Use of technology during lockdown period

COVID-19: Parents, children struggle to adapt to e-learning


It’s the season of the new normal and one sector already taking a dive, adopting the e-learning innovation, is education. But how well and how far can the people adapt to this new method? OMOLARA AKINTOYE explores the challenges for parents, teachers and students.
Mrs. Deborah Uchenna woke up that early morning with a serious hangover. She tried hard to remember what was on her mind before she fell asleep the previous day – she is a mother of four, with the eldest, Chima, in SS2; closely followed by Chioma who is in JS 3; while the last two are in the lower basics 2 and 5.
Suddenly she remembered. She didn’t have a kobo to buy data for her children to go online that day. It has not been easy for Mrs. Uchenna in the past one and half months, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic and all its repercussions. The whole economy has been literally grounded for almost 2 months; her husband, who worked in an I.T firm came home two weeks ago with a “Disengagement Letter” – stating that his service was no longer needed. Her children’s school, on the other hand, has adopted the online e-learning technique to reach out to its pupils and ensure that learning does not stop altogether, meaning more expenses via data. To make matters worse, Mrs. Uchenna’s business has not been moving fine – no thanks to the pandemic. Having to therefore add the burden of buying data, and of course fuel for her generator, due to incessant power failure, looks quite like a herculean task. That was what brought about her hangover.
The Alade family children, comprising Ife, Biola and Wole, could however not be involved in the online learning because their parents could not  afford a laptop, and have resorted to going to their neighbour’s house – whose parents could afford Ipads and laptops, to borrow and copy notes. Already, Ife and Biola are complaining to their parents because this has meant them lagging behind and playing catch-up. They have also missed out on tests, assignments and many others.
Theirs, however, is just one out of several other Nigerian children facing the same plight at this time.
March 2020 will for a long time be remembered as the month the education community the world over, witnessed total schools shut down – as a result of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. The speed of these closures and the rapid move to distance learning/e-learning has allowed little time for proper planning and migration.
At least 1.5 billion students and over 80 million primary and secondary teachers are affected by this school shut down in 191 countries. Research also revealed that half the total number students – nearly 830 million do not have access to a computer, and more than 40% do not have internet access at home.
Disparity, a major threat to education
According to education advocates, this disparity could be a major threat to education.
A teacher at Chrisland Schools Limited, Lagos, who preferred anonymity, said e-learning has been quite successful so far, as the school is using various online platforms such as Zoom, Google classroom, Edmodo etc to reach out to the pupils. “We have kept learners occupied academically. Using same platforms, we were able to complete the second term examination, which had begun before the compulsory Covid-19 break. Our school has always been in the forefront on child protection, hence our parents were carried along throughout the processes. Through the Parents’ Forum provided by some of these platforms mentioned above, parents were able to monitor the online activities and academic progress of their kids.”
He also said e-learning has a lot of advantages both for the learners and the educators or teachers, chief of which is helping them to acquire some essential computer skills.
He, however, admitted that the new learning mode is not without its challenges. “Sometimes, students are not punctual and because some of these ICT tools and e-learning platforms are relatively new to our secondary school education system, some kids tend to abuse the usage. However, most of the kids were very cooperative and used the gadgets and tools solely for academic and research purposes.
There is also the challenge of power supply and erratic internet network. In a situation where parents cannot guarantee these, e-learning would not be sustainable.
He also conceded that the high poverty level in the country will make this type of learning unaffordable for the common man. Data, laptops, desk tops etc all come at great costs.
The Chrisland teacher, however, believes that e-learning has a bright, exciting future in Nigeria and has come to stay. He said the advantage of this method has been further accentuated by the lockdown situation.
Parents express mixed reactions
A parent, Mr. Ikpe Nkanang, who is Managing Director at Benig Nig. Ltd, a logistics company, said most of what his children do are manual, in note books, although assignments are given through internet.
According to him, “E-Learning is a good development, as most parents are around to supervise and monitor their wards. It also exposes the kids to the use of the internet in a wider capacity than when they were only browsing for solutions to specific questions. Their scope of reasoning has also expanded. Research and comparison of works done has exposed them to new ideas.”
He was, however, quick to point out that the new method has its challenges. “One of my kids needs special attention. He is easily distracted and has a tendency to venture into areas not suitable for kids.
“Also, getting the teachers to respond to each pupil takes time and as such, the kids get agitated and lose interest. The issue of epileptic power supply and cost of buying data are also major challenges. Some homes cannot afford personal computers for their wards. This has led to a situation where my neighbours’ kids crowd my house because their parents cannot afford the basic tools. Some parents are also not literate enough to supervise their kids.”
In the case of wards, whose parents cannot properly monitor them, it is an opportunity to be absent online. Chronic absenteeism is a potentially big problem, with more students – than ever before – missing classes, as the vast majority of physical schools remain closed and lessons, conducted remotely. It’s either they’re not logging on, not checking in or not completing assignments. This is not to mention lack of concentration.
The rate of absenteeism would appear to be particularly high in schools with many low-income students, whose access to home computers and internet connections can be spotty. Some teachers report that fewer than half of their students are regularly participating.
Not without a fee
It is important to note here that online teaching/e-learning is not without a fee, as most private schools are billing parents for the service, failure in which their children are disengaged.
A parent of Atlantic Hall School, Epe, Lagos, who would not want his name mentioned said parents are paying as much N175,000 for online teaching service aside the regular school fees.
“This is bad because they are using it as an avenue to exploit parents. We are all feeling the heat of the pandemic together, as most businesses and jobs are affected,” Mrs. Temitope Adeyanju, a parent and a teacher said.
Adeyanju, however, pointed out that e-learning has increased the standard of computer literacy among children, bringing them up to par with the standard in the Western world, where it has become like the norm.
“E-learning has also forced parents to learn more and become more computer literate – because they want to meet up with what is being done on their children on the e-platforms. Also, it has helped to create cordial relationships between parents and children, because most of the parents who never had time to go through their children’s work, ostensibly because of the nature of their job, now feel compelled be on top of it,” she said.
“But the cost implication of data being consumed per week is a big challenge to parents. Meanwhile, jobs are being affected. Some parents, as a matter of fact, have lost theirs, while some have had their income reviewed downwards. At the same time,  no parent would be happy to see their children missing out on classes. Many have gone as far as borrowing.  For example, I spend at least N4,500 on data per week for my three children to connect with their classes online. That is on the high side,” she lamented.
Another major challenge is that parents are now at a disadvantage, as they now share their phones and other gadgets with their children. In the process, they sometimes get spoilt or broken, – leading to another expenses.
Of course, some use it as opportunities to play online games, thereby running down data unnecessarily. One cannot also foreclose the fact that some of the more mature or adventurous ones could use the opportunity to go on porn and other forbidden sites.
She enjoined parents to endeavour to get their children phones that are not expensive, and  connect such phones to the parents’ server, so that the data can be monitored.
“Also there are softwares that can be installed on parents phones and connected to children’s to monitor their text and WhatsApp messages. Google mail opened for children must be connected to their parents’ email, so that information can be through the parents to the children’s mail to monitor their activities.
Finally, parents should always collect the phones from the children after each day’s lectures. She also advised that network providers create special bundle for e-learning to reduce high cost rate of data.
For students in public schools in Lagos State, government has adopted the use of multiple media, including radio, television and the internet to reach the students. Besides, government said it has worked on a technology device loaded with the Nigerian curriculum that the students can use while at home. With this device, they will be able to continue learning, test themselves and send tests to their teachers who will also be equipped with the device.
To kick-start the process, the state Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has developed daily lesson programmes on radio and television for senior secondary school students as, well as interactive radio instructional programmes for primary school pupils.
The programmes, according to the Head, Public Affairs Unit, Ministry of Education, Mr. Kayode Abayomi, are to run throughout the period of the closure of schools in different subjects.
Abayomi said the idea behind it is to get public and private school students to be fully engaged while at home, adding that even if there is a challenge in power supply, they can tune in to Wazobia FM on their rechargeable radio.
“That is the more reason why we adopted the radio programme. As I am speaking with you now, my radio is on. I have a rechargeable radio; it also uses battery, so they should be able to tune in and know what is going on around them.”
He added that the ministry had already sensitised schools in Lagos, saying, “At the onset of the idea leading to the closure of schools, the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folashade Adefisayo, did a video recording, which she sent to all schools in Lagos State. We also sent the video across all social media platforms, so that it went viral. It trended for quite some time on these platforms. The essence was to make people aware that such a programme is going on.”
To ensure that parents also key into the scheme for the benefit of their children, Abayomi said, “Wazobia FM is running the programme for us for free. As a matter of fact, they wrote a letter to the Lagos State government, stating their preparedness for partnership on the issue. We have been working together since the very first day; they did the audio recording and jingles.”

Make the most of lockdown time

Within barely a couple of weeks the way in which we see the world and our place in it, has turned on its head. From a bustling booming lifestyle we are suddenly locked up indoors.  From being constantly told to disconnect and not let the small screens dictate our lives, our entire day now rotates around these gadgets. From working towards developing social skills we now have to learn to social distance. And from feverishly studying for exams, we now don’t know if these will be held, or if they will even matter! Yes it has become a very strange place – no school, no college, no outings, no shopping, no travel – and definitely no year-end farewell parties!
But what it has done, is given us lots of free time at home – time to bond with family, time to think and plan, and certainly time to strengthen what you know, your knowledge, and venture to learn something you don’t know, or haven’t had the time to learn earlier. This could be particularly important for students who are graduating from school and college, and are at crossroads — figuring out which path to take, where to go and how to move ahead.
Planning for the future for most students is always a tough process, but more so now when there is so much uncertainty about the spread of the disease itself and the shape of a post-pandemic world.  This is particularly difficult for students who have not quite made up their mind about their further studies, as also those who are not quite sure if their choices will be of value in the future.
For many others lockdown time may be just the period you need to pause, ponder and give yourself the opportunity to shifts gears. It is possible you were hurtling towards a science oriented, engineering related career which on second thoughts is not one you have actually been looking forward to. Or you have in mind a career in the hospitality sector, and it is difficult to see how and when this industry will recover.  Or, you want to get into a career in business but do not have a clue as to what this will entail. These are just some of the confusing thoughts that are confronting many students right now.
So as we wait for release from our temporary imprisonment, let us utilise this time in useful and constructive activities that not only help us build ourselves for an unknown future, but also enable us to invest in ideas that could be valuable pointers for our future.
Here are some pursuits to think about:
1.     Study/Training courses
If you’re ­not burned out on academics, devoting some of your quarantine time to self-education makes sense. An increasing number of people are using the time to build their skillset, with an upsurge in enrolments on online learning platforms such as edX, FutureLearn and Coursera, which offer “massive open online courses” – or MOOCs. Besides helping to bolster your career during this economic uncertainty, learning a new skill can give you a sense of control of their future at a time when many students feel that is lost.
We are now a society in which many jobs and careers require additional education or training beyond school.
Students can choose to learn to code, personal finance planning, creative writing, and so much more. There are hundreds of online courses in various fields ranging from music and the arts to business, leadership and personal development, to specific AI Learning and Chef training programmes, foreign languages, fitness and meditation classes and so on, taught by professors from Harvard and other top universities. Harvard University is offering 67 courses online across domains like business, computer science, art, design and humanities. ( https://online-learning.harvard.edu/) You can also find  - An introduction to Mathematical Thinking, a Stanford University course, via Coursera, giving you a journey through the basics of mathematical logic and proof: or An introduction to Screenwriting a University of East Anglia course offered  via FutureLearn, a creative writing programme for would-be screenwriters… and hundreds of others.
Such learning can build your skills and extend your learning, not only in the subject or discipline of your study, but also in other fields of interest, which can give you a broader perspective and experience that may enhance your life and could also open possibilities of using talents in new and uncharted realms. 
* Courseware on Artificial Intelligence (AI) offered by NASSCOM FutureSkills initiative, the foundational Artificial Intelligence course from SkillUp Online aligned to the industry-recommended curriculum. 
* A 15-day self-paced digital certification programme called Career Edge, offered by TCS iON, a strategic unit of Tata Consultancy Services, on the TCS iON Digital Learning Hub platform specially designed for college students/working professionals to enhance their career skills. The programme, offered, is followed by an online digital assessment and certification.
* More than 150 free courses from programming a complete game, HTML5 fundamentals to time management for students on global e-learning marketplace Udemy
* The NTC Premium Fitness training programmes including  studio-style streaming workouts offered free of charge by  footwear and fitness accessories firm Nike.
In addition you can find many other interesting courses on e-learning sites such as Khan Academy, Byju’s , TED-ED, Academic Earth and many more.
So whatever be your goals, the quest to learn a new skill or to pursue your own discipline, a study programme can allow you to connect with new people across the virtual domain, and transform this period into a time of enlightenment and self-discovery.
2.     Improve your digital skills
A special mention must be made of the need to develop competency in computer skills. With the entire world wired through the computer particularly as we move into a ‘virtual’ world, students can never get enough of good computer skills. Most students do not move beyond Instagram, Facebook, video games and the like, and fail to see their smart gadget as the most powerful tool for enhancing their lives.
Today there are computer applications for almost every business activity, productivity tools and different technologies and applications used for storing and reporting information that enhance productivity and ensure efficiencies at work. As we see today, most of the information we are getting on the offending virus today is through computerised technologies and algorithm processed AI. The digital transformation impacts every industry, and being able to befriend the “machine” is one of the most critical of skills. Just knowing programming languages is not enough. The ability to embrace technology and machines is about the ability to get stuff done, about knowing the tools and how to use them. They also involve using social media, working with design or video editing software and knowing programming languages.
3.     Learn a new language
This is a time when you can spend a couple of hours every day to learn a new language – something you may have wanted to do for years, but never had the time. Knowing a foreign language is an asset irrespective of the work or profession you intend to pursue. If you know more than one language and are sensitive to cultural differences you can effectively interact with diverse people, and handle a range of national and international assignments. With so many multi-national organizations working in India, bilingual employees have a definite advantage. There are many websites and apps that offer language courses. Some of them even offer a certificate after you complete the course.
4.     Volunteer
The pandemic has wrought havoc on so many people – from harried health workers, to unemployed daily wage earners, and the thousands of migrants who have no future, no home, money or food. This is the time to lend a helping hand within the confines of home, or in protected areas working with NGOs and other volunteer groups. A good start is your own neighbourhood — offer help with shopping and other errands, or befriend those who are elderly, disabled or alone. There are also government authorised volunteer organisations, government bodies, Facebook groups, media houses and others  providing a range of services where student volunteers can help in manning tele-counselling helplines, educating people about the real causes of the corona disease, symptoms and preliminary steps to follow, distributing food packets, or grocery items, monitoring supplies of PPEs and masks to health workers, or even launching initiatives such as stitching face masks, preparing food for the poor and so on.
Whatever project you participate in, volunteering can help build emotional stability, organisational skills and give a sense of purpose and perspective to life, specially at such a time, that most other activities may not do.  Best of all, volunteer work builds self-esteem – vital to your ability to succeed. Of course, be sure to only volunteer if you are in good health, feel strong enough and are not in a high-risk group. 
There are just so many activities that you can engage in during this period. Just because time is at a standstill doesn’t mean you have to be. You can keep yourself busy with so much that is available around us, in the virtual world, if not the physical, that it would be a pity to waste it away just watching Netflix movies or video games.

On politics, tackling a pandemic and the floods: In conversation with Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan

Express News Service
A robust public healthcare system, early preparedness and refraining from stigmatising are the key factors behind the Kerala model of Covid-19 treatment, says Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. In an interview to The New Indian Express Chief of Bureau Anil S, Pinarayi refuted the allegations that Kerala is lagging behind in testing and said that the state's testing rate to detect one case is three times higher than the national average. 
Critising the Union Government for imposing conditions while increasing the borrowing limits of state governments, Pinarayi demanded that the conditions should be withdrawn.
The central package and measures taken by the Union Government are insufficient in addressing people's hardships due to lockdown, he said.
Q: The Left government in the state has successfully completed four years in office. How do you assess the government's performance so far?
A: Four years is a short period in a state’s trajectory but the last four years were historic as far as Kerala is concerned, in terms of setting a bar as the number one State in India. 219,154 homes were built under the LIFE Mission. The Pothu Vidyabhyasa Samrakshana Yajnam has transformed our public schools into hi-tech schools, attracting more than 500,000 students. 
Infrastructure worth over 3,000 crores was set up in Government Hospitals through the Aardram Mission, which aims at delivering patient-friendly quality healthcare services at the grassroot level.
Specialty and super-specialty facilities have been instituted at taluk and district-level hospitals. Haritha Keralam Mission has rejuvenated 390 kms of rivers, increased the area under agriculture and contributed massively towards a greener environment.
In under 4 years, KIIFB has taken up projects worth 54,391 crores, exceeding the goal we had set for 5 years. The power infrastructure of the state has seen unprecedented growth. The completion of Kudamkulam power line, Transgrid 2.0 project, GAIL etc. stand as testimony to this. The K-FON project will accentuate the state's broadband connectivity and help to decentralise IT infrastructure. 
The industrial corridor is set to bring new investments, the completion of Petrochemical Park and Vizhinjam Port will be another landmark event in the development of the state. The Rebuild Kerala Initiative is being implemented specifically to augment the State’s capacity to face future challenges such as climate change or any other calamity.
A total of 23,409 crores were spent on welfare pensions, as opposed to the 9,270 crores spent between 2011 & 2016. Land title-deeds have been given to 1,43,000 people till date.
Q: With Covid-19 being the biggest challenge so far, how exactly did the previous experiences of battling two consecutive floods, Nipah & Ockhi come handy?
A: Each challenge is a learning opportunity to prepare for the future. It also presents new opportunities. Ockhi and the floods strengthened our emergency response systems and disaster management capabilities. Both helped immensely during the current pandemic, especially when we had to announce a lockdown and prepare for the same. Contact tracing was first resorted to during Nipah. That experience has also come in handy in dealing with COVID-19.
Q: Which are the major projects that the government plans to complete by 2021?
A: We have already announced two major interventions. Subhiksha Keralam is a comprehensive programme aimed at ensuring the food security of Kerala, which will be implemented in a year with an expenditure of 3,860 crores. Local Self Governments will take the lead in implementing this programme. Around 25,000 hectares of fallow land is to be cultivated. The project aims to increase the income of farmers and to attract youngsters and returning migrants to agriculture, by creating more employment opportunities.
There are 1.56 lakh small enterprises in the state. This is 70% of the total enterprises. 40 lakh workers are employed in this sector. An assistance of 3,434 crores for MSMEs has been announced through the Vyavasaya Bhadratha scheme. 
Margin money assistance and interest concession for additional credit up to Rs. 50 lakh will be provided to existing micro, small and medium enterprises. KSIDC and KINFRA will implement one-time settlement of loan arrears. Extension of six months will be provided to these enterprises for the repayment of interest. 
Three months' rent will be waived in standard design factories under the Department of Industry.
Entrepreneurs who use public facilities in industrial parks will be exempted from rent for three months. All major industrial licenses and permits will be granted within one week of application, with the condition that entrepreneurs will complete due procedures within a year.
Multi-modal Logistics Centres are sought to be established at Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Kannur connecting airport, seaport, railways and roads in these cities. Once this plan materialises, the state could emerge as a major player in international trade and commerce. Logistics parks are to be set up in different parts of the state to take advantage of the opportunities in export and import. Azheekal Port is to be equipped to handle large volumes of cargo.
Value addition of agricultural products is to be encouraged and land will be leased out to industries in the sector, at the Mega Food Park, Palakkad. A Coconut Park with emphasis on value addition is to be established in North Kerala. 
A star-rating system is to be introduced which will grade industries as Gold, Silver and Bronze based on the quantum of investment made and employment generated, so that the government can ascertain benefits accrued and concessions to be made. 

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