BY SUNDAY OMEIKE
REJOINDER: This African Science Literacy Network (ASLN) report was borne out of curiosity for the true purpose of a University in terms of openness to- and esteem regards from- the public, not of malicious intent to dent the image of the highly respected academic fraternity. It is a quest for the answer to the questions: are Nigerian Universities only to teach and carry out research? Should Universities have nationalistic objectives and identify with daily public concerns despite their already mountainous task? The survey, investigation and report emanated from that thought cave. The report investigated Universities’ community activities, adopted preventive measures and teaching adaptations in response to COVID-19 in Nigeria.
From February 27 confirmation of Nigeria’s first COVID-19 case to March 29 when President Muhammadu Buhari ordered border closures, nearly 300 cases spread across states and the Federal Capital Territory was added. The jump in statistic was unsurprising to the majority of health-related academics interacted with, judging from the rate of spread previously reported in several other countries.
However, what surprised many was the levity the average person on streets and social media took the silently spreading virus. Absurd claims include myth that Africans cannot be infected due to superior genes. This graduated to warped thoughts that only the wealthy are at risk of COVID-19 and spiraled to 5G-related conspiracy theory. This indicates a need for proper re-education of the society, a task the University is better posited than others to achieve.
Indeed, the University has three core duties according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. They are research, teaching and community service, and the latter two are urgently needed by the average Nigerian, especially in these pandemic times. These duties are societally important and recently became compulsory, with modern Universities expected to contribute to both local and regional development.
Consequently, there is, therefore, the urge to compare grossly underfunded Nigerian Universities to their global counterparts. However, with several Nigerian States having more than one University, some form of community education towards COVID-19 is expected.
Charity begins from home, they say, and the few Nigerian Universities active towards COVID-19 took care of their school perimeter, organizing seminars and handbills for staff sensitization.
Some, like American University of Nigeria, Nile University and Landmark University procured gadgets to check for a fever — a COVID-19 symptom — at their gates, while the University of Abuja offered both Information and Education Communication (IEC) materials and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to healthcare professionals in the University’s Medical Centre. While infighting continues among the staff of one University in the Southwest over COVID-19 response strategy (and which unit makes sanitizers), Abia State University donated 1,000 units of laboratory-made hand sanitizers to the State’s response effort through its Department of Pure and Industrial Chemistry.
The University of Ilorin also got top marks for educating Kwarans through COVID-19 programme aired on UNILORIN radio. According to the Chairperson of the school’s COVID-19 Response Committee, Dr. (Mrs.) Idayat Durotoye, a lecturer in the Department of Hematology, the programme include a phone-in segment to answer questions regarding the pandemic.
The University also embarked on community sensitization, and similar was done by Kano University of Science and Technology, and Osun State University. The Federal University of Technology, Akure managed to combine two viral illnesses, embarking on a Coronavirus and Lassa Fever sensitization walk, anchored by its School of Health and Health Technology and Medical Services.
A further visit to and information from selected institutions to observe measures being practised showed that there was no temperature scanner or handwashing set-up at the entrance of many of the popular universities in the southwest. A first-generation university printed special COVID-19 gate pass for cars and provided handwashing materials for security personnel only. Although the traffic into that particular university had reduced drastically, dozens still made their way into the school and no social distancing was observed at the campus shuttle unit. While laxity and inactivity reign supreme for popular universities in lands of virtue, sunshine and gateway States, the American University of Nigeria, Baze University and Crawford University checked for fever at the school entry point and further placed hand sanitizers at different units of the Institution — from the Senate building to faculties.
Mandatory hand sanitization at points of entry was observed in Landmark University, with social distancing actively practised at official gatherings. Also, some universities in the South-South have preventive measures in place, notably the University of Benin that has been practising handwashing since the disease crept into the country, while Ambrose Ali University further screened individuals for fever at the school’s entry. Other institutions in the southwest such as Lead City University, Dominican University and Trinity University offered either handwashing or hand sanitization on entry, while McPherson University placed hand sanitizers at the school’s entry and other buildings.
Impact of COVID-19 on teaching
David Rockefeller, a former patriarch of the Rockefeller family, once said, “if necessity is the mother of invention, discontent is the father of progress.”
These two factors — necessity and discontent — must have played key roles in steps taken by some universities — most privately owned — to switch to virtual learning. While a random survey of University students showed discontent at being at home despite the necessity of the action, the majority do not want to stay idle and would welcome online classes. Huge tuition fees and possible discontent of parents at the sight of idle wards also meant COVID-19 presented an opportunity some universities have used to upgrade the learning method.
For varsities such as Skyline University and Chrisland University, it was the perfect opportunity to switch to online classes, a possibility they had been mulling before COVID-19 struck. Chrisland University would employ Google classroom, Zoom and WhatsApp platforms to continue teaching, while Skyline University switched its 15 undergraduate courses to virtual learning to preserve the health of the students. Registrar of the Kano-based school, Mr Firoj Kumar Rauta added that “the hardware, software and systems are all there to ensure continuity of studies in the various programmes, monitoring progress, projects and continuous assessment.”
The American University of Nigeria embarked on lecturer training workshops before formal online classroom switch on March 31, Bowen University was well prepared for eventuality with virtual teaching time table released and learning in progress, while Mountain Top University switched to the Zoom online meeting application, GPH 104 the first class attended. In the same vein, Ajayi Crowther University embarked on the audio-visual recording of lectures that are uploaded for students’ use on the school website, while Crawford University, Technical University, Afe Babalola University are some other Universities presently with functioning e-learning platforms.
Many of the leading Universities are still far from the promised land of virtual learning, with the majority on lockdown and amidst the looming threat of an academic staff showdown. Most of them, including several private Universities, only offer journal databases, links for scholarly research and MIT Open courseware, but the University of Lagos is taking steps to this private island by announcing “learning continues from home” with all GST courses fully online.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase in Nigeria and its end currently unknown, it is hoped that a National Universities Commission directive would suffice for institutions to consider virtual learning. Hopefully, this form of teaching will increase in the coming years as all students in public and private institutions unanimously agreed in the survey: they would love combined physical and virtual learning in their institutions post-COVID-19.
The African Science Literacy Network (ASLN; @AfricanSciLit) aims to promote effective communication of research outcomes and community outreach activities embarked upon by researchers and authorities of universities and research institutes in Nigeria.
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