The COVID-19-driven wake-up call to rethinking teaching and learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a global economic disruption, the likes of which is unprecedented in recent times. And Nigeria, like many other countries, has been caught completely unprepared.

This pandemic, amongst other measures, has necessitated the discontinuation of many physical gatherings, most critical of which has been the temporary closure of all primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions in Nigeria and many other countries across the globe. As a result, over 1.5 billion students globally have been unable to receive regular in-person classroom instruction.

Clearly, the pandemic had dealt a deathly blow to traditional learning systems, and as such education providers and students alike are being forced to challenge, re-imagine and disrupt how educational content is delivered and received. The short answer? Education Technology (Edtech) may be the future.

Educational technology (commonly abbreviated as Edutech, or Edtech) refers to software designed to enhance teacher-led learning in classrooms and improve students’ education outcomes.

Are we applying band-aids to a fracture?

Many institutions across Nigeria are currently leveraging different platforms in the race against time to ensure that students complete the 2019/2020 academic session on schedule and have had to deal with infrastructure challenges around internet access & penetration, data costs and the cost of grid and alternative energy solutions required to make scheduled online learning possible.

The Lagos state government has commenced on-air classes on Radio Lagos and Lagos Television (LTV) for Senior Secondary School students about to sit for West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE). Middle to lower range primary schools with much less financial muscle have resorted to unconventional media such as WhatsApp to continue to pass across instruction to guardians and their wards.

While these efforts at educating students in these times are commendable, they very much appear to be afterthoughts and quick fixes. We can better personalize the learning experience and sustainably educate more students leveraging the power of edtech.

Redefining delivery and reach using sustainable learning management systems

The lockdown requirements for managing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed everyone to the potential and benefits of digital learning

Furthermore, the positive impact of the rapid adoption of interactive online curricula such as Coursera, Edx, Udemy and LinkedIn Learning on preparing students at higher institutions and young professionals for the workforce help create a strong case for adopting mass-market and personalized edtech solutions earlier in the academic journey.

Edtech presents a strong opportunity to take the classroom into more hands and helps us better-fit education around lives instead of fitting lives around education. Large scale adoption of edtech is also expected to remove locational barriers to world-class education. Think about a world where Ola from Ondo contributes meaningfully, collaborates with classmates, and eventually graduates with the Harvard University Electrical Engineering class of 2026, all from his modest apartment in Akure.

Many would make arguments around affordability, time-zone differences, and other factors. But with many other disruptions that our generation has witnessed, the first step is imagination, second is access and more often than not, the domino effect kicks everything else into place.

The Opportunity

The million-dollar question is will digital learning remain as relevant after the lockdown is completely lifted or when the virus is eradicated totally?

Truth is, it is difficult to conclude as change, important as it is, initially comes with many teething problems.

With ~$18.66 billion dollars in edtech investments in 2019 by investors such as Facebook, Matrix Partners, and GGV Capital, adoption in structured institutions of learning – as a parallel rather than situational alternative to traditional classroom instruction – is still very low.

uLesson, a Jos-based edtech start-up recorded about 40,000 app downloads during the COVID-19 lockdown. eLimu, a Kenya-based edtech startup also recorded an increase in user acquisition and retention in the same period. A significant post-COVID decline in the number active users and subscriber growth on such platforms will signal a reversion to status quo. A very costly modus operandi in times of disaster as we have seen.

On the flipside, immediate and long-term partnerships and collaboration between traditional educational institutions, government agencies and edtech companies to deliver tailored solutions to students across levels will signal the collective embrace of a sustainable and barrier-breaking approach to teaching and learning.

In summary

Perhaps, it is safe to say that terrible as the healthcare and economic impact of the pandemic has been, it still came bearing some fruits. Although It has kept our students out of school for weeks on end, it has also compelled us to contemplate more disaster-proof solutions to many traditional industries, including education.

Will the lessons be learned and internalized or will we be caught unprepared at the next global examination? Only time will tell.

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