By way of introduction to those who may not be familiar with the education sector of Nigeria, education is a key preoccupation of both the government and parents alike. It can be argued that no other country in the world places greater importance on education than the average Nigerian family does. The fact that the public education sector has been largely marginalised since the 1980s has led not only to the proliferation of private education providers but has created even more pressure on parents in selecting a quality and affordable school.
It can be argued that the use of technology in the classroom has become a worldwide phenomenon in almost all schools. The public schools in Nigeria have sadly been left behind with ever decreasing funding to meet an ever increasing class population across all the strata of education from the elementary to the university level. It is little wonder that one of the fastest growth sectors in the Nigerian economy is the education sector encompassing not only those that provide the learning facilities but those that provide the array of tools and services needed by the sector. This sector sees itself as providing an important service for which the majority of parents are happy to pay a handsome price for what they consider to be a good quality education. Add to this mix the fact many parents want their children to complete their education abroad, notwithstanding the current economic pressure(s), and you have dictating influences on these education providers. So in many cases without too much debate or projection, technology (by way of both the hardware and the accompanying software) is added to the class regardless of the need.
The debate seems to be getting further away from the original intention of why technology is useful or essential in the class. To simplify, technology in the classroom was meant, amongst many other things, to enhance the learning process in an era where the learning process itself has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades or so. Add to that the evidence that positive learning takes place when other stimuli are provided to the learners and you have legitimate reasons for their inclusion in the classroom. Repeat, they were never intended to replace the teacher who was meant to be the main driver in how these tools are utilised. At the same time, there is new evidence coming out that shows that the more students utilise technology in their learning, the less likely they are to retain knowledge. The evidence even goes further by suggesting that the use of laptops and other devices to take class notes causes many learners to retain far less than those who actually use the old method of writing or copying those same class notes. So this is something that educators in Nigeria would need to have at the back of their minds when deciding on the extent of technology use in the class.
Embracing the various gadgets has led to a situation in Nigeria where, in the absence of either hard facts or objective evidence, one can argue that schools fall into three categories: those who see technology as peripheral; those that are looking for ways of increasing the use of such gadgets in the classroom and the school environment; and those that see technology as a central part of the teacher’s delivery of knowledge. The first two categories of schools are grappling with how best to utilise the gadgets and tools already purchased. Also, these schools have the added burden of incomplete training of their staff so that the technology remains largely under-utilised. However, the established schools are going further by utilising technology as a way of acclimatising their students to life outside of Nigeria. In essence, the gap between the educational providers in the market is getting ever wider.
The issue has been further complicated by the emergence of local software providers who are trying to provide local content that they feel would better enhance the learning process. Sadly in many cases the hardware does not marry well with the local software and so requires further investments in new gadgets. This writer has visited some schools who have complained about how the initial hardware providers did not provide on-going software to enable the teacher to fully utilise the tools. Some also complained that local software providers at best provided only copy-cat packages and at worst packages not fit-for-purpose. This is a shame especially at this time when the current government is trying to nurture local industries and favourable buy-in-Nigeria incentives. This is not surprising given that many of the local software providers are very inward looking and do not see nor understand the benefits likely to result from sharing and co-operating with others within the industry. This is not the place to address some of the actions that are necessary to get these providers to become more competitive and to ensure that they offer more robust and fit-for-purpose packages than the larger international players, who tend to offer “one-technology fits all occasions”.
So what is the state of technology use in Nigerian classrooms? It can be argued that this is work in progress and more needs to be done over the next few years. The majority of the private schools need to upgrade their ICT managers as precursors to effective utilisation of the new technologies in the classroom. When owners begin to see training as an investment and not as a cost then they can truly begin the journey of ensuring that technology in the classroom does enhance learning and personal development of the learners. Nigeria places great value on education and this is the time for the education sector to rise to the many challenges facing the country by producing a generation of students that can compete with the best because they are able to easily infuse best practices from Nigeria and outside. In short, technology has an important place in the classroom but care must be taken to ensure that the learners are aware of its nature as a tool to effective “learning” and “communication”.
Dr G Fahad