KAMPALA – Experts have said that learning institutions in Uganda might soon start rolling out one of the most under-prepared generation of graduates into the job market as a result of the online mode of delivering education. This follows the closure of schools a month taken by the government to curb the spread of covid-19.
The experts who were speaking at a virtual town hall meeting on November 8, under a theme dubbed ‘Education and COVID-19: What is the way forward?’ stressed that online learning has bred a lot of negative effects on learning.
Much as the government has strongly defended the continued closure of schools by labelling them super-spreaders, many stakeholders and experts in the education sector insist the decision defies logic.
Abubaker Matanda, a law Lecturer at Islamic University In Uganda (IUIU) revealed that when institutions of learning went into the lockdown, IUIU became innovative and introduced online studies but they have not had half of a class in attendance. He said even those that attend, the quality of interaction is different from face to face.
Matanda said that in a class of about 240 students, less than half would login to the class, about 80 students and yet as an instructor he would feel that he was moving with only 20 students. So even for those that joined the class, there were network challenges and lack of focus throughout the class.
He shared that online learning has shown how ineffective the alternative mode of learning has proven and fears its effects will soon start to bite through the quality of graduates being created by institutions.
“In my view, I think very soon we shall see from the quality of output, half-baked products of students. The drop outs are many and the quality of learning has been greatly affected. The lockdown has worsened all these,” he said.
Matanda further elaborated the effect the school closure has had on the students’ spiritual nurturing. Citing the example of IUIU that follows some Islamic faith he revealed that online studies left a lot to be desired.
“For an Islamic setting that seeks aside from teaching the curriculum but along it comes aspects of faith, seen through attending prayers, dress code, seminars to fellowship at campus, none of these has been going on. We are now operating on a bare minimum.”
Pastor Jackie Barlow who is also a parent said churches need to strategically think on how to prepare the children in this period for the reopening of schools, how to get them motivated to give them a sense of purpose and hope.
She said churches need to be opened and allow these children to get into them to be emotionally and spiritually prepared to cope with the challenges they are going to face when they go back to school.
“We know that the link between church and schools is not a coincidence, you will find that if it is a Christian family, they raise children with Christian virtues and take them to Christian schools to further cement these. This is important because if you can shape a child in a particular direction, when they grow up, they won’t deviate from what they were told as children,” she said.
Ms Barlow added: “When you open up churches and say that only 200 people are going to attend, the children are left home. Keeping children out of churches is creating a Godless society. We are breeding a generation, a group of people that is going to create a lot of crime.”
Jothan Burobuto, the Executive Director Uganda Youth Network shared that the government has lost ground on winning public trust by handling COVID-19 matters with indifference and insensitiveness.
Burobuto backed up his argument by citing President Museveni’s recent comments on concerns of teenage pregnancy where he said it is better for girls to be pregnant and alive than dead because of Covid-19.
“Going forward as the country awaits the president’s promised full reopening of the economy, the government should not stretch the frustration and despair of students but endeavour to give them hope and assurance that we will all come out of this.”
On March 18 2020, President Museveni declared the first lockdown in Uganda and gave schools and all institutions of learning two days to shut down. Government through the ministry of education has since encouraged online learning to ensure continuity of learning after it twice ordered for the closure of learning institutions to prevent the spread of covid-19.
According to Musa Mugoya, the Programs Officer, Right to Education at Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, the online system of learning was bound to fail from the onset given the poor ICT infrastructure in Uganda.
He shared that from last year’s household survey, 91% of schools in Uganda have no access to internet therefore one cannot expect learners from those schools to have internet in their homes yet the government has continued to promote e-learning.
“On top of that they (govt) said they would print self-study materials which eventually reached only 25% of the learners. They said the lessons would be on radios and TV but we know from the survey that access to radios in Ugandan households is only at 31,” he said adding that even through these modes of learning, learners cannot focus, respond to or ask questions because there is no feedback mechanism.
According to a report by the ministry of education, over 73,000 learning institutions were closed in Uganda and over 15million learners sent back home. 600 000 refugee students who were studying in higher institutions were sent back home.
Under the Education (Pre-Primary, Primary and Post-Primary) Act, 2008 the government has a legal obligation to provide basic services such as curriculum development, making sure that the education system is appropriately structured.