E-LEARNING CHALLENGES

Why public university students feel left out of virtual learning

Government has to ensure varsities put in place reasonable online programs for all students.

In Summary

• Institutions of higher learning had been given a leeway to reopen on cases by case basis beginning September.

• Education CS George Magoha on Thursday announced that TTCs, universities and TVET institutions have not put in place necessary measures to guarantee safety of staff and learners once they reopen.

Students at the University of Nairobi.
Students at the University of Nairobi.
Image: UON

Online learning has gained global popularity since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Kenya, after the government ordered  closure of all learning institutions in the country back in March most private universities were quick to adopt e-learning for students by mid April.

Institutions such as Strathmore University, Mount Kenya University, United States International University–Africa and KCA university were among the first to implement digital learning.  

 
 

Majority of the public universities on the other hand are lagging behind in terms of adapting to the new normal.

With more than 10 public universities and over 20 private universities, it is alarming that so far only a few institutions such as University of Nairobi (UoN), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and Dedan Kimathi University of Technology have effected learning through digital platforms.

This is even more glaring considering students will be out of class for another five months before resumption of the normal sessions.

Last week, UoN said it had recorded 14 cases of Covid-19 among them 10 members of staff and four of their dependants.

Vice Chancellor Stephen Kiama said three active members of staff and one retired staffer had also lost their lives from the disease.

University of Nairobi staff during the 8th installation of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Stephen Kiama on June 5, 2020,
University of Nairobi staff during the 8th installation of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Stephen Kiama on June 5, 2020,
Image: UoN

Kiama urged parents ,guardians and sponsors to support the students with smartphones, iPads, or computers to enable them participate in our online classes in the safety of their homes .

Institutions of higher learning had been given a leeway to reopen on cases by case basis beginning September.

However, Education CS George Magoha on Thursday announced that "Teachers Training Colleges, universities and TVET institutions have not put in place enough necessary measures to guarantee safety of staff and learners once they reopen.

Therefore all universities are set to recommence in January 2021.

Students from universities with stalled learning now worry about delays to their studies as the pandemic brings its own uncertainties.

 

Sharon Otieno a third year School of Arts student at Moi University told the Star she fears the pandemic has only further delayed her studies which were already interfered with by lecturers' strikes.

"I know the government means well closing all learning institutions, but Moi University should find ways to start online classes for all students," she said.

More universities need to review their statutes and academic procedure manuals to align with the new normal. 

Unlike Moi University, students and lecturers from UoN were enrolled on a one week training on how to use the online platform before classes commenced on May 18.

A university student before the start of online classes from home.
A university student before the start of online classes from home.
Image: SHARON MOAMBO

The program was laid out, and before long students embarked on their usual class timetable as it was prior to the pandemic, only virtually.

The university's senate resolution later made e-learning mandatory for continuing students which prompted boycotts from students over what they termed as discrimination.

According to Olaibon Roy Tobias a third year student at the UoN School of Law, those who were unable to attend classes were advised to defer the semester.

He said a lot of his classmates have been forced to defer due to lack of basic infrastructure.

"Our class had a total of 230 students but only 157 have managed to attend the online program," he said.

"When the senate passed that resolution on online learning they also adopted a policy 'Come with your own device' policy this meant that students were to make sure they get access to a smartphone, a laptop or a desktop. On top of it they were were to ensure they have a constant power supply."

However, Tobias acknowledged that the institution entered into the ‘Soma na Telkom’ bundles partnership with Telkom Kenya to ensure students and dons get cheaper data bundles specifically for e-learning.

It is a monthly bundle package which is automatically renewed upon expiry.

"However not every place in Kenya has good coverage of Telkom network. I'm a victim of the same. Telkom network has not been very effective," Tobias said.

A lecturer recently recommended to the administration for the adoption of online classes on a more equitable grounds to ensure no student is left behind.

School fees has not been waived despite the economic struggle worsened by the pandemic.
Roy Tobias, Third year student at the UoN School of Law

Some UoN students have filed a petition in court challenging the institution's move to commence the online classes without consideration of the peculiar conditions of some students in remote areas.

The Kenya Universities Students’Organization (KUSO) president Antony Manyara told the Star that online learning can be more effective, provided the government, through the ministry of education can procure cheaper laptops for students.

"As a graduate of various online courses , I think e-learning is very effective. However, the ministry failed to consult students while coming up with modules for the same," he said.

Manyara said there is likelihood the pandemic will still be ravaging the country in January 2021 hence urged the government to ensure universities have put in place a reasonable online program for all students. 

Magoha on Thursday said the Ministry is looking into ways of supporting continued on-line learning for university students by supporting Helb to facilitate them for the acquisition of on-line learning facilities and resources.

According to an article published by University World News, parents and guardians also have a part to play if innovation in learning is to hold a place in public universities.

Going forward an internet-connected smartphone and laptop will be as critical to learning as pen and paper were before the coronavirus struck.