The future of education
The closure of schools and universities has had a large impact on education in the country. The University, to ensure students keep learning, invested heavily in creating an online ecosystem. Strathmore was among the first Kenyan universities to migrate online, beginning with the Strathmore Institute which completed its semester successfully. Soon after, the undergraduate classes also took off, among them, the first cohort of the class of 2024.
Stephen Ng’ang’a, the University’s Registrar, has been exploring the digital learning space after picking up on the hints the education sector has been sending of an impending paradigm shift in teaching and learning. In 2017, he took an online facilitation course at the University of Cape Town, from the comfort of his home country. Now, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and brought the future of education to us in one go. “I never envisioned the entire University moving its operations offsite. But I knew sooner or later, we must invest in making technological infusion in educational practices at Strathmore. Once the government announced the closure of learning institutions, our five-year discussion, involving a pilot study with a small cohort of staff, had to be rolled out within the shortest time possible.
A game changer in the migration is the existing University laptop policy which begun in 2014. The hallmark project of the University offers all full time students a laptop thus closing in on the gap of digital inequalities. To complete the package, the University has been providing bundles, through a partnership with Safaricom Ltd. The partnership entails a customized Safaricom package for the University’s needs at an affordable rate of Kes. 500 for a monthly 10GB internet bundles to access Strathmore designated e-learning sites and online classes.
Strathmore, through previous partnerships, had slowly been embracing digital transformation. Through the Partnership for Enhanced Blended Learning (PEBL), the University was one of the six East African universities that are creating quality assured, credit-bearing courses delivered through blended learning. The courses can be shared among universities in the region with the aim of easing the burden on teaching staff and expanding the delivery methods.
“Some of our faculties were ahead of the game, having already embraced blended learning. We now needed to train all our faculty and administrative staff on how to effect the migration to remote emergency learning.” Meetings, that were once held monthly, morphed into weekly meet-ups so as to expedite the execution of trainings, the creation of zoom accounts, and sourcing of data bundles. After the pandemic is well settled in history books, the University will now need to look at how it integrates face to face teaching with digital technology.
Adjusting at home
While working towards ensuring that faculty and students were settled in the new normal, the registrar also had to switch hats and work on transitioning at the home front, with the biggest challenge being the adjustment to a new routine. “We needed to have a schedule yet the children thought they were on an extended holiday. Once they were settled and resumed online learning, we then had to deal with extended screen time.”
The juggle was not an easy one. “As a family we have felt the impact of the pandemic first-hand. My spouse is on a five months unpaid leave. And with the children now at home, we had to sit down so as to split chores and allocate study time. Being in their teens and preteens, we also needed to explain to them why Dad can go out to work and to the shops yet they can’t come along.”
Measures on reopening
The latest indications from the government that learning institutions will reopen in September, ushers the University into a new space. In the meantime, the University is looking into engaging a proctoring firm to administer online exams. Students most affected by the closure were those in their final year with a few exams between them and graduation.
“We’ve received feedback from students, which is emphatic, that online graduation is a no-go zone. Graduation for undergraduate students is definitely akin to a rite of passage. However, in this situation, we are governed by the directives from the government as graduations call for a large gathering of people.”
With the numbers going up, coupled with a large number of asymptomatic cases, we have to live with the reality that the virus is in our community. “We would have a phased-in resumption and perhaps bring in those faculties that need practical sessions that require physical presence while others can continue with online learning. In that way, we gradually test our preparedness, our sanitation and social distancing measures, and see how to protect our staff and students with underlying conditions.”
The article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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