‘Virtual learning environment, future of knowledge acquisition’

Michaels1When the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) introduced the wholly Computer-Based Test in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME), stakeholders questioned the fate of students in public and some private schools, who have limited or no exposure to Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Director, Dawn Michaels School (DMS), Mrs. Uche Ndulue, in this interview with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, says the creation of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) remains a necessity in a 21st century educational institution. She is urging governments and school owners to take bold steps towards realising this. She is also calling for increased budgetary provision to education and licensing of teachers so that errant ones among them can stripped of their licences and sent packing. She also spoke on the challenges of running a modern private school. 

At a time, where Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is seen to form the spine that runs through nearly all of human endeavours, vital sectors of the Nigerian society appear to still be uncertain whether to get on board the train or not.

While key stakeholders including the government and some school owners wallow in the prevalent uncertainty, School Director, Dawn Michaels School, Okota, Lagos, Mrs. Uche Ndulue, says the creation of Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) remains a sin qua non in a modern day school in view of the benefits to the students.

A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a system for delivering learning materials to students via the web. These systems include assessment, student tracking, collaboration and communication tools.

Put differently, it is a web-based platform for the digital aspects of courses of study, usually within educational institutions, which allow participants to be organised into cohorts, groups and roles; present resources, activities and interactions within a course structure; provide for the different stages of assessment; report on participation; and have some level of integration with other institutional systems.

Ndulue, after a critical appraisal of the scenario insists that children that are not exposed to the nitty-gritty of VLE were not fully kitted to square up against their peers from other climes in the business of knowledge acquisition.

“At DMS, we are preparing these children to withstand stiff competition from their peers from around the world. Initially, carrying parents along in this direction came with its own set of challenges because when we told them that these kids would write international examinations, some of them were indifferent.

But we had to make let them know that their children were actually competing with other kids from around the world, and so should be exposed to everything that is done internationally. “Now those parents are very excited, happy and have wholly embraced our VLE.

They also understand that because of the VLE, their children and wards would fail if they fail to their homework, which is on the Internet.

So, parents are beginning to buy into this, and understanding the impact technology has on contemporary education. VLE, the future of education According to Ndulue, what some universities do is to throw their course contents on the students and ask them to go ahead and do the research work because everything about contemporary knowledge acquisition revolves around Information Communication Technology (ICT). “There is also the rise in the number of people acquiring online degrees.

So, that is the more reason that we are laying great emphasis on VLE at this early stage. With the realisation that the future is today and no longer tomorrow, it is very important for us to entrench VLE in the country.

Here at DMS, sometimes in our lectures, we link up with other schools for some science projects and the children are benefitting immensely from this. “Another very important reason for schools to embrace VLE is the recent introduction of Computer-Based Test (CBT) by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

If a student is not conversant with VLE, he/she would not only be confused during UTME, but lost,” the school director stated. On how disadvantaged students in public schools who are denied basic learning facilities and amenities are, she said, “Honestly, I really feel for them because there are so many things that pupils/students of public schools are denied.

For a start, I do not know of any public school around here that has a functional library, science laboratory, language and music or computer laboratories.

Most students in these public schools have never seen or do not know what a smart board looks like, yet they are expected to compete with their peers from across the world.

I will therefore plead with government at all levels to provide the basic things that would ensure that these kids are not left behind by their peers from other parts of the world because I know there are very many bright kids there that are in these public schools that can do wonderfully well if adequately taught and monitored.

In most public schools, teachers are not only less committed and unenthusiastic about their work, but they are also not adequately supervised.

Here, we don’t only supervise our teachers, we also set targets for them and they are meeting the targets,” said informed. She recalled that in the course of pursuing her postgraduate diploma in education at the University of Lagos, she had to carry out her teaching practice “in one public school in the Akoka area of Lagos, where pupils sat on bare floor to learn.

An atmosphere like this is enough distraction to any child that is willing to learn because it is very inconveniencing.” Ndulue runs a purpose-built school, which comprises a daycare, preschool and primary school, with all the vital appurtenances and amenities.

The school, which started three years ago with over 360 students, operates the United States model of elementary school. The secondary arm of the school is planned for 2017.

We are situated here (Okota, Lagos) because we wanted to give top-notch educational services to young families who desire to give such to their kids without having to go to far to choice neighborhoods to get such services,” she explained her choice of location.

Running a purpose-built school like this requires, among other things, adequate supply of electricity, both in wattage and frequency so that appropriate teaching aids and ancillary machineries can function at maximum efficiency.

And in a cosmopolitan city like Lagos, it also involves the maintenance of a battery of school buses that would come in handy in the pick-up and drop-off of pupils. Expectedly all these add to the overhead cost of running the school.

And in some cases, these expenses contribute to burrowing a crater in the school owner’s pocket. Imagine this scenario. “This is our third year and we are still investing. What we have on ground not withstanding, we intend to have smart boards in all of our classes.

At the moment, a few classes are still without smart boards. However, staff salaries take like 40 per cent of the entire sum generated and the remaining amount goes into different aspects of running the school.

After everything, what we are left with is just about two per cent of the total income. She explained further, “One of the biggest money guzzler for us here is electricity because we are not connected to the public power supply.

We used to be in the past, but whenever there was supply, the voltage would be terribly low and incapable of powering some of our machineries including computer printers.

So since we could not even print documents without putting on the generating plant, we opted out. Before opting out, however, we were billed N45, 000 per floor and had to buy three metres, one for each of the floors.

Even when I complained to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) that I was paying N135, 000 monthly but without having supply, they said that the school was located in a residential neighbourhood that was fully supplied power at night when the school would be closed.

With this scenario, there was no reason for the school to remain on the national grid, paying so much and getting nothing. Apart from electricity, we are also not feeding from the public water supply,” Ndulue bemoaned.

She continued. “In the area of transportation, we also spend a lot of money because of the bad roads, which are everywhere. In our fleet of school buses, we started with Toyota products, but they just keep on breaking down.

So we moved on to buying Ford products, but there are no noticeable changes because we would spend as much as N1.6m on maintaining the vehicles monthly during the rainy season.

Incentives to private educators from government In view of the picture painted above, that is the stark absence of utilities and functional amenities, Ndulue is of the view that enough was not being done by government to support private persons that are helping to educate young Nigerians.

Instead of giving support, all we get is people coming here in the name of supervisors from the Education Ministry telling us that this is not the way this or that should be, even when all we are doing is adding value to learning.

The other day, we submitted our lesson plans to the ministry on line, something that is the in-thing now in the developed world and they rejected it insisting that it has to be done in hard copy.

The other day, inspectors asked us to remove our green grass from the playground and replace it with sand. When I asked why, the response was that they preferred sand because sand is safer. But there are so many public schools that have neither sand nor grass for the kids to play on.

So, I think education supervisors need to be retrained in order for them to keep pace with contemporary realities if the aim of everyone is to make these kids capable of competing with their peers the world over. “We have the passion and are ready to give these children the best, so when they frown at us for adding value to learning, and restrict us from doing things that enhance learning when we should be competing with kids from the developed world, then there are issues.

We should be frowned at us if we teach these kids Western lifestyle to the detriment of our values and lifestyle.

Shoring up fortunes of the sector The role of teachers in bolstering the educational fortunes of any society cannot be over-emphasised. This perhaps explains why Ndulue wants teachers well remunerated and licensed.

She also wants the licenses of those found wanting promptly revoked so that others can learn from such experiences. “I would advise that our teachers be adequately trained, re-trained and licensed so that any of them that fails to live up to expectations is stripped of his/her license and barred from practicing.

If teachers are conscious of the fact that their licenses would be revoked, all those that fail to teach for the specified number of hours per month or term would definitely sit up.

The budgetary provision to education should be increased because education in the country is in dire strait. The conditions, which our young people in public schools study under is simply despicable.

Importantly, governments at all levels should know that discountenancing the role of ICT at every level of education is a great disincentive to our up and coming generation. “Textbooks should also be made abundantly available in our public schools because most parents get scared when handed the list of books to buy for their children and wards, be they in public or private schools.

Laboratories in our public schools should be equipped through direct labour because contracting this out, as has always been the case over the years, has remained our bane.” She added, “Efforts should also be made to ensure free education in public schools to, at least, senior secondary school level.

This as well as scholarship programmes would ensure that the very bright students in public schools do not fall by the way side owning to lack of funds.

Reward for excellence/staff motivation Apart from celebrating teachers that meet their targets in different ways including buying them gifts, appreciating and recognising them, Ndulue said the school also sends teachers abroad to polish their skills.

“We use Hilderstone College and Middlesex College of Education in London, United Kingdom. This month, we are sending four teachers to United Kingdom where they would learn hands-on methods of teaching English language.

Incentives like these and good remuneration have created an atmosphere where teachers that were already committed to their jobs are going the extra mile to improve on their performances.

Appropriate teaching aids, discipline as key to academic success Part of the reasons she ventured into education, Ndulue said, is because, “During our time in school, we were taught so many things that we could not comprehend how they work. And this was as a result of the abstract nature of some of the things we were taught.

To date, some schools still teach that way. But at Dawn Michael’s School, we don’t do that because we invest a lot in teaching aids. Any topic that we are teaching the students, we deploy appropriate teaching aids to make them understand what they are being taught. This is our way of improving what was on ground before we came in.

Other than deploying appropriate teaching aides to boost understanding of subjects taught, Ndulue cherishes the fact that she belongs to the “Old School,” which still believes that children must be brought up very disciplined, and taught to pay due courtesies to their elders. “We lay a lot of emphasis on discipline here because nothing destroys a child rapidly like indiscipline whereas discipline is proven to encourage academic excellence.

Let me also caution parents against believing that everything they see on television is okay for their kids to practice at home. Here, we try to let our pupils internalise our African values and let their parents come to terms with the importance of doing that.

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