By Ebunoluwa Sessou & Elizabeth Osayande
Mr. Okorie is a father of three. His son who is in the final year is engaged in the virtual classes to be promoted to the next class. For him, the online class has its merits and demerits and if one would weigh both, the merits may outweigh the demerits.
His son, who before now was not IT compliant is now using the advantages of the online classes. But as much as the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, Okorie is still finding it difficult to align his schedule with his son’s.
Speaking with WO, Okorie explained, “The advantage is that it keeps the children busy so that they do not totally forget what they were taught in school. It also keeps them out of mischief and trouble. It helps them to be IT compliant.
“Before now, my son did not know how to use the phone, let alone make use of social media platforms but now, he can send his work to his teacher, do his homework, snap the worksheet and send it to his teachers.
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Another parent, Mrs. Ajoke said, coping with the children was hell especially engaging them in their studies.
“Since their proprietress said she was engaging the children in the virtual class, it was hell coping with the home front and battling with their studies. Between March and May, my children could not study their books except I forced them. But, I was able to engage them in a home tutorial that is safe and secure for them. And they are doing great now”.
“If you ask me, I will say, there is nothing different because the same work they would have been doing if they were in school is what their home teacher is engaging them with. I did not do the virtual class but the home tutorial is giving me value for what the school would have offered my children”, she said.
A businesswoman and a mother of three, Mrs. Chinelo, lamented, “I could not cope with the virtual class for my children because of the financial involvement. And the fact that there is no business due to COVID-19, I could not continue with it, so I opted for a home tutor. I was able to get them a home teacher who comes thrice a week. It is affordable and convenient. The beauty of it is that I am not paying for third term school fees.
The challenges of online learning according to stakeholders are enormous. They listed power issues; fluctuation in internet services provided; lack of parental guidance among other things.
An online entrepreneur who spoke with WO said, “I have kids, they are not up to 5 years old, but, they did not originally partake in the online class due to network fluctuation. But they will be starting on the 3rd of August because the school said it will be a promotional term. But, the internet has to the with the network providers so it’s not in the school’s care to determine the network’s strength. For me, on-site is better because teachers get to interact with the students directly, follow up on their performance and all. On-site has no disadvantage”
Virtual class and teachers’ salary
Speaking as a teacher, Mrs. Chioma Uchu, in one of the private schools in Lagos state explained that although pupils and parents are now adapting to the idea of online learning, the slash in teachers’ salaries, lack of financial commitment and monitoring from parents pose a lot of challenges to virtual learning.
According to her: “Adequate finance for sustainability is a major obstacle as a lot of staff salaries have to be slashed in the long run because the fees charged for online schooling is less than a quarter of a regular term. A number of things are benefiting from the fees paid by parents.
“Lack of financial cooperation from parents. The pandemic is global hence a number of parents are not subscribing to their children. This most times defeats the essence of online learning”, she added.
Lack of trust
Mrs. Uchu also highlighted that most of the time, the purpose of virtual learning is always defeated as parents or siblings cannot be trusted.
“Most times, the purpose of the virtual class is to test what the child knows. But some of the pupils and students do not actually do their tasks independently especially those that use their parents or older siblings’ smart devices. Some of these people help in a lot of ways to write notebooks and supply the answers and the pupils themselves run to Google for help without thinking through their answers”, she noted.
Internet and financial implication
On his part, Mr. Jude Bernard, a teacher in Lekki has this to say. “The challenges I encounter is that of parents’ involvement in the learning of their wards. The parents complained that they have to be more involved with their children’s homework. Usually, a child would have access to his or her teacher in school before going home to tackle the problem with little or no parental involvement. But now, the reverse is the case.
“The issue of the internet and the high cost of data make virtual learning frustrating. For example, whilst in the middle of teaching, you are thrown out before you know it. And this happens a couple of times. And the cost of data is so high. It cost about 2-3 gig to hold an hour class with YouTube video and other materials that are being accessed while teaching. Then the issue of power is another nightmare as the cost of running a generator is so high and this is another big issue we are dealing with. “Mr. Bernard lamented.
Okorie noted, “You must be ready to spend money on a subscription. Without a data subscription, you cannot use the platform. Aside from the use of data, you must be ready to fuel your generator set for the speedy power supply so that your child does not miss his class. Those are the financial challenges involved.
“It is easier for me because I am not going to work now. I use the same phone with my son and it costs about N300.00 per day to subscribe so, in a week, we spend about N1500.00 on data for my son and me”, he pointed out.
“It is also not convenient for parents because you are forced to schedule your time so as to factor in your child’s priority which is the virtual class. I cannot buy a phone for my son so, both of us make use of my phone and that is not inconvenient at all. I sacrifice spend an average of three and a half hours for the child”, he added.
For the founder, Bethesda Home for the Blind, Mrs. Chioma Ohakwe on her part said running virtual learning for the special needs students has become a herculean task due to the following reasons: “There is no light to charge phones and laptops; no money for data or WiFi for the online classes; and some of our students don’t have gadgets like laptops, phones or TV that will enable them to join the classes.” She said.
Virtual class amidst COVID-19
Okorie further explained, “Under the circumstances we find ourselves, an online class should be encouraged.
“There are extra charges for the online class despite paying the third term school fees but I do not think it is extortion. I do not know the guideline Lagos state government rolled out for private school owners. “The virtual class might not be used as a yardstick for promotion to the next class.
“I believe it is a way of keeping the children busy. I know that average parents might not be privileged to engage their wards in the virtual class and that might be a negative influence on the children but I think, the government should find a way to engage the children positively so that they will not be totally cut out of education because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We do not know when the whole pandemic will be over and we cannot continue to have our children stay at home without education. Some parents cannot afford virtual class and that is a major issue”, he noted.
Overcoming the challenges of virtual learning
On how to overcome the challenges of online learning, Online Trainer and Creative Officer, DAAR Communications PLC, Mr. Raphael Ogidan gave the following insight
“The first challenge I observed is power generation and distribution. If the government and the Power Holding Company can increase the generation and distribution of power or better still make power regular even for a period of 10 hours, it will go a long way in improving online learning. For example, I have the training I’m doing online and sometimes I work from home but for a week now, no power in my area. I use a generator and it is expensive to run.
“Then the second challenge to virtual learning is the cost of data. It is expensive running an online course with the cost of data in Nigeria. If the cost of data can be subsidized to make it affordable owing to the fact that online courses entail video sessions that consume data more than just chatting with text.
“Then the third challenge is a poor network. Even when you can afford the data subscription, the poor network is a major impediment for online courses. Network providers need to improve their network by making sure that the mast installed is serviced regularly to perform optimally. Then more mast needs to be installed across the country so that there can be adequate network coverage. Sometimes, I subscribe to my Etisalat, Globacom, MTN, Airtel lines at once just to have smooth streaming. Yet, I get zero satisfaction for my subscription.
“So I think if the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC can compel the subscribers not to be charged for every poor network provided, I believe this will go a long way to making the providers improve their network, and this will, in turn, improve virtual learning across the board”, he said.
For the owner, Concerned Parents & Educators Network, CPE, a legal practitioner, Mrs. Helen Essien; “the reality on our faces is that there has been a slide in education and a huge impact on learning outcomes through technology due to Covid-19 pandemic”.