The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered a transformation of the online education system in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. With Nigerian schools under closure since March, 2020, parents, students and educators have started embracing the e-learning system as an alternative means through which students can acquire requisite knowledge to prepare for the future.
In a bid to support the e-learning in Nigeria, Vilsquare, a Tech4Good organisation and Meluibe Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation have introduced a high impact e-learning platform to support out of school students in Nigeria and four other West African Countries.
In this interview, the Chief Executive Officer of Vilsquare, Obialunanma Nnaobi speaks on how students can maximise this platform for improved learning.
Tell us about the new e-learning platform?
The e-learning platform, Voltschool is a low-cost, high impact learning platform to support out-of-school students in Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia. The learning platform which has been developed and designed by both Vilsquare and Meluibe Foundation curates audio-visual resource materials that support learning in a fun, interesting and engaging way.
The contents on the platform are closely aligned with the current approved subject curriculum of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) and West African Examination council (WAEC). Teachers are drawn from across Anglophone West Africa, to ensure that illustrations are contextualised to the learners’ realities.
VoltSchool supports asynchronous learning and is adapted for deaf and visually impaired students. It can be accessed on digital devices of all screen sizes including desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones.
Is access to the platform free?
VoltSchool Basic is free to students in the 5 West African countries which I highlighted at the beginning of this interview. However, we have a sustainability plan to introduce VoltSchool Premium which will comprise other interactive features and subjects for improved learning. For now, the premium package is in pilot only in Liberia.
What differentiates VoltSchool from the other e-learning platforms?
Our main focus at Vilsquare and Meluibe Foundation has been to empower learners and teachers with the right digital tools and resources to facilitate both learning and creating learning materials.
To achieve this, Vilsquare developed and integrated a digital microscope on the VoltSchool platform to help students connect theoretical learning with real-life lab exploratory experience.
The microscope designed for home use, helps VoltSchool learners explore theoretical concepts in their science related subjects which are being learned on the platform.
Another feature that distinguishes our online learning platform is the Social Interaction & Networking Chat Module. Shortly after starting our development cycle, we realised that the challenge to online learning was not just poor access to supporting infrastructures (internet penetration, digital gadgets, and reliable power) to learn but also the absence of social interaction in the online learning environment design.
Our research showed that one of the main reasons students are excited about going back to physical schools is partly to meet their friends and teachers. The communication and social interactions with their peers and teachers, is an experience they long to relive.
To address this, the Vilsquare team invested resources to develop cutting edge features on VoltSchool that enable learners to experience social interactions and networking with their classmates and teachers on the platform. This communication tool has increased learners’ interest by over 70%.
Is the platform an alternative to the traditional education system?
The platform isn’t an alternative to traditional education system. Although, during this period of COVID-19 school disruption, it’s an alternative. However, it is meant to complement the traditional education system. Imagine a model that already works with traditional education where parents use private teachers to support the learning process of their children.
In same light, VoltSchool is like the private teacher a parent will use. The added advantage is that the platform is online and open to any student across 5 countries to learn. We are working with a massive pool of volunteer teachers to constantly produce learning materials for 9 subjects (Basic Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Agricultural Science, Geography, Economics and English).
Since the beginning of the lockdown on the educational sector, many schools have adopted online learning as an alternative means to promote learning. However, it has not been an easy experience. This is because children are easily distracted and find it difficult to complete or partake in the lessons. How can e-learning be improved in Nigeria?
As I said earlier, we have tried to solve some of the challenges with online learning, like the omission of social interaction which decreases boredom and distraction. All stakeholders need to jointly work together to improve e-learning in Nigeria and across Africa.
Improving supporting infrastructure like reliable power supply, internet penetration and making digital gadgets more available will also go a long way towards this. For example, data scholarships from Telcos will go a long way in mitigating the challenges with zero to low internet bandwidth for learners.
VoltSchool is currently available in five West African Countries… Are there plans to spread to other African countries?
At this point, we are more interested in consolidating on the good work we have started. Expansions will come at the right time.
The platform appears to be science focused especially for the senior secondary school, any particular reasons for this?
Vilsquare’s implementation plan for VoltSchool spans across several phases. Our current phase is focused on STEM education. We will adapt this later to cover other levels of education including primary school and tertiary education. We currently have 9 subjects with 170+ learners who spend an average of 30 minutes a day to learn.
What do students need to access this platform?
Students need a digital device and access to the internet. We have engineered the platform to run on a light-weight 2G internet. This will enable any student with a digital device (a low-cost smartphone or tablet or desktop/personal computer) and a minimum of 2G internet to learn on the platform.
In addition, for visually impaired students, they will require a preinstalled text to speech application on their digital device. To access this site on the internet all students need to do is to visit voltschool. Thank you!