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We fought resistance and changed teaching for good

EDUCATION
By Stephen Kiama | March 15th 2021

The University of Nairobi’s decision to close down following the outbreak of coronavirus was tough. But what choice did we have? The disease that broke out in Wuhan, China in December 2019 was spreading like wild fire and everyone was panicking. And without a cure for it, the uncertainty was too much. The university had to change its modus operandi to continue with its programmes.

On March 16, 2020, the university senate met and decided to close down the university. This was just three days after the first case of Covid-19 had been reported in Kenya and a day after presidential directive that issued a raft of measures to curb the spread of the disease. Among these measures was suspension of face-to-face teaching and learning. We resolved to adopted online lessons.

The following morning, I looked through the window of my office and the scene was devastating. The campus was deserted save for a few security guards. I took time to think about the future of the university and the welfare of staff and students. It was a good idea to change the way we did our business in a season that requires social distancing, washing of hands and sanitising.

Guided by the university’s philosophy and core values, we decided to reopen teaching and learning using online platforms. We also agreed on a way to enable postgraduate students continue with their studies which set the university into uncharted waters.

New normal

Initially, most of the staff and students were skeptical. They were unsure it would work. There was a lot of resistance as many people were unwilling to move away from what they know to the unknown, under the new normal brought about by Covid-19.

However, the resistance did not last as innovators across all faculties, schools, centres and institutes emerged to champion the course. Soon enough, lessons were being held online even as new cases of Covid-19 and fatalities were being reported.

The UoN is happy to have taken the bold step to adopt technology. And like any other organisation, we have learnt many valuable lessons. The inefficiencies of traditional methods of teaching and learning were exposed.

Technology allowed students in different locations and registered for the same units to be taught simultaneously. Learning continued even after the UoN closed down many of its satellite colleges. Online learning has also accorded our students an opportunity to be taught and gain knowledge and experience from scholars from around the world.

Traditionally, timetabling involved a lot of planning, including ensuring availability of a lecture room. The new normal has massively lessened planning by lecturers, other university staff and students, and has also taken away the headache of lecture halls.

Covid-19, while it has ravaged the economies and led to losses, including of lives, it has also opened opportunities we may never have thought about. There is also automatic monitoring of students’ class attendance, including those sitting exams. Students have an opportunity to review and replay lectures.

Lecturers also prepare better these days. And who would have thought graduation could be held online? Well, it is happening after universities were forced to be innovative and organise virtual ceremonies. There is no doubt some of these measures will continue to be part of our lives post-Covid-19.

Kenya could have done better in its response to Covid-19 if we had invested more in internet infrastructure. We also needed better coordination of the multi-sectoral response, not just to the pandemic, but other calamities as well. More money should also be directed towards enhancing access to Internet while making computer devices more accessible.

Many researchers in universities could have intervened but only if they had been resourced to carry out targeted research. The National Research Fund should be better financed to respond to such pandemics or any other problem that needs new knowledge to contain.

The writer is the Vice Chancellor, University of Nairobi

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