KAMPALA – The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of many higher education institutions in Africa to migrate online. When the virus first hit the continent, many African governments were scrambling to figure out how best to handle the myriad of challenges it would pose on the socio-economic growth of their countries. Many African governments Uganda inclusive had to temporarily close educational institutions in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Nevertheless, recent developments indicate a recognition that education has experienced a significant shift after the outbreak of Covid 19. The leadership and managers of higher education institutions across Africa have become fully aware that empowering students to prepare for a future where pandemics such as COVID-19 and other disruptions might become a part of our daily lives also means embracing change in learning and teaching.
The concept of online learning has been on the higher education agenda for close to two decades. But much as it has been on the agenda it has was never been prioritised and institutions have not utilized this type of learning.
An opportunity to test the new ICT capacity in the country presented itself at the time of the abrupt closure of schools and universities as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, the same measures were adopted in China where the virus started and have been implemented in both developed and developing countries alike.
COVID-19 has shown that the most powerful and positive impact on education is the digital transformation of the educational sector. The agility of many institutions and governments, especially to quickly move learning modules online and to dedicated mass media channels is admirable.
Institutions that had invested in online and blended learning had an opportunity to prove that they too could provide a solution to the learning impasse presented by the closure of educational institutions particularly university students since they are considered to be among the higher socio-economic quartiles in their home areas, both urban and rural, with evidence showing increased mobile phone coverage.
How then is it that most universities did not put in place measures to offer online learning and those that attempted to do so such as Uganda Christian University and Law Development Centre (LDC) were deterred by the government from either completing the process or drawing lessons from the process for themselves and other players?
It remains questionable why the Government of Uganda suspended online learning used by some institutions such as Uganda Christian University and Law Development centre at the start of lockdown and then bounce back to support the idea of online learning. Even the online learning guidelines from NCHE have been said to have come late. Rev. Can. Dr John Ssenyonyi the Vice-Chancellor Uganda Christian University says, right from the time the students join the university, the university uses online applications to help them access additional learning materials. He said that the Mukono based institution was stopped by Government to conduct online teaching and assessment, they were ready to have students sit for their end of semester examinations while at home.
Much as it is apparent that although it is a necessary condition, the development of ICT infrastructure has not been sufficient for the development of online learning in Uganda and perhaps in several African universities. Online learning should not only be primarily for emergency teaching during the coronavirus crisis but for the longer term. Of course, there will be some problems and shortcomings in. But those can be dealt with and are not reasons to postpone the adoption of e-learning in Uganda. It is estimated that in future, education will be based on technology, particularly information technology, Covid-19 presented an opportunity for eduactional institutions especially higher institutions of learning to identify gaps and develop online learning.
What should remain key as we are transforming to e-learning and making education more meaningful to all students, we must make education more accessible and less expensive. Education should be a right and not a privilege.
The writer is a Lawyer and Advocacy and Communications personnel at Youth Line Forum