Tuesday, December 6, 2022

UNGA 77: President Buhari Assures World Leaders Of Digital Learning Gains For Nigeria

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari touched on the pain point of stakeholders in the education sector worried about the low adoption of digital learning in the country in his speech at the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 77), which was his last participation as Nigeria’s president.

At the three-day Transforming Education Summit organised on the sidelines of the 77th UNGA, President Buhari said that his government would reach all learners wherever they are with quality, inclusive learning and skills development opportunities. At the thematic session four tagged ‘Digital Transformation of Education’, he admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic catalysed the adoption of digital learning options across Nigeria and that going forward, his administration would further promote this with the National Digital Learning Policy – which focuses on the long-term vision of inclusive digital transformation by increasing public provisioning for digital learning – as a guide.

The president’s speech was sweet music to the ears of the concerned stakeholders. The latter had long worried about the low adoption of digital learning in the country because apart from private schools and states like Lagos and Edo working with international ed-tech platforms, public schools have been slow in adopting it, despite the benefits. Traditional methods of using blackboards and making teachers the focus remain the prevalent learning methods across large swathes of the country. Add the dilapidated structures to the mix, and the emergent picture of teaching/learning is ugly.

However, empirical studies have highlighted the importance and benefits of digital learning; hence, President Buhari’s declaration at UNGA 77 merely trumpets what the concerned stakeholders had been crying about. Unlike the traditional method of using blackboards and the classroom setting being teacher-centred, digital, as the name implies, means the use of digital boards; it is student-centred and encourages the use of computers, mobile devices and social media for learning.

Social media has become an essential element of the e-learning experience. Digital learning has been shown to, among others, create a more dynamic environment by turning traditionally dull subjects into interactive and fun activities, incorporating different learning styles to benefit all the students, improving collaboration, connecting students better and preparing children for the future. Besides, which child would prefer carrying a stack of notebooks and textbooks instead of a light iPad or device? Or who would want a weighty text instead of surfing an e-book? 

In a scholarly article titled ‘Understanding the role of digital technologies in education: A review’, the quartet of Abid Haleem, Mohd Javaid, Mohd Asim Qadri and Rajiv Suman further highlighted the need for digital technologies in education. “Educational resources and digital tools help to improve the classroom atmosphere and make the teaching-learning process more compelling. Children might become more engaged in learning if technology is used in the classroom. Integrating technology into education provides students with an engaging learning experience, allowing them to remain more interested in the subject without being distracted. 

“Using computers and other devices in conjunction with digital tools allows students to play a more proactive role and be at the centre of the process. The instructor becomes a guide in this process and can approve learning efficiency. Digital technologies make it easy to use classroom tactics like gamification or approaches like flipped classrooms that optimise learning. Learning landscapes have evolved as a didactic tool that mixes several techniques and enables distinct itineraries to be presented to each student. Technology makes the instruction more inspiring and meaningful.” 

Preparing pupils for a digital future by introducing technology to them at an early age and meeting the United Nations’ sustainable development 2030 agenda on quality education was what made Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu inaugurate EKOEXCEL, an educational intervention to transform Lagos public primary schools through technology deployment in 2009. The initiative, supported by the global ed-tech platform, NewGlobe as a technical partner, has proven to record tangible gains among teachers and pupils, leading to improved learning outcomes for pupils and more professional teachers. 

The initiative was most helpful in Lagos State during the COVID-19 era, helping prepare pupils in terminal classes for their final examination while keeping others fresh. Commendably, the impacts have been felt among pupils and teachers, with empirical studies affirming the gains. Some EKOEXCEL teachers, including Fausat Adegeye, have also taken to social media to assist their pupils. 

Interestingly, the Edo State government under Governor Obaseki saw the benefits and adopted the same a year before Lagos did with EDOBEST, still with NewGlobe. This ed-tech platform supports visionary governments by creating robust technology-enabled education systems as the technical partner.

As of March 2022, EdoBEST was available to 280,000 pupils and had expanded to 380 schools with 2,602 gadgets (teacher tablets and smartphones) handed over to teachers, headteachers, principals, quality assurance officers and learning development officers at a recent graduation ceremony. Over 28,000 children in Edo now have access to the EdoBEST pedagogy, which has delivered improved learning experiences in classrooms across the State. 

Kwara is the latest convert to digital learning via the NewGlobe methodology and visionary state governments must toe the same path. Recently, a Nobel laureate, Professor Michael Kremer, commended the NewGlobe methods that revolutionising public primary education in Lagos, Edo and Kwara states. Kremer detailed how pupils tutored with the methodology underpinning EKOEXCEL gain almost an additional year of learning (0.89), learning in two years what their peers in traditional schools learn in nearly three.

The findings in Kremer’s study put the learning gains in the top 1 per cent of learning gains ever rigorously studied at scale in low and middle-income countries. For early childhood development (ECD), the gains were even more extensive. ECD pupils using the same methodology as EKOEXCEL gained almost an additional year and-a-half of learning (1.48), learning in two years what students in other schools learn in three and-a-half years.

Another confirmation of the efficacy of NewGlobe’s digital solutions is the excellent performance of EKOEXCEL pupils in the National Common Entrance Examination (NCEE) for admission into the first year of Junior Secondary School of federal unity colleges. While the overall best student in the NCEE conducted by the National Examinations Council (NECO) scored 201 out of 210, three pupils of Lagos public primary schools were just five points behind. 

To further deepen its impacts, improve its processes and ensure that head teachers and teachers maintain the highest possible standards in giving their best to pupils, LASUBEB recently introduced the Instructional Leadership App for the EKOEXCEL programme. The App will plug learning gaps and improve learning outcomes.

It also assists the school leaders in monitoring and responding to issues, including the percentage of lessons completed while showing every scheduled class on a given day and indicating if it was completed. If it wasn’t, it lets the head teachers know the reason. 

It has since become a knowledge economy, and quality education can go a long way in closing the inequality gap between the rich and poor. Governors Obaseki, Sanwo-Olu and Abdulrazak are aware of this, hence the massive commitment to innovative digital learning tools and solutions.

At a recent summit organised by the Lagos State Ministry of Education, Governor Sanwo-Olu assured that his administration would commit more resources to public primary schools.

“Our administration is passionate about education, and we aim to bring transformation that will make our children better ambassadors of the State and country. We’ll prepare them with the requisite skills for tomorrow’s jobs.”

President Buhari has spoken of the Federal Government’s efforts to adopt digital learning. Still, all must not end at the podium of UNGA 77. The necessary stakeholders should be empowered and mandated to work to address the poor state of education in Nigeria. NewGlobe, which has the requisite expertise, can also be approached for assistance, having become fully embedded in our country.

Serious countries no longer use chalkboards or make teachers the focus in the classroom. Pupils are the focus, and digital learning tools that would make them further excel, like pupils in Edo, Lagos, and Kwara, should be encouraged. 

Though the president has had his say, stakeholders must closely monitor and ensure that the concerned bodies come good with adopting and promoting digital learning across the country. This is the way to go if we want the best for our children and shut the mouths of global rating agencies who think little of Nigeria.

Thorpe, an educational analyst, wrote in from Lagos.

Misan Thorpe
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