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INTERVIEW: Nigeria Not Ready For E-learning, Government Paying Lip Service On Vital Infrastructure - Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, ASUU President

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria recently asked its members not to submit lecture notes for e-learning or participate in virtual meetings due to poor funding by the Nigerian government. SaharaReporters on Monday spoke to the National President of the union, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, on the prospects and challenges of e-learning in Nigerian universities.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria recently asked its members not to submit lecture notes for e-learning or participate in virtual meetings due to poor funding by the Nigerian government. SaharaReporters on Monday spoke to the National President of the union, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, on the prospects and challenges of e-learning in Nigerian universities. 

What is the position of ASUU on e-learning in Nigerian universities?

ASUU fundamentally does not have any objection to e-learning. You know that ultimately it is a learning model that people should embrace in all parts of the world because we are in a dynamic environment and we cannot be static.

What we object to is that the Nigerian government is shying away from the reality that we have not provided the environment that will support e-learning. E-learning has many dimensions; the fact that they asked people to upload their notes and they send to the student via email does not define e-learning.

E-learning, in an ideal environment, should be interactive. It should not be a one-dimensional provision of learning materials. If I send my lecture note to students and they download, read and do assignment and send back to me, what I've only done is created one-way traffic. It doesn't involve an interactive lecture that is required. 


For us to go the way of e-learning, we must have solutions for uninterrupted WiFi, solutions for uninterrupted electricity, provisions for studios and other gadgets and facilities that would enable us to even have any interaction that would help to record lectures so that students can go back and play without losing or missing anything.

The definition we are giving e-learning in Nigeria today is shallow; it doesn't reflect the state of our infrastructure; it doesn't reflect the demands of e-learning so if we do a corrupt form of e-learning then it means that we are just begging the question. 

Even in more sophisticated environments like South Africa, when they decided to go the way of e-learning, they had to come up with subsidies and support for the students. At least I read about two universities, including Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg saying that they would supply laptops and support students with data. That is to say that they recognise that e-learning cannot take place without having the basic infrastructure and without empowering the students and the lecturers that will deploy them.

If we want to talk of shifting attention to the mobile system of teaching and learning, there must be a foundation provided for it. What we see in our universities now is a situation where some institutions do not have electricity for more than three-quarters of the day and they say they are deploying e-learning. Some universities do not even have WiFi and they cannot boast of any presentable ICT Center or facility. 

What we are against as a union is that government should attend to our demands for revitalization, if they do, we will be able to work together and ensure that we get the basic things in place. In 2012, ASUU and the federal government conducted a needs assessment of public universities in Nigeria, and we captured 76 universities.

We found that facilities in those universities are totally in bad shape. Every time we said rot and decay, the government disputed so they said let us go and see and what they saw embarrassed them because we went to the first-generation university and discovered that some of the equipment they are using to train engineers and scientists were bought way back in the '60s. We found in a first-generation university where they were using Kerosene stove in place of Bunsen burners and dry taps. How can you run a laboratory without flowing water?

How can you have a chemistry lab without a Bunsen burner? Those are elementary things that you find in junior secondary and primary schools elsewhere. This is where we were in 2012 and when we pushed, the government in 2013 agreed with us to release a total of N1.3 trillion for us to address the facility deficit recorded in government reports. 

The government said it would consider the report on needs assessment in 6 phases after we went on strike for 6 months, starting with N200 billion. And for the five subsequent years, the government will realise N220 billion each year and that was supposed to have ended 2018 but as we speak, the government released only one tranche spread over six years until we went on strike again then government release another N20 billion which means we still have about N1.1 trillion pending for revitalization of our universities. 

We are saying that government is just playing the Ostrich, you cannot put something on nothing, the foundation for e-learning is not there in our universities, and until we may the foundation, we are on a wild goose chase.

What is the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government to tertiary education in Nigeria?

We don't need to look far to discover that this government is not different from any other government. What we have heard in totality amounts to lip service.

In 2017, as a result of our insistence and demands, the minister of education said well, the Nigerian government should declare a state of emergency in the education sector, three years after and nothing has happened.

They had other stakeholders retreat in 2018, again that matter came up. Annually, the government has been budgeting between 6% and 7% for education. It's only in Nigeria that you will see that type of thing happening. In V8 countries, no government budgets less than 20% to the education sector and even when you take the party manifesto of APC, it states that their government will give 15% to education but since this government came on board five years ago, they have never budgeted anything close to 10%.

That is why we keep saying that it's just lip service; we have come to discover that politicians are the same and we are not impressed. The declarations on prioritizing education, we will fix Nigeria's education; they are all cheap words. Our politicians are the same; we don't see visible actions that will convince us that they prioritise education.

If you prioritise education, it should be treated as a case of emergency as is being done in the health sector due to COVID-19. Everybody is talking about the health sector now because they have seen the visible gap and institutions are places where we train our doctors.

So what does that tell us? Education and health have a point of convergence. If you are creating an emergency there, the government should also treat the emergency in the education sector. We have documented the state of emergency and what is required. Each time we embark on industrial action, we always tell the Nigerian government, go back to the needs assessment report and implement because that is the blueprint.

How does ASUU feel knowing that students in public universities are currently at a disadvantage due to lack of e-learning during COVID-19 when compared to their peers in private Nigerian universities or even abroad who are still accessing education?

What is working for us in public universities in Nigeria is that we have a good record of intellectuals; we have scholars with experience, scholars with resources of their own with which they can compete with any of their peers in any part of the world. 

There are only a few private universities who have been able to scale the hurdle of resourcefulness, human and materials. Go to other private universities, more than 70% of them are coaching in public universities so this thing we call e-learning is not only about materials being available on the net; that is not a problem, everyone has access to it.

But the human element, you find them in public universities and in terms of resourcefulness they are those who put the icing on the cake. They are grounded in challenges associated with learning in this environment and when people talking about e-learning, they don't talk about the limitations.

Can you teach medicine online? When you get to some point, you will need the human element to supplement. The National Open University has been practising e-learning for a long time now but they still bring them back to campus, they need contact, they need to enrich what they have thrown out to their students. That's why I am saying this thing we call e-learning here, we have to define it. Which aspect of it are we ripe for?