With the impact of COVID-19 on education sector, the Federal Government has said that it is considering pursuing a new National Policy on zero rating on educational websites which would allow the consumption of contents without charges to normal data plan.
The Policy, according to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, FNCS, FBCS, FIIM while delivering his key note address at a Webinar organised by Lead Inspire Network with the theme: “Enhancing Virtual Learning and the Challenges of Internet Penetration in Nigeria”, would contain appropriate incentives for mobile network operators and internet service providers.
Speaking through National Information Technology Development Agency’s Director of Information Technology Infrastructure Solutions, Dr Usman Gambo Abdullahi, the minister agreed that sufficient access to the internet is essential for the development of an information society adding that the government is working to increase the broadband penetration from its current level.
“Currently, broadband penetration stands at 40.18 percent and the plan is to make it 70 percent by 2025. This is the target we set for ourselves in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan. This will be of great benefits to the education sector. We would focus more on enabling appropriate contents, infrastructure, capabilities for learning and teaching”, he said.
While assuring that the ministry would deepen broadband penetration through creation of access to public internet service, the minister acknowledged that agencies under his supervision such as NITDA, NCC/USPF, in line with their mandates, have made giant strides in this regard.
He stated that “we have been able to establish Digital Centres, Capacity Training Centres, e-Accessibility Centres, School Knowledge Centres, e-Libraries and ICT Hubs and Innovation Parks across the country. In just one year, we have deployed over 200 of these across the country. These centres mostly situated in rural areas are equipped with at least 25 computers, backup power supply and free internet service. In addition to providing free internet services, the centres also serve as innovation hubs and learning centres for the local community.”
The minister said that NITDA has issued Framework and Guidelines for Public Internet Access to regulate most of the approaches government is considering to deepen internet penetration and bridge the digital divide.
The Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission who was represented by a Director in the Commission, Dr Henry Nkemadu stated that the Pandemic has shifted education to a new level that requires new paradigm.
While listing the challenges of low level of penetration to include the high cost of Right of Way, multiple taxation, operating expenses and economic downturn, he said the minister is working assiduously to reduce some of this bottlenecks.
One of the organisers of the webinar and co-founder of Lead Inspire Network Sope Afolayan said the event was put together to further the discussion on how to provide equal access to children of the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ and redirect the thinking of policy makers on the need to see acquisition of education beyond four walls of the classroom.
In another development, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, said digital economy, will in the nearest future, be contributing more than 45% for the nation’s GDP, as the contribution of the ICT sector alone is now 17%.
Pantami, made this known while speaking at the virtual Nigeria Internet Governance Forum 2020 (vNIGF) with the theme: “Achieving Inclusive Digital Economic Development in the Post-COVID 19 Era”.
He said that as at July 2020, the level of broadband penetration is 42.0% and will reach at least 50% by the end of the year.
“We are making use of the Covid-19 era to achieve digital economy development”, said the Communications Minister.
In his goodwill message, the Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency, (NITDA) Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, represented by the Director, e-Government Development and Regulation, Dr. Vincent Olatunji, described the event as apt.
He added that, “As this is a new era, it is important for government to ensure that the infrastructure it needs to keep governance up and running when all government organisations fully come on board to use the internet, is already in place.”
Abdullahi, maintained that the campaign to move government businesses online which is eGovernance has now become a reality, adding that there was no other choice than for government to deliver its services online which could only be achieved with corporate internet governance.
The NITDA boss, revealed that the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation is set to formally approve and recommend virtual meetings, programmes and workshops for all government officials in the country in order to facilitate digital economy.
“A lot of people see e-governance as a bigger calamity but I see it as a bigger advantage for the sector,” the DG said.
Mal. Abdullahi, said with the pandemic, working remotely has become the norm even globally, adding that: “Whether you are a developed or developing nation, in the public or private sector, you don’t have any choice but to use the internet to deliver on your services.”