July 13, 2024

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Public Varsities Not Yet Ready For Virtual Learning, Says UNICAL HOD

9 min read

In a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, in the University community, the University of Calabar introduced a virtual learning system, but few days into resumption of full academic activities both lecturers and students are not finding it easy to hook up with the trend. In this interview with CHIEMEKA ADINDU, Head of Department of Marketing, Dr. Ben Odigbo bemoaned the poor facilities and cost of running a virtual class. He however said every lecturer has been asked to make do with what is obtainable until the proper facilities are fixed. Odigbo also spoke on the performances of the current Vice Chancellor.

Excerpts: 

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The University has just resumed full academic activities, after students had to stay at home for almost a year; what is the experience so far like?
Well, the experience so far has been well and good and has been a situation of moving into the new normal which is a new trend, so people learning a new trick at old age for some people while to some people it has been fine but invariably, the whole thing has put everybody on their toes; both the students, the lecturers, the school authority, everybody is on his or her toes trying to grapple with the new situation, trying to cover up lost time. For some lecturers because we are moving into virtual learning, it has not been an easy one so we believe that with time everything will stabilize but for now, everybody is running up and down. When you are introducing a new thing it is usually like that, there would be lessons and mistakes and corrections but with time I believe that everything will normalize and stabilize, even the school authority, it has not been easy getting the students comply with the COVID-19 protocols, but the school authority, the VC in particular has put the security unit on their toes, she has formed the marshal units in all departments and faculties and is collaborating with both governmental and nongovernmental agency both local and international to make sure that the right facilities are on ground to checkmate the outbreak of COVID-19 and make people comply with the protocols. So that has been the experience so far.

Do you think you have enough time to meet up with the lost academic activities?
Well, I will use the words of my Vice Chancellor, Professor Florence Obi who told us in a senate meeting of 18th January this year that an abnormal situation demands an abnormal solution. The timeframe is short and moving into virtual learning like I said is a new experience to many but whether we like it or not we must deliver within the timeframe so we are working round the clock to make sure we deliver within the timeframe. It is a crisis situation but we are working hard to beat the crisis. We must deliver because we have no option; doing otherwise will portend more crises which we will not allow.

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Talking about virtual learning, how reliable and effective has this been, knowing the network situation in our country?
That’s a very good question. Our experience at virtual learning nationwide has not been a very sweet one because the network facilities in the country are not very reliable. The internet facilities in the country are not very reliable. We are talking about today where the network is bad, even yesterday we can say the network was okay, lecturers and students who went on virtual learning yesterday still had complaints. The students complained that the only soar point was network, networking switching off and on, interrupting their classes and interrupting the flow of their lecture. So that’s a thing I feel the authority, the government should look into installing the right facility for that purpose. For now, we don’t have the right facilities for virtual learning in the country. It’s not really UNICAL, nationwide we’re just jumping into it but something needs to be done. But we must start then learn from the experience and learn from the experience, then move ahead. Rome was not built in a day.

Don’t you think this experience will cause a delay in such a time as this when institutions are trying to meet up with the lost academic periods?
Once again, I will use the advice of my Vice Chancellor, Professor Florence Obi during that senate meeting where she advised that we should use admixture of styles and formats. Whatever option that lays it right for any lecturer should be used by the lecturer. We should be innovative, it is not cast on the rock that every lecturer must go virtual now; whatever option that is available or amenable to you to deliver within the short space of time, use it. In other words, we can use a combination of media learning styles to make sure that we deliver and that’s what we are doing. When this one is not working we switch over to the other one until such a time we will say now we are mature and okay for virtual learning we can now go straight into virtual learning.

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Are there provisions to aid some students who may not have the needed facilities to hook up to this virtual learning?
Again that is one of the soar points of the experience of virtual learning. Some of the lecturers are complaining they don’t have the facilities, the financial well withal to buy data for that, some of the students too are complaining the same thing. The VC told us she is discussing with two or three organizations for consultancy that have agreed to offer free virtual learning services or facilities to the University, that is still at the discussion level, but for now, we are making do with what we have.

How about the students? Will these free facilities be extended to them?
That’s what I’m saying that it’s not easy for the students buying data for virtual learning. From my own experience, you buy data of about N1, 500 for 30 minutes of experience on virtual learning and how many students can afford that, assuming a student has two hours lectures and then two or three lectures in a day so it won’t be easy for them and it won’t be easy for parents. So that’s why the Vice Chancellor is discussing, hitting her heads here and there to secure organizations that can come in and offer free services and she said two of such organizations have agreed to do so but they have not taken off. So for now we make do with whatever we can lay our hands on.

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What is your advice to most students who are still struggling to reconnect to where they stopped before the long break?
Well, whatever we are doing now, the decisions and actions we are doing now are factored into assisting them. We are trying to make sure the students gain a lot of the lost ground that they don’t miss an entire academic session, that is what we are doing and we believe the majority of the students are happy with that. But if any student feels the speed, the tempo is too much for him or her, the person is at liberty to apply for deferment, say no this speed is too much for me, the person can defer to the next session. It is allowed, but for those who want to move along with the trend, the system has factored it in such a way that those who want to move along could move along but those who feel the speed is too much for them could apply for deferment.

Despite the facilities on ground to contain the spread of COVID-19, maintaining social distancing and wearing of nose masks seem to be the greatest challenge, isn’t this a threat to the University community?
That’s what I said earlier that the school authority, the Vice Chancellor has also noticed that and has called attention to that and in the meeting with heads of departments, deans and directors yesterday, the Vice Chancellor called our attention to that and the school authority has asked all the departments, all faculties, all units to form marshal units, enforcement units that will help enforce compliance to COVID-19 protocols on the side of the students who are not adhering to it. And again, we believe that a public enlightenment programme will do the magic. Because if they don’t buy into the idea, they don’t believe in it; what we discovered is that when they are passing the security agents or the gate, they put on the mask and once they pass that security agent they drop down the mask or when a lecturer is around they put on the mask but when the lecturer leaves they remove the mask, which means they are just adhering to it as a matter of eye service and not that it has sank into their heart so that’s why we are also organizing public enlightenment programmes to let the students understand the dangers of COVID-19 and buy into it. And with that you can buy into a willing compliance and not forced compliance on their part.

So far what is your assessment on the performance of the current Vice Chancellor since she assumed office?
So far so good, I will rate her an A, I will give her a distinction. So far, she has hit the road running and she has tried to cover all grounds, to touch all grounds and one thing I discover is that she is somebody who understands the system very well, she seems to understand the system very well. Even little things you think a Vice Chancellor should not know she will point out to those and say look at what is happening, in the classroom look at what is happening, look at what is happening in the offices and look at how to checkmate them. So if she continues the way she is going I think it will be a perfect administration. And my prayer is that she continues that she doesn’t derail along the line.

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Which areas in the University do you feel she should focus more on? What areas need her attention?
The area I think she should pay more attention is what the DVC academics called attention to in our meeting with them two days ago. The area of doctoring of students results at some level and according to the DVC, they are bringing up a system that will make sure that the people that do that don’t find it easy; so that if result is coming out from the University it will be authentic and valid and it will stand the test of time. So that is the area I give them kudos and the area I think they should stand their feet on the ground and make sure that people who do exam malpractices don’t find it easy to do so anymore.

How about the issue of sorting?
They’re all exam malpractices, all of them combine are malpractices, it comes if different shades and forms and it’s really sad and we want to make sure that such things are stamped out of the University system. And luckily enough it’s just a few, very few lecturers, not up to two percent of the entire lecturer population that get involved in such things. But you know the adage, ‘when one finger touches oil, it will affect other fingers’, so whether it is one percent out of hundred, it is given the system a bad name and we have to stop it.

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