African varsities charged to deepen digital education in society



By Rosemary Ogbonnaya

African universities have been challenged to embrace, deepen digital education and make it acceptable to their societies in order to achieve its desired impact.

The Head of International Affairs of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL, Switzerland, Dr Olivier Kuttel, gave the charge recently in Abuja while delivering a keynote address at the 2022 African Centres of Excellence, ACE, Regional Conference with the theme: “Sustainable Integration of Digital Education in the Post Covid-19 era.”

Kuttel said the biggest impact on digital transformation was Covid-19, adding that online teaching was key for his polytechnic to continue its academic programmes during the pandemic.

He therefore called on universities to go digital, taking into cognisance the society they are serving, adding that if the society does not accept digitisation of teaching, it’s not going to work.

According to him, digital technology has a huge impact on education, research, innovation and the society, stating that with digital technology, they teach, do research, share result and the impact is felt by their society.

Earlier, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, said the NUC has developed the blueprint for revitalising education in Nigeria, but after the coming of corona virus, the commission realised it had to rethink its approach to the delivery of instruction by adopting sustainable Integration of digital education.

Rasheed noted that one of the blueprints was to carry out a comprehensive review of the curriculum, and after 4 years with over 1200 academics involved, the NUC has successfully re-engineered the curriculum of universities.

He disclosed that a memo has been developed by the commission and sent to the Federal Executive Council, FEC, for approval, adding that the review includes the unbundling of some courses.

According to him, mass communication has been unbundled into eight new degree programmes that will come on board, adding that agriculture has also been unbundled into several degree programmes.

He said another committee has been set up to develop curriculum on artificial intelligence, stressing that all these innovations taking place is as a result of interactions between the World Bank and the National Universities Commission.

He said for the first time in 20 years, Nigeria has received foreign students from several countries, and students from over 17 countries subscribe to one university alone, courtesy of the ACE programme.

Rasheed noted that the commission has developed 11 strategic goals for the university system and one of which is to deepen ICT in the instructions.

Also speaking, a representative of Africa Digital Education Network, ADEN, Prof Rasheed Sanni, said digital sustainablility could not have come at a better time than now that the the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted education across the world.

Rasheed stressed that the current university system requires digital education and online teaching to deliver quality education to students at all times.

He commended the World Bank and other partners for the support universities in the country are getting.

In his remarks, the Secretary General, Association of African Universities, AAU, Prof Olusola Oyewole, urged African universities to take steps towards achieving digital sustainablility to close the educational gaps in the system.

Oyewole noted that as universities pursue sustainability of digital technology, an opportunity is created for the growth of a digital economy where digital skills could be learned to put food on the table for citizens.

He stressed that digital education is one of the areas that is particularly key to opportunity for all.

Speaking on the need to ensure continuous learning in universities despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, Prof Umar Dambata, said education is the most powerful weapon to change a society and digital technology offers the opportunity for that change to take place.

Represented by the Head of Research at NCC, Mr Kelechi Nwankwo, Dambata said as a commission, NCC’s vision from 2021 – 2025 captures the need to encourage the procurement of new technologies, and carry out cutting-edge research for sustainable economic growth and development, adding that these strategic goals is why NCC is collaborating with the academia.

The conference was organised with aim of deepening education stakeholders’ understanding and participation in the digital education landscape.