By Eche Munonye
Since 1967 that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have been celebrating International Literacy Day to promote the importance of literacy and education, every September 8 had witnessed book gifting, book reading and related activities are undertaken by the UN body and its coalition of partners.
But this year is a departure as such enshrined activities are suspended and replaced with virtual meetings, a gesture that reflects the sign of the precarious situation of the world is as it is grappling with the devastating coronavirus pandemic.
Education has been in a state of limbo since schools––primary, secondary and tertiary institutions––and research institutes across the world were abruptly shut down as countries enforced lockdown to contain the ravages of the novel Covid-19. The disruption, a setback for education globally, inevitably fostered a lull in the effort to enhance literacy. And in the meantime, the world shifted to an alternative learning method which, by and large, is narrowed down to digital learning.
These challenges provided the backdrop for the theme of this year’s International Literacy Day: “Literacy Teaching and Learning in the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond,” which threw open discourse on how innovative and effective education and teaching methodologies are to be adopted or adapted in youth and adult literacy programmes during the period of the pandemic and beyond. In line with this thematic direction, countries are reviewing how they have fared in the new normal, and evaluation of various initiatives by individuals, corporate bodies and governments are being undertaken to ascertain how they align with the reality and what gaps needed to be filled.
For Nigeria, the stake is higher. Burdened with a high rate of illiteracy, inadequate digital infrastructure and an economy in dire straits, Nigeria has on its hand a challenging learning situation in the of the new order. The possibility of the country being further left behind in the race to literacy was writ large, an uncomfortable fact that raised several legitimate concerns bordering on how to ensure that students have access to learning resources, how they can be fully engaged to make them competitive internationally with their peers and how such engagement can help close the gap created by the closure of all educational institutions nationwide. While a cocktail of initiatives surfaced in the past few months to address these concerns and challenges, there was none as suitable, comprehensive and far-reaching as the e-learning initiatives of the First Bank of Nigeria Limited.
The initiative which could as well be nicknamed “Operation Moving One Million Nigerian Students To e-Learning” is a tripartite effort between the bank, Lagos State government and Roducate, an innovative technology firm that is providing educational solutions that enable primary, secondary and university students to continue to study the government-accredited curriculum of various subjects and disciplines in the convenience of their home.
Out of the mushroom of e-learning platforms in the aftermath of the lockdown, the First Bank initiative came with a big difference: the Roducate e-learning platform is available for free at www.firstbanknigeria.com/e-learning.
Secondly, the content is boosted with value-added features such as tutorial videos, assignments, mock exam, note-taking, podcast and online games that further promote interactive learning and deepen digital skills of the learner.
Thirdly, the initiative is further reinforced with the provision of free 20, 000 units of e-learning devices for pupils, which FirstBank presented to the Lagos State government on June 11. This helped to break the barriers of data cost and device affordability as the low-end smartphones are preloaded with offline content for children who may not have access to devices or data. By all means, this initiative has been an outstanding effort and a boon to digital learning in the country.
The inevitability of the adoption of e-learning technology goes hand-in-hand with the imperative of imparting skills in emerging digital technologies. In this regard, FirstBank went an extra mile with the rollout of complementary initiatives that justifiably empowered youths with the required capability.
The Bank’s partnership with IBM, for instance, brought the benefit of the global tech company’s Digital-Nation Africa programme to youths in tertiary institutions. The online youth-focused learning programme enables innovation and skills development on emerging technologies in key areas such as Artificial Intelligence, coding, cloud, internet of things, blockchain, Data Science and analytics, and cybersecurity.
A second partnership with Curious Learning, a non-profit organisation renown for providing learning apps for kids, afforded pupils in the age range of three to eight years old the use of fun, self-guided learning apps to help them with their cognitive skills at a fundamental level.
The significance of the FirstBank e-learning initiatives cannot be overemphasized. As schools are gearing up to resume soon, there are over 10,000 sign-ups on the Roducate e-learning platform. It is expected that the students have had a grasp of the nitty-gritty of e-learning which, going forward, is expected to be integrated into the country’s educational system.
For FirstBank, a member of UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition, the initiatives are an attestation to its longstanding tradition of supporting education in various ways, a commitment succinctly echoed by its Chief Executive Officer, Dr Adesola Adeduntan: “The e-learning initiative aligns with our Corporate Responsibility and sustainability initiatives and falls under one of our key strategic pillars, thus Education through Support to our Communities.” Indeed, the Bank has a portfolio of projects in support of education, including infrastructure projects in 10 universities and three secondary schools, support for professorial chairs in 10 universities and teaching of financial literacy and entrepreneurial and career counselling to over 80,000 students in over 80 secondary schools in the country via its FutureFirst programme.
The e-learning initiatives further reinforced FirstBank’s status as an important stakeholder, leader and innovator in the country’s education space, a fact amplified by the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who, having noted that the “intervention by FirstBank could not have come at a better time,” went on to declared his delight that the state government “have found a real development partner in FirstBank.”