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NOUN's Fight Against Technology

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Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata

The positive impact that technology has brought to our world and in all aspects of our lives cannot be overemphasised. It is a known fact that technology has come, to forever, ease up the way we communicate, produce goods in factories, travel, healthcare delivery, education, etc.

It is, therefore, disheartening to note that, in this age when technology is reigning supreme in all spheres of our lives, people in some organisations are still fighting against instituting technology to ease up the way they run their day to day affairs.

I have always made recommendations on how of technology can improve our daily lives and the economy generally, but most of these recommendations seems not to gel with the authorities concerned. I have, however, seen a few of those recommendations made in this column implemented, whether coincidentally or not.

I remember writing on the then dangerous and retrogressive plans by JAMB to remove the CBT from the examination plans of the Board for reasons best known to those who run the Board. Thankfully, that plan seems to have been jettisoned, even though, we are still making a mess of the whole process as evidenced in the last examinations that JAMB conducted. A lot still has to be done to perfect the process.

One place where technology is being fought and brought to attention, is the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). I have looked into this issue and based on my findings, the big question is; why would a university, in this day and time, fight technology? I just cannot understand why.

This is because, I am currently running a course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT), which will eventually qualify me to practice as a Startup coach and everything is being done online. This is a similar scenario that should happen in relation to students at NOUN. I just completed the first step of the course, remotely online.

The question is; why would an institution like NOUN be reversing the gains of technology? Is the management's decision based on the assumption that Nigerian students are not tech savvy enough?

The disturbing decision by the management of the National Open University of Nigeria to abruptly shut down its erstwhile comprehensive iLearn platform and replace it with multiple weaker platforms, for me, is a fight against technology. This singular action has rendered thousands of students devastated, distressed and dejected.

Besides the negative implications which the decision had brought forth, the present administration of NOUN does not see the future in technology, one of the greatest innovations that has transformed learning across the world.

As a matter of fact, the goal of Open and Distance Learning, which NOUN stands for, is to supplement admission to our regular tertiary institutions.

Many Nigerians who may have sought for admission into tertiary institutions without success have found NOUN as a reliable alternative to bagging their degrees in various disciplines. The entire process of enrolment, lecture, submission of assignments, class work, examination and other forms of support were simplified as a result of a technology-enabled platform, (iLearn). These are some of the reasons the majority of NOUN alumni were able to acquire their degrees while still working.

They enjoyed some high level of flexibility, which NOUN had provided for over the years, through robust ICT deployment.

Today, the situation is different. You cannot see that flexibility anymore because of the closure of a number of ICT menus that handled a number of activities seamlessly on the iLearn.

It is now a herculean task to get in touch with lecturers for assistance, submit classwork, pay tuition fees, send applications, carry out online clearance etc. which NOUN was known for. Infact the main portal www.nou.edu.ng has been under maintenance for months now and students are directed to multiple websites such as www.nouonline.net, www.nounonline.com and www.nouedu.net.

As someone who has been in the game for almost a decade, I can boldly conclude that using multiple platforms that can be easily combined into one is a huge waste of time and resources as well as a drain on everyone's productivity.

There is an urgent need for the current administration of NOUN to have a rethink because, there is no justification whatsoever, to run an Open and Distant Learning institution with a weak technological base.

Do not take my word for it. Find a current student of NOUN and ask about the situation before when the iLearn was on and after with the new sets of platforms. I honestly cannot make any sense out of the decision and I repeat, this is a fight against the adoption of technology.

There are many adverse implications associated with this crisis, of which I will highlight only a few of them.

First, the knowledge gap. Let us look at the wealth of knowledge provided by technology, through the iLearn platform, which I seriously believe NOUN students had benefited from.

It is a common trend in Nigerian universities today to find students jettison buying textbooks, rather preferring to spend their money on other stuff.

With the iLearn platform, which NOUN, hitherto, had provided, students did have access to smartbooks and insightful materials to help them online.

Secondly, payment of tuition fees, receiving lectures, interactions between lecturers and students, clearance, etc., were done seamlessly online. I am sure that the students, staff and management of NOUN are now bearing the brunt as this has now been yanked off and replaced with multiple platforms.

According to a reliable source, NOUN had less than 60, 000 students at inception. With the creation of iLearn, enrolment shot up to over 150,000 students in two years, due to the publicity and ease of getting information about NOUN through iLearn.

Rather than frustrate students, NOUN management should work hard to increase the numbers to say one million students, using the right technology and yes, it is possible.

Apparently, with the yanking off of iLearn, NOUN will exponentially record a decrease in the number of applications, and this will mean a significant decline in the institutions' revenue. The reason is simple. The confidence level and flexibility that attracted many students are no longer available.

Importantly, we need to start appreciating the roles and significance of technology. The management of NOUN should be exploring ways of improving the existing technology and block loopholes instead of taking decisions that ultimately hurt students.

Technology has simplified the entire process. Whatever reasons there were to impede this, the intention cannot be right, therefore, the status quo should be reverted to.

Even in the traditional tertiary institutions today, the management should have passion for technology rather than the rusty, manual ways of doing things. This is more so, for an Open and Distant Learning institution like NOUN.

Surprisingly, this issue has been on for sometime now and there seems to be no positive way of resolving it. Matters of such magnitude should be dealt with swiftly instead of waiting for a total collapse of the system.

I, hereby, request all well meaning Nigerians, to prevail on the NOUN management to revert to the status quo, powered by technology. Time is of essence because, NOUN students are already frustrated by the fight against the adoption of technology in the institution.

CFA is the Founder, www.CFAtech.ng & Co-producer/Presenter,Tech Trends on Channels Television

 

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