COVID-19: When The Open University Remains Open
Once again, the Nigeria educational landscape, a bakery where knowledge is being transmitted to individuals for onward running of the country and sustenance of mankind has been rendered comatose. Schools are closed; from crèche to tertiary education, none was spared by the ravaging, but deadly threat posed by a pandemic of international magnitude.
The epidemic is characterized by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by Coronavirus. A contagious and fatal respiratory illness otherwise known as COVID-19, since its birth in Wuhan, China in 2019 has claimed several lives in thousands across the globe with Europe and America so far the worst hit.
This serious threat to life posed by the disease so far has no known drugs or vaccine as an antidote. However, simple but traditional stone age hygiene of handwashing, isolation, avoiding crowded places and keeping a safe social distance seems to be a general consensus amongst global health professionals as a sure path to mitigate the spread of this contagious disease.
It is in the wake of these that Nigerian authorities specifically through the National Universities Commission (NUC) in a released signed by the Deputy Executive Secretary of the commission, Dr Suleiman Rahmon ordered the closure of all universities in the country as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19. “As part of the measures to contain and prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the country, approval has been granted for the closure of all schools,”.
By this fiat, the Nigeria system of education born and standing on the brick and mortar, face to face interactive mode of education delivery suffers a spinal fracture. Normal academic activities suspended indefinitely until such a time the global health threat improves. This suspension of academic calendar effects all Nigeria Universities notwithstanding the call in some quarters to work from home.
In this dismal, gloomy, cold and forbidding atmosphere emerged a cradle for continued running of academic business without any break. The Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced learning (ACETEL) is a world class centre assisted by the World Bank at the Headquarters of National Open University of Nigeria.
This world class Centre whose brief at postgraduate level is on Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity and Management Information Systems, so far has proven beyond reasonable that using technological tools and solutions that supports education, the Nigeria education space will no longer be held back with strikes and other sundry unforeseen issues as evident in the COVID-19 no-academic exercise.
Aside from maintaining its steady academic programme, the centre went ahead within this period of work from home to organized and execute a five day virtual training workshop for its course writers on how to use Adobe Captivate to convert course materials into an e-learning format. The workshop attracted over fifteen learned heads across the globe including a world Bank expert Dr Dimitrios Noukakis who need not to bother about travel ban, the scare of COVID-19 or any logistics coming to Nigeria for the training. The training took place in the comfort of the various participants abode.
These are the heartwarming news coming from the education terrain that even Dr Dimitrios Noukakis couldn’t hide showering the Vice-Chancellor NOUN Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu with encomiums at the closing session of the training.
He said aside the training is the first in Africa, other universities in Nigeria should consider towing the path NOUN is travelling.
NOUN, as it stands today, is the only university in Nigeria whose academic calendar does not suffer any form of dislocation occasioned by the closure of all schools in the country. The university as Nigeria’s flagship Open and Distance Learning Institution (ODL) allows learning at a distance as it focuses on open access to education freeing learners from the constraints of time and place. Despite the current challenges NOUN students are encouraged to take advantage of the many learning platforms the university has made available to staff and students. The online learning environment provides opportunities for students to connect with lecturers using video conferencing technology where ever they are. Also, discussion forums and chat activities are integrated into each course to facilitate effective interactions within the learning community. Tutor Marked Assessments (TMAs), registration and some administrative tasks are all being carried out online.
If truly education emits knowledge and knowledge is the driver of any society, there is every need for government and the education stakeholders to consider a cursory look in the direction NOUN is travelling. A university with the capacity of mopping up all the excess admission seekers who couldn’t gain admission through JAMB for want of space and one that any kind of disruption is not tsunami enough to disrupt its activities appeared crystal clear the much needed sort-after solution to Nigeria’s perennial education disruption problem.
Ambrose Bernard Gowong
Communications officer, Africa centre of Excellence
on Technology Enhanced learning (ACETEL) NOUN HQ Abuja.