Shock of varsity lessons in bars, hotels VCs lament

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha. [File, Standard]

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has urged universities to step up efforts in adapting to new ways of teaching and learning, including online lessons in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Universities must transform their teaching practices in response to the unprecedented times of Covid-19 pandemic and anticipate the future through the creative use of technology,” Magoha told a virtual conference planned to assess the state of higher education in Kenya since the outbreak of the pandemic.

During the conference organised by the Commission for University Education (CUE), it emerged that some university students are having challenges attending online lessons.

Some vice-chancellors said some students attend online lessons from bars and restaurants where they can get free internet.

The conference was also told that other students attend classes in commuter buses while others log in to lessons while in undisclosed places with noisy backgrounds.

At the close of the two-day conference yesterday, some stakeholders lamented that these challenges are affecting the quality of teaching, for instance, background noise that interrupts lessons.

Zetech University VC Njenga Munene said: “We must push for endorsement of online lessons by parents so children can attend classes from serene environments.” 

“We kindly request that parents be asked to endorse online lessons so that their children can get laptops to enhance their learning,” said Prof Munene.

His Kenya Methodist University counterpart Prof David Gichoya said: “We need to put excellence in online learning which means parents must also accept it as a mode of teaching and invest in it.”

The conference under theme: Technology and quality university education in an age of disruption, also heard that WiFi coverage in many universities is normally limited and often does not include campus students’ hostels.

The conference brought together scholars and policymakers to discuss and review strategies put in place by universities in their response to technological disruptions occasioned by natural calamities such as Covid-19 pandemic.

The meeting also heard that many university students cannot afford Internet connectivity thus limiting their class attendance.

Lack of or inadequate teaching and learning devices also featured prominently during the conference.

Lack of laptops by some students also emerged as a major challenge to online learning mounted by universities in the wake of the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic.

Some lecturers do not have online teaching devices with most of them using smartphones to manage virtual classes, the meeting heard.

Other lecturers are not properly trained to create and upload content for online lessons while others lack basic knowledge on how to use online applications which poses a serious challenge in managing their classes.

CUE Chief Executive Officer Mwendwa Ntarangwi said the impact of technology has put the structure and purpose of higher education under close scrutiny than ever before.

University Education PS Simon Nabukwesi said: “We shall support universities in their endeavours, but they must  also come up with internal policies on the same.”

Nabukwesi called on universities to make laptops a requirement during admission of students.

And the cost of e-learning is set to go higher due to punitive taxes, according to Kenya Education Network (Kenet), a not-for-profit membership operator that supports education institutions through the provision of Internet connectivity.

“We must lobby on the matter of tax. As Kenet, we have tried. It’s a big issue that should be addressed together with Cabinet Secretaries for Education, ICT and National Treasury,” said Kenet CEO Meoli Kashorda.

Prof Kashorda said the digital tax of about 1.5 per cent is dangerous to the education sector.