethics in education is that which universities must do to empower students; the institution and its governance structures and the global community.

The government need to understand that there is no society without education and the education and health sector should get the largest budget and not the smaller chunk it is used to. Government must be brought to accountability through ethics. GOU will be the African University to represent thereby putting Africa on the international map by introducing E- learning”.

Professor Dr. Christoph Stüeckerlberger, Founder and President, Globethics.net in his paper entitled “Ethics in E-Learning” x-rayed the opportunities and challenges in ethics.

“There were over 2.6 billion people locked down and half of humanity was at home for months, a new experience for humanity. With this in mind, the importance of being connected cannot be over emphasized”.

Ethical challenges and opportunities in E learning.

  • High quality of E- Learning is a real advantage. Covid-19 was not only a challenge but an opportunity.
  • Interaction is key in ethics education
  • Integrity- character education is questioning of interaction between students and teachers. Teachers can also be trained in character of integrity by students, it is a mutual learning process for integrity. Integrity education needs direct communication and this can also be achieved online. Integrity is about honesty, transparency, curiosity, caring for each other, demanding result, humility, monitoring, consistency and humanity. All these qualities can also be expressed online.

It is possible to have integrity relationships in E- learning

  • Online teaching allows character education.
  • It needs careful communication.
  • It needs technical preparation.
  • Creative innovation to compensate the physical absence.
  • It needs self-discipline.
  • Reliability on all sides.
  • Technical adaption.

Prof Dr. Amélé ADAMAVI-AHO EKUE, Academic Dean, Globethics.net presented a paper entitled” Let’s Stay Connected: E- Learning and Global Knowledge Sharing.

“E-Learning challenges us to interrogate the fabric of knowledge afresh as engagement that is permeable and built on the encounter with one another. It is about challenging the perception of knowledge as to be fenced contained and enclaved”.

A Reflective Thesis: E Learning and Refocusing the Pedagogical Space

The current situation functions as an intensifier for the way, with whom and where we engage with knowledge.

Three key areas for refocusing the pedagogical space

  • Human life in relation to other life.
  • How to think outside of mastery and dominion.
  • How to organise life tighter based on reciprocity and vulnerability.

The challenge in E-learning is at the intersection of the material and the immaterial of transmission and engagement with knowledge.

The Re-Arrangement of the Engagement with Knowledge in E-learning

  • Space and time: One shared space/multiple spaces, continuity/discontinuity of empirical experiences; synchronic/ a-synchronic layers. 
  • Belonging: Becoming: Being in relation and bearing the potential change in creating knowledge with others.
  • Imagination/Future-knowledge: Envisioning the future world differently and living with difference.

E-learning as Emancipating Learning around Knowledge Sharing

  • Critical reflection (curiosity enquiry) and practise (E.g evaluation, assessment, and audit) as non-invasive endeavour in self/other ‘selves’.
  • Grappling with external and internal critique: can critique transdent?
  • Which norms govern critique? E-learning as opportunity to nurture knowledge critique in the context of/ in relation to multiple context.

E-learning as Empowering Learning around Knowledge Sharing

  • E- learning as opportunity for a new intellectual project on how we belong and how we can live together horizontal learning .
  • The absence of shared physical spaces aids the recognition of plural epistemological spaces.
  • Learning pushes traditional boundaries of academic knowledge sharing, from universities to “pluriversities”.

E-Learning as Elevating Learning around Knowledge Creation

  • E-learning as opportunity of elevating learning in a life-affirming and life-sustaining perspective.
  • Creating knowledge with others that addresses future related questions/old questions posed afresh: What does it mean: “being human’?
  • New locations and bodies of thought and praxis.

The International Liaison Officer, Godfrey Okoye University, Meggy Kantert, highlighted the importance of the “Prospects E-Learning”.

Prospects of E-Learning for Universities

  • Close the “digital divide” through the development of e-literacy.
  • Save cost and resources (E-Learning and E-Administration).
  • Reach more students – nationally and internationally.
  • Lower cost of education.
  • Customize training of staff and students.

Meggy Kantert, the International Liaison Officer of Godfrey Okoye University spoke on the faster transition from a teacher centred approach to a balanced interactive e learning and FtF learning concept according to the contents concise, informative and highly engaging from student’s point of view

Prospects of e-Learning for teachers

  • Faster transition from a teacher-centred approach to a balanced, interactive E-Learning and FtF learning concept according to the contents: concise, informative, and highly engaging from the student’s point of viewa
  • Balance labs, hands-on workshops and distance experiments
  • Manage frustration tolerance
  • Manage mentoring
  • Challenge competition
  • Lifelong learning

Prospects of e-Learning for students

  • Students must assess their unique situation and decide according to their resources, needs and goals, and while this alternative to traditional education is not for everyone, it’s still a convenient option with virtually endless options.
  • Unless they keep themselves motivated, it takes a long time to complete the course or they might abandon their entire courses
  • Keep discipline and proactively use of the support structures and forums is essential for success
  • Deal with disappointment and frustration on their own
  • Be in competition with hundreds or even thousands of other students

“The fundamental learning model hasn’t changed, learning professionals still help others learn how to do things that they couldn’t do before”.

Prof. Sr. Dr. Mary Sylvia Nwachukwu, the Director, Academic Planning Godfrey Okoye University Group of Institutions on her paper titled “Sustaining Online Learning in the Post COVID-19 Time” highlighted the challenge and opportunity of COVID-19 to education.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a two pronged reality. It has affected and is still affecting different areas of life and in all these areas, the pandemic is both a challenge and an opportunity. In the sphere of education, the traditional university face-to-face learning was one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic. The expected 21st century response to the closure of schools is to move all classes online, just as colleges and universities in Europe and America did. This was possible because of an online culture that runs alongside the traditional face-to-face model. The narrative is different in African compared to the trends in developed economies, the use of technology in education is still at its budding stage in many educational institutions in Africa.

Besides the present pandemic, there are other causes of disruption to the academic calendar, particularly the ongoing fight between government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that led to a strike action which the association says is indefinite.

How have we responded to this challenge? Our first response must be to reframe the Challenge.

The way one frames a problem has a powerful impact on what the person does next. A total shut down of higher education would imply that we are despondent and inactive. On another note, a strike action by academic university staff is a means of leveraging students to claim lecturers’ rights. So it is welcomed as an act of justice.

The Vatican II’s document on education (Gravissimum Education is 10), which says, “the destiny of society is intimately linked with the progress of young people pursuing higher studies.” This statement establishes a strong link between societal progress and quality higher education. These ideas place the society and education in a complementary relationship that is, a good society produces sound education, and sound education produces good society. By implication, the fate of higher education is linked to the fate of society. Countries who pretend to have the interest of the public at heart or to care for the common good while neglecting the educational sector are very ignorant of the meaning of sustainable development”.

How Can E-Learning Become Culture in Higher Education in Africa

The contemporary world is ruled by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) regime.

Universities must play a major role in taking advantage of the ICT regime to reshape higher education itself.

Godfrey Okoye University is one of the few universities in the country who moved all teaching on line a few weeks after the closure of schools. This was made possible because since 2018, a number of strategies were already set in motion in the university which facilitated the transition to an online learning situation.

With the present codvid-19 challenge, the university has had little difficulty developing the university online platform to accommodate other E-learning platforms, Senate and Senior Management Team Meetings have been held as scheduled in the university calendar through the Zoom webinar.

For higher education to address the issue of sustainability it requires a focus on the following.

  • Top management with Enthusiasm and Vision: The push towards E-learning must come from top management. For instance, if the Vice Chancellor, Rector or Provost recognizes the relevance of e-learning; if they endorse it and regularly use it to develop new skills, gradually, the lecturers and administrative staff would also start adopting the same. Higher education heads should be able to face the present challenge with more proactive measures, creativity and innovation.
  • To grow a strong e-learning culture, higher education should be leaner oriented, especially because of young people’s attraction and dependence on social network. Being learner oriented refers to the kind of thinking that elevates “the student” and “academic quality” in importance and priority above other values. The mission statement of many universities specifically articulate the centrality of quality education for students. To live contrary to this stated mission is treachery.
  • To grow a strong e-learning culture, we must develop competences appropriate for online culture. E-learning is a culture that requires competence. Competence indicates sufficiency of knowledge and skills that enable someone to act in a wide variety of situations. This requires funding; staff training, provision of pedagogical tools that directly and significantly contribute to online teaching culture.
  • To grow a strong e-learning culture, we must Support Face-to-face Learning with educational online resources and numerous technological tools that are available.
  • To grow a strong e-learning culture, E-Learning should be User-Friendly. This includes creating learner-centered designs that are easy to navigate, as well as creating shorter duration courses that do not overwhelm the learners. The learning environment should both facilitate and support learning.
  • To grow a strong e-learning culture, Higher Education should express the freedom to allow a required percentage of E-learning courses in the curriculum. The advantage of this proposal is that Nigeria, for instance, runs the same curriculum. So students from any university can buy an online course even though it is domiciled in the website of another university.

“The proposal to grow a strong e-learning culture is inspired by two reasons. First, it can solve the problem of interruption in the academic calendar. It provides a way for any student to continue his or her studies uninterrupted in cases of indefinite strikes that plague education in the country.

Provision of online courses can also permit a category of students with family related problems to proceed, at their own pace according to a well-defined timeline of studies that suit their condition.

Collaborations between Universities. Top management of universities and colleges must come together to discuss the future of education and prospects of e-learning. They must stretch effective collaboration between universities which allow for staff and student exchange, knowledge and research facility sharing.

Prof. Sr. Dr. Mary Sylvia Nwachukwu acknowledged that the proposals she presented in support of e-learning culture as in line with some of the goals of the Department of Open and Distance Education (ODE) of Nigerian Universities Commission which are to encourage internationalization of tertiary education curricula; to forge and sustain partnership and collaborations with appropriate institutions in the public and private sectors within and outside Nigeria and to ameliorate the effect of internal and external brain drain in tertiary institutions by utilizing experts as teachers regardless of their locations or places of work.