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Using digital skills in classrooms to increase engagement and support remote learning

Northumbria University Digital Learning Lab and DIGISTEM have reached over 3,000 teachers and 12,000 students in an educational outreach initiative in Nigeria between 2018 and 2020. The project boosted the use of digital technology in the classroom and the digital skills of educators and children, fulfilling a strategic priority for the Nigerian government. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Northumbria University’s unique positioning due to this initiative meant they could deliver an overhaul of Ekiti State’s remote teaching operations, allowing remote teaching to be delivered daily (one of the only Nigerian states to achieve this), maintaining and enhancing student access, engagement, and assessment beyond the previous remote learning practices.

Digital skills are increasingly central to people’s working, educational and social lives and economies are shifting towards developing and embedding their information and service sectors. Whereas wealthy countries are able to invest in educating their citizens in digital skills, countries with less resources struggle to keep up. Yet for countries to avoid dependency on the skills of other nations, developing digital skills in education and across the population is essential. Moreover, as discussions on the world’s future increasingly take place online, it is vital that all countries have equal access to that medium to make sure their perspectives and voices are heard.  

Since 2018, Northumbria University partnered with DIGISTEM – an education outreach programme focusing on digital skills and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) - have been applying their research into digital skills education, in collaboration with students and teachers across Ekiti State in Nigeria. Ekiti is a state in Nigeria with a population of around 2,200,000. Prior to 2015 there was no formal Information and Communications Technology training delivered in Ekiti schools, which lacked digital resources and the staff had little knowledge of, or confidence in, digital skills even if they had the equipment. 

Northumbria University and DIGISTEM designed and delivered workshops to develop digital skills for students and worked with teachers to give them information and digital skills they could take back to the classroom for their own students. The training with teachers has so far reached 3,745 teachers and through them over 10,000 pupils between 2018 and 2020. The workshops working directly with students have taught digital skills directly to 2355 aged 7-16 across 50 partner schools. 

Researchers from Northumbria University Digital Learning Lab had been working with students and teachers for many years, uncovering the ways that digital skills could be used to inspire engagement with education through creative and innovative approaches. For example, they uncovered the aspects of computer games that made them so enjoyable and engaging to children and subsequently designed new educational games that replicated these features while teaching digital skills and STEM-skills, like multiplication.  

Parallel research also uncovered the obstacles teachers face when using digital resources in the classroom and helped them to overcome digital skills-gaps in education, and instil in them the confidence to apply these new skills in original, creative, and engaging ways. As a result of the partnership, Ekiti State have seen an increase in enrolment in STEM classes and made digital skills and STEM subjects more accessible to young women and girls, who previously were more likely to think of those subjects as masculine, or too difficult.  

As the Covid-19 crisis unfolded and Nigeria went into lockdown, the need for digital skills in education increased in urgency. Northumbria University and DIGISTEM supported a seismic shift in educational practice to make sure that education for children was able to continue despite the virus. The Ekiti State Ministry of Education worked directly with Dr Opeyemi Dele-Ajayi of Northumbria University to redesign the training and education plan used throughout the state.  

The initial delivery had been through TV and radio, which had been one-way delivery only and made assessment all but impossible. Instead, Dr Opeyemi used the growing base of digital skills and infrastructure throughout the state to use online tools like Google Form, Whatsapp, EndNote, and Telegram to enhance the interactivity and engagement of learning and teaching activities. Student assessment was restored, feedback from students and parents became part of a more inclusive virtual classroom environment, and education was delivered to students on a hugely expanded scale than through the previous method. Ekiti was one of the only the states in Nigeria to maintain daily education for children throughout the pandemic, an achievement made possible by Dr Dele-Ajayi and Northumbria University’s support and collaboration with Ekiti State, DIGISTEM, and the teachers and students. 

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