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Private varsities thrive on smart school hub, Google

• ASUU dismisses online learning as ruse
• Local hub owners say multiple taxation made them ineffective

Following the shutdown of tertiary institutions in compliance with Federal Government’s directive on the COVID-19 pandemic, private institutions have successfully thrived on digital options of teaching and learning. This is in contrast to total stoppage of academic activities in public tertiary institutions.

The feat by private universities comes against the backdrop of complaints by local hub owners that they have not been able to provide significant digital solutions needed to bail out education institutions due to lack of government support. They also, yesterday, blamed their failure on imposition of multiple taxation by tiers of government on the over 150 technology hubs across the country.

Among private universities that have successfully deployed technology are Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State; Anchor University, Ayobo, Lagos; Bowen University, Iwo; Elizade University, Ilara Mokin; Chrisland University, Abeokuta; Fountain University, Osogbo; Adeleke University, Osogbo; Redeemers University, Ede; Crawford University, Igbesa; and American University of Nigeria, Yola.

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They teach and learn via WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Suite, Telegram and other Learning Management Systems (LMS).

At Babcock, the second semester was on when the government announced the lockdown. When it became obvious schools might remain shut for a longer time because of increased cases of COVID-19, the school switched to online learning.

According to the institution’s ‎Director of Communications, Mr Joshua Suleiman, lecturers use major platforms like Google Scholar and Zoom to connect with students for lectures and used technology to administer examinations.

“The student is expected to log to the examination portal with his or her matriculation number at the stipulated time for the exams and for each course to enable such a student sit for the exam. Automatically, the system would mark the papers and results are generated automatically for each student. The results are sent to the respective lecturers whose papers were done on specific days. The specific course for each exam would be accessible to the student but once the time stipulated for each paper is up, the student is automatically logged out,” Suleiman explained.

He, however, admitted that accommodating over 10,000 students sitting for different exams was challenging.

“Initially, not all our students were able to log in at the same time. We went back to the drawing board and did a test run and everyone was able to log in. That was when we did the second semester examination.

Elizade University, which also concluded second semester exams during the lockdown, said a new academic session would commence in November.

The Registrar, Prof. Omololu Adegbenro, said the institution did virtual learning for 14 weeks, followed by two weeks of online examinations.

He said: ‘‘We set rules and guidelines with a warning to our students to abide by them. Since it is video, we were able to see the students as they were writing exams. So far, there has not been any case of exam malpractice. If im asking you to answer 45 questions in one hour, even if you have your textbook with you, you will use the entire time searching for answers.

“The time allotted was done in a way that students didn’t have too much time. Besides, we had an invigilator who admitted students to the examination room. Where there were large classes, we had more invigilators.”

To reduce the costs on parents and students, the registrar said the institution entered into an agreement with a telecommunications company to make bulk payment.
According to him, 80 per cent of the cost of data was borne by the school management.

At Anchor University, the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Director, Academic Planning and Quality Assurance, Prof. Oladele Fatokun, said when it became apparent the lockdown would linger, members of staff and students were trained to use Google Classroom.

Fatokun said the second semester would end on August 28 after 14 weeks of virtual lectures.

Redeemers University, which started second semester before the lockdown, has concluded virtual lectures and students have started exams.

The university’s spokesperson, Tunji Adeleye, said, “We are the first university to introduce e-learning platforms in 2014 and we had to acquire Electronic Smart Boards. It was easier for us to migrate completely to virtual learning during this period of lockdown.

Acting Director of Academic Planning and Monitoring, Bowen University, Dr. Oluwatosin Atobatele, said the school had home-built platforms called the Bowen Smart School Hub (SS Hub).

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‘‘It is an application which can be found on Google Playstore, you can also link up to the app on the website. It is accessible to both students and teaching staff. Through that, when the lockdown commenced, we were able to teach our students virtually.”

Chrisland University’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Peace Babalola, said the school used Google Classroom for its virtual lectures.

“Some parents were able to log in to monitor and to ensure their children were attending classes. We have ended lectures, we are now considering how to run exams. It took time to study different ways adopted by some universities. That is what has delayed us for six weeks, we are trying to make sure we adopt a method that is foolproof.”

American University of Nigeria (AUN) Assistant Director of Communications, Amina Yuguda, said the university’s activities had been digitised and uses Canvas, a digital learning platform, for teaching and evaluation.

“Before the shutdown, examinations were scheduled to hold in April. This didn’t change as AUN held exams on the Canvas platform,” she said.

Students have also faced difficulties in the switch to online learning.

“Studying from home, there are distractions. All you keep hearing is the COVID-19 news, everyone is scared; so trying to read or concentrate on the online classes is challenging,” Tosin Ahmed, a student of Fountain University, said.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), however, preferred to fault the online learning process.

ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said, ”I think there is a lot of dishonesty going on here. There was a private university that wanted to conduct exam and solicited the support of parents to help in supervising the exams. What do you think would be the outcome of the exam; parents that could pay to take their children to special centres to get them WAEC results?

Ogunyemi wondered if situations where students were asked to send e-mails, reply, summarise or answer questions could be called e-learning.

Speaking with The Guardian, a technology expert and co-founder, GoDoHub.org, Chukwuemeka, Fred Agbata Jnr, lamented that the pandemic affected technology hubs in the country, forcing some to close offices, while others rendered skeletal services.

According to him, only about 60 per cent of the hubs are in operation, most of which partner large companies in their commitment to deliver solutions.

He accused government of low support, saying it had slowed down development of solutions.

He recalled that a committee was set up by government to create opportunities for tech hubs to tap into but regretted that “until now, nothing has been heard” from the report long submitted by the committee.

Agbata said tech hubs must be seen as part of the economy and regretted that they were supported with funds as expected.

Businessmen, he lamented, still preferred to invest in properties.

“They still don’t see startups as viable investment. They are not seeing the vision. We need more capital from people, who are well to do; that is the only way investments innovations can come up,” he stated.

Similarly, the co-founder, Nest Innovation Tech Park, Yaba, Peter Ogedengbe, said government’s support was necessary and expected at this time to help businesses go through the period.

“Even though the level of support has not matched expectations from the sector, we believe lessons have been learnt and we can all see the obvious need to develop our infrastructure: power and affordable Internet access.”

Founder of Blue Sapphire Hub, Kano, Maryam Lawan-Gwadabe, said though the hubs had been in touch with key government agencies, they had not received any support.

She said good quality network was key to running a hub, “but it is very expensive to run a hub network using any of the telcos currently. There is multiple taxation for both hub owners and startups from the three tiers of government and power issues. All these challenges stifle innovations.”

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