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The Future of Online Education in Nigeria When the COVID-19 Pandemic Ceased

There is no doubt that our world will never be the same again even when the dreaded novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 is no longer with us. The pandemic ensures that it redirects mankind from its usual lifestyle and gives us a life in which we have continued to monitor our movement in strict obedience to COVID-19 protocols.

Before the pandemic, Nigeria, as a nation could only boast of one educational institution that is online-based, which is the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). The university was established on 22 July 1983 as a springboard for open and distance learning in Nigeria. It was suspended by the government on 25 April 1984 and resuscitated on 12 April 2001 by the former Nigerian President, General Olusegun Obasanjo to fully commence operation in 2002. With 515,000 students, the NOUN is Nigeria's largest tertiary institution.

Records from the website of National Universities Commission (NUC), Nigeria have 43 federal owned universities, while state governments owned universities are 48, excluding several privately owned universities.

It is a known fact that none of the 91 universities and all privately owned universities in Nigeria were using an online system of education.

National Open University of Nigeria, the only citadel of learning, which is the only online based higher institution of education in the whole of Nigeria, a country whose population is estimated to be above 200 million people since inception, has been facing myriad challenges, one of which is lack of adequate funding. This has always necessitated industrial dispute between the governments and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Some of the challenges being faced by National Open University of Nigeria, unlike other educational institutions, is erratic electricity supply in most parts of the country, poor technical infrastructures that make phone lines and internet connections unreliable or slow due to narrow bandwidth and there are many other challenges related to online education delivery.

During the COVID-19 lockdown of all educational institutions in Nigeria that lasted for over six months, students in universities, most especially all the federal and state owned universities, were at home without learning due to the fact that online education delivery is alien to the system.

Even if universities in Nigeria were to use an online system of education, learning would not be possible because, for nine months now, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are on industrial strike and there is no feasible solution to this industrial dispute in the coming weeks.

It was only the privately owned universities that could be seen to operate online mode of studies, but with relatively high costs of service to the students and their parents.

Generally, in Nigeria, all schools, higher institutions, secondary and primary, including the 110 Unity Schools and Colleges owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Education do not have access to an online system of education.

The future of online education delivery in Nigeria is bleak because all infrastructure needed for making an online system of education effective in Nigeria such as uninterrupted supply of electricity, fast internet connection, affordable access to internet, availability of computers or laptops for majority of students and high cost of android phones is elusive.

In Nigeria, the cost of accessing the internet is high. It is very hard to see a poor parent give his or her ward the money to buy data to sustain a one hour uninterrupted online class. Even if such a student has the money for the data, bad signal and poor connection would have made the learning at that period a herculean task.

More than eighty percent of students in Nigeria cannot afford to buy tablets or laptops to enable them to access the internet to aid their learning.

Nigeria seems to be far from meeting up with other nations in terms of giving her education sector the technology to advance beyond physical contact in learning. Unless the above mentioned challenges are addressed, online education will still be far beyond the reach of an average Nigerian student even after COVID-19 crisis.

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