Virtually educated – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

Oyinkan Medubi

When the teacher and his or her students interact in the classroom, feedbacks allow the teacher to know just where the student is. It allows the teacher to know which student still needs to be told how to sit, cough, talk or sleep in class. This is what it means to be virtually educated


WELL, thank heavens, our planet earth is opening its doors again to the exhilarating fresh air of the trees, shrubs and birds. Gradually, countries are making stabs at getting their economies back again into some kind of gear, even if it can function only at one-quarter of the level of my old car. I can also see that roads are changing their lanes from ‘deserted for animals’ to ‘peopled by humans’ again, which is good if you remove the word ‘stupid’ from the people, particularly when you see that most of them are not wearing their masks, nor, I suspect, are they washing their hands. Such unbecoming rebellion!

I get the sense that many people just want to rebel against all these rules and throw away their masks and dip their hands in all the coronavirus containers they can reach. Many people felt that way before, and that led to some of the world’s most interesting outcomes. Well, there were the suffragette women of the early twentieth century. They rebelled and look where they are today. Women can vote and be voted for and they can even change themselves into men if they so desire! They have not only burnt the bra (you won’t see any old woman joining in that iconic behaviour), they are well on the way to burning the pots. As if they were not doing that already.

Then, there was the one at Bastille in France when it was stormed, in Russia when Czarism was done away with, and the rat which is still refusing to be docile to the cat. That is why we now have Tom and Jerry, because that rat refuses to be teachable. But Jerry never gives up, to show that there is no simpler solution to rebellion than to persist in teaching. The song must go on then: wear the mask and wash the hand!

There has been no such simple solution to the closed classroom yet, though there have been talks about it. Sometime ago, I heard the minister of education ask that tertiary institutions prepare themselves to deliver their lectures online. You know what that means, don’t you? It means teachers would simulate the classroom situation over the air to talk to students in order teach them, discipline them and make them grow. In other words, both teacher and student pretends that they are in a real-time, real-life situation, only that all of them are on the screen of the class, not on the floor of the class. They call this virtual education, I think.

Honestly, I believe that this take-teaching-online directive means well, coming from an attempt to solve a clear and present problem, but I don’t know how well it can go because there are too many problems to eliminate. To start with, even the industrialised nations are very reluctant to enforce this kind of avant-garde solution carte-blanche on account of the myriads of challenges that need to be overcome. So, many are rather looking to how soon they can open the schools again and drawing up guidelines.

To start with, that take-teaching-online directive is not a step to consider as an ad-hoc, spur-of-the-moment solution to a problem. It is a step that requires months, nay, years of planning in order to execute. That some institutions are already doing it is not sufficient justification for unburdening it on others. Those already on on-air teaching were built for that purpose from the start, so their orientation has been adjusted for that purpose from Ground Zero. Most other institutions were built for face-contact instructions where the student-teacher relationship can be forged and enhanced for greater learning experience. This cannot be changed overnight.

To even change this face-contact situation at all, not only planning is required, much funds need to be committed. For a start, materials that will be used must be specified and readily available. This means that every student of the roughly millions plus population spread throughout the country must be planned for and adequately taken care of. These materials include direct and easy access to computers that can be justifiably called so. Same goes for other requirements. We need to bear in mind that not all students are equally endowed.

More importantly, the infrastructural     decay in the society must be tackled. It is not enough to just throw the student into the pool of internet resources to take care of himself or herself. That will be creating an added and unnecessary anxiety for some students. For a teacher to have direct access to the student at a prescribed hour requires constant electricity, steady network connection and a good reception area. obviously, these require governmental resources and goodwill.

The alternative is to eliminate face contact and rely on written materials for reading. This of course eliminates more than half of the learning experience. The greater part of education is presenting models – in theories, in behaviour, and of course in fashion. The first can be studied in books but take the last two away and you’ve got yourself a well written book with no education, a flower without its fragrance and a lettuce without its head. Shudder, shudder!

Anyway, there is just too much social decay in the country to expect a reasonable amount of compliance on the part of anybody. As it is, we’re all just hanging on by our teeth in the matter of this law and order because everyone is doing what they like. The politicians are in their own country. The law keepers are keeping themselves only. The people have decided to see neither the politician, the law keeper nor even the law. Each in his own tent administers the law according to his wisdom or lack of it. The long and short of this is that it might be difficult to trust people with very simple instructions on air.

There is no alternative to the gathering of humans. It infuses a spirit that enlivens into the individual and reminds him/her that there is a difference between man and machine, between interacting with man and interacting with machine, and between interacting with man over a machine.

Most people agree that machines have diminished their interactions with others, and they are fast replacing humans in conversations. There are pictures of couples going to restaurants and, while waiting for their food, they chat with others on their phones rather than with their partners. So, what is one more avenue for the machine to display its power over men’s lives than by taking control of the classroom?

However, the human spirit thrives better on interactions. Interaction allows people to rub their human minds together to bring out the best, the worst, the most powerful, the least powerful and the stupidest ideas in the human kingdom. It allows people to be human. So, when the teacher and his or her students interact in the classroom, feedbacks allow the teacher to know just where the student is. It allows the teacher to know which student still needs to be told how to sit, cough, talk or sleep in class. This is what it means to be virtually educated. Virtual education cannot do this.

Virtual education might be possible in Nigeria’s higher institutions if the country would solve her problems first. Since this might take a while, I suggest rather that the country should draw up guidelines for reopening the schools. Such guidelines of course should ensure the safety of students, teachers and other workers. That, I think, is virtually within our reach.

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