Study exposes failures of online learning during Covid-19 crisis

Higher Education and Research Principal Secretary Dr Beatrice Muganda admitted that stakeholders in the higher education sector felt lost in a labyrinth when Covid-19 struck.

"Our trusted methods of teaching, policies, and financing strategies seemed irrelevant, leaving us feeling uncertain and confused. The pandemic only amplified these challenges as they already existed," she said.

According to data from the ministry, approximately 15 million learners were affected by the closure of schools, tertiary institutions and universities.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) reveals that over 1.9 million students in higher education institutions were forced to study online due to the closure of physical campuses.

KNBS indicates that 54 per cent of university students lacked access to reliable internet connectivity, and 32 percent lacked access to a suitable device for online learning.

The PASGR study also shows that 42 per cent of students also had mixed or negative attitudes toward the lecturers' ability or competence to conduct online studies.

The conference that brought together university vice-chancellors, senior officers from the ministry of Education and other private organisations.

The conference dubbed 'Utafiti Sera' conference on higher education was themed "strengthening equitable access to quality higher education in the post-pandemic environment".

The study was conducted from a sample of 34 universities between June and September 2022 by PASGR describing itself as an independent and not-for-profit organisation based in Nairobi.

It included a critical review of policies and interventions that supported or hindered access, equity, and quality of higher education during the pandemic, and prepares the universities for such shocks.

PASGR states that 28 per cent of students interviewed attended a quarter of the sessions, and a shocking 11 percent did not show up at all, the study by the PASGR.

The universities were already financially vulnerable pre-pandemic, with limited public funding to support their operations and academic programmes, and the lockdown worsened the situation.

"This impacted their ability to operate effectively during and after COVID-19," states the report, which reveals that most lecturers were resistant to online teaching and learning.

It states that about 60 per cent of the students relied on mobile phones to access learning sessions.

"This is despite their (mobile phone) limitations in retrieving high-volume learning materials because this is what was more accessible to most students," the study reveals.

It also states that only nine percent of university students attended all the sessions in the curriculum during the Covid-19 pandemic, and 31 percent reported attending less than half of the sessions.

On access to internet bundles to facilitate teaching-learning, the study reveals that about 78 per cent of students relied on personal and family provisions.

"Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) between universities and telecommunication companies provided critical support for remote teaching and learning," it states.

Although there was evidence of access to post-graduate teaching and learning opportunities during the pandemic, inadequate ICT resources and trained personnel to manage the online learning platforms constrained the effective delivery of postgraduate education.

"Safaricom, Telkom, and KENET were lauded for their efforts in providing affordable data solutions for students and lecturers," it states.

The study recommends a raft of measures that must be enacted to enable the institutions to fully leverage the potential of PPP in higher education and mitigate against future shocks.

"It is imperative to establish a policy framework to guide PPP initiatives in higher education. The current lack of such a framework hinders the promotion of PPP," it states.

This study recommends that protecting the education budget for higher education financing is crucial for equitable access and sustainable development, necessitating innovative pedagogical methods to withstand future shocks.

It says the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) should create a customized fund to support the acquisition of ICT equipment and establish an emergency fund for postgraduate students during similar shocks.

The university faculty should receive digital pedagogical competency training for teaching and assessment, and the Commission for University Education (CUE) and stakeholders should design policies to support quality assessment in online teaching environments.

"Public-Private Partnerships can improve learning outcomes through a hybrid model that prioritizes infrastructure, quality assurance, and capacity support for pedagogy re-engineering," it concludes.

Quoting the KNSB data the PS said universities lost over Sh8 billion in tuition revenue due to the pandemic with some institutions experiencing a decline of up to 40 percent.

"This financial strain has led to significant budget cuts, which have affected the quality of education offered in some institutions," said the PS.