Webinar with Skills Outside School Foundation
The FlexiSAF Foundation Coordinator, Amina Abubakar was invited for a webinar session with Skills Outside School Foundation to discuss “Online Learning in Nigeria: Challenges and Way Forward”.Below is an excerpt from the questions asked.
SOSF: What exactly does FlexiSAFand FlexiSAF Foundation do as organisations?
Amina: FlexiSAF Edusoft Limited is a Software company that is focused primarily on education. Since its inception in 2010, FlexiSAF has been providing solutions which help teachers, and parents to improve efficiency in learning and productivity in administration. Over 500 institutions (primary, secondary, tertiary, government parastatals and learning centres) use FlexiSAF’s solution to improve their activities and impact the quality of education provided.
Our passion to improve education using technology and the enormous problem of the quality of our education & the out-of-school children menace is what actually drove us to start FlexiSAF Foundation in January 2018.
The foundation addresses the major crisis of out of school kids in the country through 3 key processes- Finding the kids, Sending them to school and Mentoring them all the way. With our unique accelerated learning program that is aligned with NERDC, kids identified are well on their way with literacy, numeracy and cognitive knowledge about a year after we have enrolled them.Flexisaf Foundation currently has almost 200 children in 6 states and with more donors, we hope to have enrolled 1000 kids in school by next year.
SOSF: Why is online learning important at this time?
Amina: The current pandemic has forced everyone to look inwards and identify what truly matters. As schools are locked down, it’s imperative that Learning Never Stops. At the moment online learning is important as it fills the current gap that would have existed otherwise.
SOSF: What approach is FlexiSaf using to help secondary school students adapt to learning outside a classroom, especially those who have not been regularly exposed to digital learning or are used to the face-to-face interaction of regular pedagogy?
Amina: Capacity building. At the beginning of the lockdown, a lot of school owners, administrators and educators reached out to us and from the conversation we had, we were able to identify skill gap as one of their challenges moving forward. We responded by launching our consultancy services well ahead of the scheduled time. Our approach is to ensure that our educators are well equipped and are able to guide students in the needed direction, using the right set of tools and content types. We also provide regular technical support when needed.
SOSF: Online learning is not accessible to all due to poor internet connectivity, lack of electricity, high cost of data/internet-enabled devices. Can you enlighten us on the implications of this on Nigerian education at this time and FlexiSaf's approach to combating these?
Amina: No-one is ever ready for a pandemic. Internet costs and electricity have been a problem long before now, even for us as an organisation and it’s something we’ve all been concerned about as Nigerians. That said, we can only work with what we have and what is possible. We are counting on low-data solutions, platforms and content types as alternatives to fill the gap for those who have serious internet constraints. As usual, we’ve also tried to collaborate with stakeholders and address the issue at its root while doing our part. For now, some state governments have responded by collaborating with educators to deliver lessons on TV and Radio. This is a long shot from where we want to be and a large number of students are still left behind.
Focus, now more than ever, needs to be placed on education and it’s delivery.
SOSF: Private secondary schools are generally faring well in adopting online learning. What is the fate of public secondary schools and how can they do better?
Amina: Public secondary schools do not enjoy the structured approach and easy access to funds like their private counterparts. This is a setback. The problem here is multifaceted. Some of the kids in these schools don’t have devices to use or even live in areas without power or data connections.The current structure is such that students have to be physically present and as it is the public schools do not enjoy a decent student to teacher ratio. We have to look at a means of bringing education to them. The step taken by some states to educate students via radio is one we hope doesn’t fade away after the pandemic. Given the circumstances, this is a creative way to reach eager minds who are willing to learn but do not have access to.
The Foundation has done its part in distributing learning materials and also introducing girls clubs at the community level. These girls have some sort of ownership and we communicate with them via text, assigning topics that will be studied and later discussed when they meet.
SOSF: Do you believe enough Nigerian teachers are ready and capable of facilitating online learning? If not, how can we bridge the skills gap?
Amina: Technical capacity has always been a huge gap and this is something we’ve taken note of from the time we introduced Edtech solutions to teachers. We’ve always emphasized growth and capacity building and we are quite certain that this would bridge the gap if it is given utmost priority by all stakeholders.
On our end, We’ve been conducting virtual training for the teachers themselves on online learning tools and so on for every school where we’ve deployed e-learning. We believe a lot more needs to go into developing the capacity of our teachers and Educators if the system and the country as a whole are really going to move forward.
SOSF: As an organisation involved in tech-aided education, can you tell us which types of schools you have been getting requests from? Private or public and in which states?
Amina: We have received requests from thousands of schools, both public and private in different locations in Africa. We currently have clients from both divides in all the states in Nigeria and 3 clients in Accra, Ghana. And a public-private school ratio of about 1:2.
SOSF: Are schools considering hosting online exams and would it be possible to do the externals/final year exams through online platforms? How would that work?
Amina: A couple of schools and bodies are looking at conducting online exams and it is achievable. The ideal platform for this would be one through which candidates answer questions within a given time, after which the test window collapses to enforce time limits, it should also detect if there’s a loss in internet connection and offer solutions to make up for this.Among other things the platform should be able to detect when students attempt to leave the page or initiate any action during the course of the exam. Methods such as this aren’t new as we have several online universities where students take their exams online.This is one of the approaches we have taken in one of our products which we have made available to schools. For more information, contact elearning.flexisaf.com
SOSF: Let's pivot to tertiary education. The large number of students, course structure and poor infrastructure makes the adoption of online learning difficult but learning must go on. How do you propose digital learning tools can be infused for tertiary level students, especially those studying vocational and hands-on courses?
Amina: Virtual Augmented Reality has moved gradually from a gaming tool to an instrument of discovery. A tool such as this would shape the minds of students with their different learning styles (cognitive skills, kinesthetic and auditory). They can have practicals in a virtual world and see the reaction without any physical damage.They could saw a block of wood in half, plant a tree, interact, the possibilities are endless as the technology continues to improve. Infusing this technology into education, not just for the tertiary level students will be a game-changer and prepare students for reality. However, this would take significant investment so it’s not an overnight feat.For now, the reality is that a lot of courses which require physical activity are going to be affected - not just in Nigeria but everywhere in the world. People are reverting to the next best thing; watching practical videos and live classes might be the best option for now.
SOSF: On a general note, how can Nigeria improve online learning at all levels of education and who are the critical stakeholders to make that happen?
Amina: Improving online learning and learning, in general, is a collective effort and we are all stakeholders. From the schools that invest resources to ensure that their students get the best of education; the parents that make sacrifices to ensure their kids receive only the best form of education; the governing bodies that regulate content that students are exposed to; companies like ours who are creating these solutions; dedicated educators on the field; policymakers; internet service providers - basically all of us.
We need to be able to come together and have these conversations where these problems emerge and not only seek but create solutions. - starting with basic infrastructures like internet access or data tariffs for the education sector. If we all work together like this then the limits are basically endless.