Columnists

Varsities should adopt online education

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E-learning. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • A combination of man and machine is good for University education in Kenya as it will propel it to the next level.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it fundamental changes in the manner that humankind interacts and transacts business. In Kenya, these changes have challenged traditional methodology of activities that required congregation of groups and meeting face- to- face. From churches, mosques to courts, learning institutions and even parliaments. In the case of university education, despite the recognition of the importance of technology, majority of universities have traditionally conducted their business using face to face approaches. The announcement by government in mid-March 2020 fundamentally altered that landscape.

This past week, reading newspaper coverage on the nightmare that online teaching had become, demonstrated two fundamental issues. First, unlike in the past, there is now uptake of online teaching in Kenya’s institutions of higher learning. Secondly, that there are challenges on how to conduct examinations.

As one who has been engaged in imagining and pioneering such online examinations at a public university, the coverage coming on the day we were scheduled to commence those examinations were a reflection point.

Examinations hold a prime place in any educational system. They are the path through which those who have received instructions in a particular subject are assessed and determined to be competent or not. Therefore, the way they are conducted should concern every learning institution. All higher learning institutions, consequently, have detailed protocols on managing them. However, Covid-19 challenged all the protocols.

Finding solutions though must be the task of every individual charged with some level of responsibility. For us at it Initially looked a daunting task, what with connectivity challenges, typing speeds, limited resources in public universities and the concerns of integrity over online examinations.

The mark of success though is in focusing on overcoming all adversity and trying. Even failure serves as a lesson for the future. To have been part of moving from the challenges facing public universities as captured in the media coverage above to being able to ensure that students in a public university were able to have credible examinations online, several lessons emerged that should be useful for players in the sector.

First, Kenya can and should compete with the best across the globe in matters education. Sitting in panels discussing challenges of online or remote learning across the continent, I learnt alot. During those debates it emerged that what we were facing as actors in the higher education space was similar to other colleagues across Africa.

The big takeaway, therefore, became, if we are amongst the leaders in the continent how do we rest easy that there are challenges. Leaders provide solutions. There was, consequently, no choice but to start the dreaming process.

The global health pandemic that the world faced provided the opportunity for that dreaming process. Benchmarking with other universities, it emerged that across the world the crisis to the sector was similar. Many times, it is alleged that those in the developed world are at a vantage point and thus better prepared to handle challenges like the transition to online learning. However, many were also grappling for solutions at the same time as those of us from Kenya. Solutions do not respect regions. They are about willingness.

The second lesson is our solutions are invariably within us. In universities, we have adversity of staff and students. The levels of expertise and innovation within these groups is such that most problems for the sector and even the country can come from the group.

The Universities Act provides that university education is about generating knowledge, spurring innovation, and contributing to national development.

The history of this country and even other countries demonstrate that scholars have been at the forefront in designing solutions and policy options for a myriad of societal problems. A review of the current coronavirus pandemic demonstrates that universities are partnering with their governments across the world to research and explore how best to address what is by far the world’s greatest nightmare.

Thirdly, technology is an aid and not a substitute to humans. We need the human mind to make the technology work for us. In the case of online examinations, for example, there are numerous issues that get raised including how to invigilate, how to avoid cheating and many more. The human mind though is an amazing machine. It is not short of ideas on how to address this.

The amount of resources available will determine the option to be adopted but not whether a solution cannot be applied. A combination of man and machine is good for University education in Kenya as it will propel it to the next level.

That next level requires that Government reorients its policies to support and sustain the innovations that COVID-19 has brought to the higher education sector so that online teaching, online examination and online conduct of business becomes ingrained in our educational systems into the future.