Logged on: New initiatives aim to boost the use of technology in the sector

Over the past decade information and communications technology (ICT) has played an increasingly important role in Nigerian society. In the 10 years since the ICT sector was liberalised in 2003, the percentage of the population that regularly accesses the internet has skyrocketed. According to the International Telecommunications Union, the UN’s ICT agency, at the end of 2011 more than 28% of the population used the internet regularly, compared to around 13% across sub-Saharan Africa as a whole (see IT chapter).

LOGGING ON: The jump in online activity is a recent phenomenon: internet use in Nigeria has nearly doubled since 2008, when less than 16% of the population logged on regularly, and it has quadrupled since 2007, when less than 7% did so. It is no surprise then that many local educational institutions have developed, or are developing, new ICT-driven programmes, seeing ICT as a transformative tool. “Much of Nigeria’s rural population does not have access to high-quality educational facilities,” Warren Townsend, head of Childville Schools, a network of private primary and secondary institutions, told OBG. “The internet, which should eventually allow for the delivery of educational materials to remote areas, is potentially a game-changer here.”

CHALLENGES: At the same time, the sector faces several challenges. While a handful of new fibre-optic submarine cable links have resulted in rapidly expanding broadband network speeds in recent years, the domestic fibre-optic network remains relatively underdeveloped. Consequently, while internet use among the population has increased substantially, most Nigerians access the web primarily on mobile devices, which – unlike computers and tablets – are ubiquitous throughout the country. Similarly, mobile data plans on major local telecoms networks remain somewhat expensive compared to international standards, which puts them out of reach of much of the population. This reliance on high-cost mobile data is considered a hindrance to the development of large-scale, ICT-driven education initiatives in the country. Other impediments to the widespread adoption of technology in the education sector include a lack of ICT awareness among teachers and low financing levels, particularly in the public school system, which in most cases precludes the purchase of computers and other ICT equipment.

Despite these issues, ICT is expected to play an increasingly important role in Nigeria’s education sector for the foreseeable future. A variety of public and private sector projects are currently under way. Boosting the use of technology in education is a key component of the National Information Technology Development Agency’s ICT programme, ICT for Development, and also the Federal Ministry of Education’s (FME) four-year Strategic Plan for Education (SPE), which was launched in May 2012. Additionally, the Federal Ministry of Communications Technology (FMCT), which was established in 2011, has launched a number of education-related initiatives in recent years, both on its own and in conjunction with the FME and other education-related domestic and international entities. Additionally, several private sector players have also contributed to the progression of the segment in recent years.

“Not only does IT have a role to play in learning, but also reducing the operating costs in the education sector which is way behind on the digitisation curve,” Abiodun Atobatele, CEO of ATB Techsoft Solutions, told OBG.

A CORNERSTONE OF DEVELOPMENT: Technology has factored heavily into long-term education planning in Nigeria for decades. In the section of the country’s 1979 constitution outlining the state’s education priorities, the government announced its aims to “promote science and technology”, for example. Public investment in ICT-related education programmes grew substantially in the early 2000s, when the Nigerian Communications Act began development in the sector. Improving and expanding the use of ICT throughout the education system is a key component of the FME’s 10-year Strategic Education Plan, launched in 2007. The strategy laid out a number of technology-related objectives for the sector, including 100% computer literacy among secondary and tertiary students and among teachers at all levels, for example.

The FME’s most recent planning document, the four-year SPE, launched in May 2012, aims to introduce ICT to all aspects of the public education system. As part of this effort, in mid-2012 Ruqayyah Ahmed Rufa’i, the minister of education, announced the new Department of Technology and Science Education at the FME. This was widely viewed as a signal of the government’s long-term commitment to ICT in education. Similarly, education plays a central role in the FMCT’s National ICT Policy, which came into effect in mid-2012. Indeed, one of the key aims of the planning document is to “integrate ICT into the national education curriculum”.

SCHOOLS: Over the past decade the FME and other public sector entities have launched several programmes with the goal of meeting the ambitious benchmarks laid out in recent strategic documents. In September 2012 President Goodluck Jonathan announced that ICT training would be incorporated into the primary school curriculum, for example. According to the federal government, most secondary schools already offer ICT training modules. This is not the first time the federal government has announced that it plans to boost computer usage and training in the public school system. Since the early 1990s a number of government-led projects have aimed to install computers in schools and make ICT training part of the standard curriculum. Most of these projects started off well, but fizzled out due to lack of funding or implementation planning. While reliable, up-to-date data on computer literacy in the public school system is unavailable, anecdotal reports suggest that most students complete secondary school with very little training in the subject. “Increasing ICT awareness throughout the school system is a major challenge,” said Townsend. “Many schools do not have computers, and those that do often do not have access to the internet, which is expensive.”

LOCAL EFFORTS: Some state governments have taken the issue of expanding the use of ICT in education into their own hands. In early June 2013 the Osun State government launched the Opon Imo (“tablet of knowledge”) project, whereby the state will distribute 150,000 custom-designed tablet computers among secondary students throughout the state. The tablets will be preloaded with e-learning software, e-books, practice tests and other educational content. If the project proves successful in Osun State, it could theoretically be adopted elsewhere in the country in the coming years.

Several private companies have also made an effort to improve technology use in primary and secondary schools. In April 2011, for example, MTN – the largest telecoms operator in Nigeria – introduced the MTN Education Bundle, a laptop that comes pre-loaded with educational software and is available at a discount for primary and secondary school students. More recently, in April 2013 UNESCO and Nokia unveiled an initiative that aims to help English teachers at primary schools improve instructional skills and practices. Teachers that participate in the programme sign up to receive a daily message using Nokia’s Life+ platform that includes tips, educational content and pedagogical advice. “Our aim was to develop a service that teachers working in difficult conditions and without a great deal of support could access quickly,” Steven Vosloo, UNESCO’s coordinator for the project, told the press. “Mobile technology is a promising avenue and, in some instances, the only option in terms of technology.”

HIGHER EDUCATION: One of the earliest joint ICT and education projects to be rolled out in Nigeria was the National Universities Commission’s virtual library project. Under discussion since 2001, the library launched in 2008 with support from UNESCO and government of Japan. As of mid-2012 the National Virtual Library was offering university students and faculty digital access to more than 7000 academic journals in a variety of downloadable formats.

The government-supported National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is one of the highest-profile ICT developments in the country. The university offers a variety of degrees online using a national network of study centres throughout the country. When it was established in 2002, NOUN admitted an initial class of 30,000, with only a fraction of these students going on to complete a full course of study and earning a degree. Despite ongoing funding challenges, since 2009 the university has graduated a steadily increasing number of students each year: in 2012 more than 7000 earned degrees in a wide range of fields, including education, technology and a variety of social sciences. While a substantial percentage of NOUN’s course materials are available for students to download, most of the actual learning takes place at one of the university’s 49 study centres. NOUN plans to expand this network as demand increases over the coming years. As of the end of 2012 some 65,000 students were enrolled at the institution, making it the largest university in Nigeria. “With NOUN, there is no capacity limit,” Vincent Tenebe, NOUN’s vice-chancellor, told local press in early 2013. “We can admit thousands or millions of qualified candidates. The only limit NOUN has is funding.”

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The Report: Nigeria 2013

Education chapter from The Report: Nigeria 2013

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