The government has every reason to subsidise or offer Higher Education Loans Board loans to a few lucky students from disadvantaged families as well as make university education affordable and accessible.
Covid-19 has its deadly side. However, it has its silver lining. Many universities turned to online teaching, and in fact successfully administered exams online. There is still a lot to learn from the experience of teaching online as well as administering exams on the same platform in the absence of in-personal learning.
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Away from the technological teething problems, we know many countries have used online platforms to teach and administer exams.
But the point we should focus on is using online teaching to drastically reduce cost of learning in Kenya. Needless to say, education is a worthy investment. Thankfully, Kenyans value education so much so that even those economically disadvantaged do everything possible to educate their children. The cost per unit is very high for families that can hardly manage a meal a day.
As it turns out, the least certificate any student now aims at in Kenya is an undergraduate degree. Many poor families have sold their pieces of land, borrowed through and through in their chamas, have taken loans and besieged relatives to support the noble cause of educating their children. Educating a child at a university level in our country is very expensive and to be honest, quite burdensome for low income families.
What we have learned from the experience of online is that while face to face learning (lecture room learning) has its own strengths and probably cannot be replaced by online learning, the poor who struggle to educate their children can make do with online as a cheaper yet quality assuring learning option.
With a laptop, desktop or a smartphone and access to internet, which is considerably available across the country, children from disadvantaged families can now attend class, do and turn in their assignments, access learning material online, virtually interact with lecturers and meet their academic obligations with much ease. The burden of having to pay for accommodation, travel back and forth from university, sustaining themselves in hostels and the headache of parents having to worry about pocket money can all be cut back, thanks to online learning.
For starters, it will help to remember that Harambee Schools mostly common in rural areas were established to cater for disadvantaged families who could not afford to take their children to prestigious government and private schools. Many students who would otherwise not have had an opportunity to advance their education successfully went through the Harambee schools.
In these changing times, the spirit of Harambee Schools can easily be tapped for university education. Compared to cost of educating a child in any university, whether self-sponsored or government subsidised, online learning will prove way cheaper for many poor families. Buying a laptop and ensuring the child lives where there is stable internet supply is the most important investment a parent has to make.
It’s a pity Kenyans have a way of lording it over fee paying parents at every flimsy excuse if only to make money. We claim we have a universal education for primary schools – at least – but the amount of money parents have to pay makes a mockery of the universal program.
If university administrations don’t see students as cash cows, it is possible to offer education that meets the quality and standards necessary for a degree award at an affordable cost to disadvantaged families. The cohorts currently enrolled in online learning particularly those following international programs know that it is possible to cut back the cost of learning by up to 75 per cent or thereabout of what it will cost to do the same program on site.
With the lessons picked in the past five or so months of teaching online, the government should consider ways in which university education can be less commercialised, diluted with unnecessary fee levies and made significantly affordable for economically disadvantaged families.
Of course, families blessed with resources can choose the mode and place of learning for their children. But, many families in Kenya do not have that kind of luxury. In the spirit of building a strong united Kenya, provision of education should not be such a burden to the poor. Online is here to cut back costs and make education affordable for the poor.
-Dr Mokua teaches Media and Communication studies