COVID-19 and NITDA’s Bridging of the Learning Gap, By Mubarak Umar

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The disruptive outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, alias COVID-19, has altered a lot of things and affected our socio-economic lifestyles in more ways than one. Globally, areas of human endeavour, from healthcare to sporting activities have undergone tremendous changes within the last six months. One of the key essential human activities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak is education. Schools from kindergarten to universities across the world have had their gates shut out for formal conventional learning. The implication is that students have their schooling suddenly truncated and some other persons who desire going back to school for additional education in form of degrees or short courses have no place to go to.

In addition to the truncation of our day to day activities, such as the pursuit of education, coronavirus has also rendered hundreds of millions of people redundant. By this redundancy it means a lot of people are idling at home fighting boredom and trying to adapt to the new life of restricted movement and other protocols.

The experience of Nigerians is not any different from that of the wider world. The lockdown has affected Nigerians and disrupted our educational, business and social activities. The void left by the inertia soon led to manifestation of indolence and, in some perverts, social ills.

With every challenge, goes the saying, there is an opportunity. One opportunity that the coronavirus outbreak has manifestly shown to the world is that indeed the future is digital. Business transactions and government businesses are increasingly moving online. With the dangers of physical contacts technological solutions are evolving to simply human interactions and making the world move on in spite of the dread virus.

It is in the light of the above scenario that one more thoroughly appraise and appreciate the intervention of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) which is the government agency in charge of driving the development of information technology and regulating the Nigerian digital space.

True to its mandate of boosting digital literacy in the country, NITDA launched a free Virtual Learning Academy, to bridge the learning gap created by the outbreak of COVID-19. The platform is hosted in partnership with some of the biggest names in technology and modern education including Microsoft, Oracle, CISCO, Huawei, and Harvard University.

Some 47 courses are offered by the virtual academy under three broad categories which virtually cover all segments of the society. There are sections for students training, another cover for civil servants from government’s ministries and agencies and another segment of courses for the general public.

The astronomical rise in the enrol figures; over 21,740 with over 1800 active sessions at the last count, is a testimonial to the usefulness of the courses offered by the academy and the thirst to feel the void created by COVID-19 on the other hand.

It is with the mind to whet this thirst that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy gave the necessary guidance and support to NITDA to pilot the virtual learning programme. While launching the academy in a virtual event back in April, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami, hinted that with the recent outbreak of COVID-19, ICT skills and training have become a necessity for many services including governance that can be done online.

Pantami’s vision for his ministry to use the window provided by the virtual academy to create a pool of trained and skilled youths; encourage continuous learning at home, build, upgrade and integrate our capacity among Nigerians as well as bridge the gap between the academia and the industry, is steadily being achieved as can be seen from the enthusiasm shown so far.

The overall objective, as stated by the minister during the launching was to for the institution to add value to millions of skilled and unskilled Nigerians and prepare our citizens for the post-COVID-19 economy, in which technology is certain to play major role. One key ambition the ministry under Pantami set out to achieve is the need to bridge the gap between various disadvantaged groups in the society such as women, girls, the physically-challenged, and less-privileged in the society.

The idea of the NITDA virtual academy is one of the pillars of enhancing the digital economy sector to further reposition Nigeria, and place it on the path to effective ICT development. This is an agenda which is being amazingly consolidated by the management of NITDA led by Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi.

Thanks to NITDA, now one can surf from the comforts on one’s bed and register for the online courses offered by the NITDA Academy free of any cost. One can chose from an array of courses on offer and take lessons from professionals in a pace that is steady but great.

In tandem with the federal government’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020 – 2030), NITDA under Kashifu Abdullahi is widening its mandate around promotion of digital literacy and skills, leading to novel initiatives like the virtual academy. As training and skills are the basic tools to knowledge appreciation, the NITDA academy is a needed stimulus capable of harnessing inert talent in our youths and advance it for national development.

Coming with his cognate experience and knowledge as an internationally trained IT expert, Abdullahi obviously has big dreams for NITDA and the IT ecosystem in Nigeria. As an insider during the immediate past leadership of the Agency, he has fully understood and internalised where it itches in terms of the mandate to advance the IT industry as a potential huge revenue earner for the country. But for you to earn, as the maxim goes, you have to spend. For this reason, the investment of NITDA to deepen knowledge and skills among IT geeks and general interested public.

In effect, the plotting of the NITDA Virtual Academy is a strategy that kills many birds with a stone. First, and most important, is the dissemination of knowledge and increasing capacity of Nigerians in key IT related areas. Secondly, taking the course keeps participants busy, away from idle thoughts and irresponsible actions. The programme also helps to stimulate our IT geeks to up there game by learning new tricks and remain relevant in an increasingly competitive world.

While the meteoritic increase in figures of students for these courses is gladdening and reassuring, one must note that the figures are still not enough. More Nigerians need to come on board this initiative. NITDA needs to do more in publicising the existence of the institution and encouraging potential students to sign up. Nigeria has all it take to lead digital innovation, at least in Africa, and with the current leadership at NITDA and the Communication and Digital Economy ministry, this is an achievable dream.


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