• April 19, 2024
  • Last Update April 19, 2024 7:23 AM
  • Nairobi

State must put a stop to online learning

State must put a stop to online learning

Despite its ineffectiveness, online learning prompted by the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic is still going on in primary and secondary schools, tertiary colleges, and universities. Education officials have chosen to turn a deaf ear to numerous complaints over the continuation of online learning even after it became obvious that learners are not benefitting.

In terms of access and reach, online learning has been a flop. And this was obvious from the onset. First, how on earth did we expect this programme to succeed in a country where nearly half the population has no access to electricity? Secondly, it is common knowledge that most learners don’t have the required facilities like smartphones, laptops and internet connectivity. Indeed, in many parts of the country, those who are blessed to have mobile phones use mulika mwizi (first generation phones that can only make and receive calls, and send short text messages).

Add these to the socio-economic situations of teachers and learners and it was obvious the programme was a non-starter.

But more importantly, it was a bad idea because of pedagogical considerations. In simple terms, learning is more impactful when it happens face-to-face as opposed to through online platforms like Zoom.

If the government really has the best interest of students and parents at heart, it must stop online learning at all levels forthwith. For one, it is being used to exploit the public. Education ministry officials have received complaints from parents from private schools that they are being charged fees as if schools were in session. The ministry cannot turn a blind eye to that and argue that it cannot interfere in “private arrangements”. The role of the government is to ensure that no Kenyan is exploited, especially bearing in mind that not everyone who takes his child to a private school is rich. Leaving parents at the mercy of private schools is an abdication of role on the part of the government. Surely, online learning and physical learning cannot be the same and the costs are not the same.

Universities have been buying bundles for lecturers and students for online learning from telephone companies in a very exploitative manner. We know that bundles are supposed to be cheap but now that it is the usual Kenyan business, institutions of higher learning are spending an arm and a leg on bundles for lecturers and students. How do they ensure that the bundles are used for the intended purpose? My guess is that most students would rather use those bundles to do their own things online than for online classes.

From the way the whole thing is being conducted, it is obvious that this is a business for somebody who is out to make a kill from something that is of no serious benefit.

Unlike in public universities, public schools don’t have the luxury of free bundles. Poor parents in public schools are being forced to choose between buying food and bundlesfor their children. Some have had to sell assets like land and cows to buy the requirements for e-learning like smartphones and bundles. Personally, I have bought bundles for many poor students and pupils in secondary and primary schools where no free bundles are given. If the government were to give bundles to primary and secondary schools, it would spend billions. This is money that can be used to do better things like equipping schools.

A better strategy would have been to improve the physical infrastructure of our schools by putting up more buildings as we wait for the coronavirus interruption to end. These facilities will be critical in the post-coronavirus period when social distancing will be critical because of the relics of the disease and fear of a second wave. This is critically important of the current crowding in school dormitories and classrooms even in the most normal f times is untenable.

It is therefore inconceivable that we should be spending so much money on a programme that is not reaching even 20 per cent of learners.

Lately, universities have been in a rush to conduct graduations virtually. They are also in a rush to admit freshers (First Years). Some universities have already issued their admission programmes, which include a two-week orientation on online learning. How much will parents spend on this alone? Remember that a good number of First Year students can’t even apply for accommodation online (some are actually brought to college by their parents). And now you are telling them that the whole learning will be done online. Some of the students will be forced to leave their villages to find accommodation in urban areas to access electricity and internet connection for them to “join university”. You can imagine the trouble and the cost. Already, continuing students are going through this trouble to be able to take online university exams.

But why are universities in a rush to conduct online graduations and admissions? First is self-delusion. They want to be seen to be doing something, typical of backwards people.

Secondly, universities are after money. They know they can only get fees when they admit students. Yet we all know they don’t need that money that badly, after all.

More importantly, they are looking for capitation – the money the government pays universities per student, which runs into billions. Fees is a very small fraction of revenue source for universities; the bigger chunk comes from capitation, which the government pays only once students are admitted. The government must stop online learning and save this money.

One wonders why there is a hurry by universities to admit students. This is not the first time universities have been closed. During the 1993/1994 lecturers strike, public universities were closed for about one year. What is this urgency today that the government is willing to spend billions instead of waiting for a mere six months? What is this urgency to train professionals when we have thousands of unemployed professionals including doctors, teachers, among others? In my opinion, these are schemes by some people in high places who want to eat government money.

One danger of this programme is that it will lead to doubtful qualifications. A time will come when employers could shun students who graduated at a certain period in this country.

It should be said in no uncertain terms that we are courting disaster with online learning. One danger of this programme is that it will lead to doubtful qualifications. Online exams are not the same as physical exams. Really, no one would want to employ someone flashing an online degree. Nobody would want to be attended to by a doctor who had most of his training done online. The public and future employers would doubt the qualifications of students who did most of their learning online. A time will come when employers could shun students who graduated at a certain period in this country. Why are we destroying the future of our children? On the same note, some professional bodies have already sounded an alarm, saying they might not register those who graduated after sitting exams online.

The second danger of online learning is that it could lead to student unrest. Students have already given a warning (some have gone to court) that they don’t approve of online learning. If universities reopen and a majority of students did not go through online learning (by then, online learners will be graduating), we are inviting unnecessary student unrest. In addition, those who fail online exams will blame it all on the e-learning programme.

Universities are also opening themselves up for legal challenges that may cause them time and money. Students could challenge university authorities on grounds that they were admitted on a programme that required them to attend a physical class. When the programme is changed midway without their participation, the students can challenge the universities on grounds of equity and equality. Universities are opening themselves up for serious litigation.

But the very final reason I am writing this article is that we are foolishly perpetuating class divide. During this Covid-19 period, the rich, the middle class and the upper class have shown the poor that they don’t care – right from the days of curfew and quarantine. The poor have been subjected to police brutality during curfew hours. They have had to choose between obeying curfew restrictions and risking their children dying from hunger. The poor have been on the receiving end of all that has been going wrong during Covid-19. And now, the government is behaving in manner that tells the poor that they and their children can go to hell as the children of the middle class and the upper class continue with learning. We are courting disaster. There has always been class divide in society, but history has shown that when you push the oppressed to the wall, they will fight back. In our case, we are courting disaster because we are pushing this war to the educated and enlightened poor. Remember, the youths are always a vanguard of revolutions. I believe that is not the direction we want to go.

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1 Comment

  • Odhis , August 12, 2020 @ 11:44 PM

    Naked truth👌

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