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Technology will keep universities afloat in spite of coronavirus

By Kiama Gitahi | June 27th 2020

In his May 2020 advisory, Dr Naveed Malik, Special Advisor, Technology and Innovation for Canada-based Commonwealth of Education observed: “…Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of human endeavour and none more so than education. At the height of the crisis, more than 1.725 billion learners were not receiving any education worldwide. As many countries attempt to come out of the lockdown imposed as a necessity by the pandemic, it is clear that ‘business as usual’ will no longer be a tenable proposition.” 

Technology remains, by far, the most feasible solution to the challenge of disseminating knowledge when face-to-face options are disqualified by the risk posed by the rack and ruin of Covid-19. However, inadequate internet connectivity and accompanying hardware is a major challenge to learners. This is compounded by the fact that success of 3G and 4Gc — that dominate Internet adoption in Kenya — is location dependent.

Google’s launch of loon balloons in April this year was a timely boost to Internet connectivity in some the most unserved and underserved communities in Kenya. It is worth noting that Kenya’s internet penetration is one of the highest in Africa at 83 per cent.

Where the digital divide denies learners access to learning, the use of radio and TV as tools of disseminating educational material becomes a viable option albeit with obvious limitations that will inhibit instructiveness. Perhaps the recent Media Council of Kenya support to community media outfits should include the roll-out of school curriculum in order to further expand learning options and inclusivity.

For students, the main challenge is adjusting to remote learning procedures and incurring costs related to accessing the Internet at a time when earning a living has been made difficult by the prevailing lockdown. Some tertiary institutions, including the University of Nairobi, were able to partner with internet connectivity providers early enough to avoid total disruption of learning.  Initially, some lecturers were apprehensive about online teaching. However, this was fear assuaged after careful engagement with our in-house ICT experts. 

The non-teaching staff have not been spared either. Those who must access work stations are burdened by the restrictions and protocols they must observe while those whose work support classroom or lecture theatre teaching are threatened with redundancy.

Another peril likely to be faced by education process at all levels — if circumstances do not change quickly — is a pile-up of pupils and students who will not transition to the next stage because of failure to cover the set syllabi.  Examinations will be delayed or even deferred thereby affecting the entire rhythm of the education sector.

In retrospect, for the University of Nairobi, the 2016 visitation recommended by Chancellor Dr Vijoo Rattansi was a huge blessing insofar as enhancing the university’s preparedness for such hitherto unforeseen eventualities as Covid-19. The visitation panel observed that one of the constraints impeding institutional planning and management for productivity, efficiency and results at the university was the absence of a coordinated university-wide data management and access system.  

This realisation prompted the university management to pay special attention to the need to incorporate information technology across our management platforms. When Covid-19 happened, it was easy to quickly dispatch the students and most of the members of staff home as required by the government without crippling the operations of the university. While it is true we are still upgrading our capacity in applying technology during these lockdown times, I must admit the university would have been hard hit if we had not embraced the use of technology. 

Prof Gitahi is the Vice-Chancellor, University of Nairobi.

Covid 19 Time Series


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