E-learning the last resort to education continuity in crisis


If universities fail to successfully transition to e-learning, they are at risk of permanent closure. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Governments in more than 100 countries across the globe have disrupted education by closing primary, secondary, and tertiary schools to curb the spread of the novel Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) through non-medical interventions and preventive measures such as social-distancing and self-quarantine.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the closures have impacted close to 90 percent of the world’s student population.

By March 12, over 370 million children and youth were not attending school due to the indefinite closures in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19.

In Kenya, the government issued a directive for all schools to be closed, a move that brought teaching to an abrupt end, with students being released to go back home for an indefinite period. Although temporary, the closures have highlighted numerous issues facing access to education, not only in Kenya but across the world.

Efforts to ensure learning continuity have forced institutions to explore other methods of teaching and learning since in-person lessons have been halted.

According to Unesco, schools should adopt the use of distance learning and open learning educational applications and platforms for remote teaching. To this end, many institutions, particularly universities, have moved their lessons online to facilitate distance learning.

While the online option seems viable, it is not the case for all learners. For one, lack of access to technology or fast, reliable internet is a hindrance for some students. There is also the case of students with disabilities who have challenges with access to suitable devices adapted for the online learning system.

Following the government directive to close schools, colleges and universities, USIU-Africa made the decision to continue its core business of teaching and learning according to the University business continuity plan.

To ensure students’ preparedness, the department of Institutional Research at the university conducted a student’s survey to determine the level of students’ access to technology in readiness for online teaching and learning.

The challenges cited included inconsistent, slow, or no internet access, high cost of internet, physical disabilities and medical reasons, unreliable power supply, lack of devices that support distance learning, difficulty with the whole e-learning process, and fee issues limiting the accessibility of some resources.

In addition to infrastructure and connectivity, institutions also need to establish whether the faculty have the requisite skills, round-the-clock technical and pedagogical support via a robust ticketing system as well as the necessary resources that will make e-learning effective.

There is no knowing when the Covid-19 pandemic will be contained, but one thing is for sure, if universities fail to successfully transition to e-learning, they are at risk of permanent closure. It is therefore up to us to determine the fate of education in the country going forward.

Prof Rono is Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Student Affairs USIU-Africa and Dr Okanda, ICT Director and Associate Professor of Computing, USIU-Africa.