Deliver e-learning from primary school

This past week the release of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations results marked the end of the 2020 education cycle. Not fully true though since there are children back to school to complete their third term. For tests, the next milestone will be the 2021 exams scheduled for March next year.

The next port of call is post-secondary education, whether it is technical and vocational colleges or universities.

The first days at university are nostalgic.

Covid-19 has, however, changed all these and students now undertake orientation online, learn online and even graduate online.

In the past one month, I have been involved in a conversation with colleagues from various universities on our experiences and exploring a future vision for digital Higher Education in Kenya.

Convened by the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research and University College of London, the discussions looked to the past and explored ways of building on those lessons.

While originally universities were scared and grappled with the challenges, they subsequently responded in ways that have turned out to be foresighted and catalytic. They have moved the universities to the digital era permanently, addressing some fundamental challenges.

Two of these stand out. One is finances and the second is infrastructure. From a financial standpoint, digital education cuts off some costs, including transport and accommodation for students. A majority of students spend much more on accommodation and food than on fees.

Covid-19 demonstrated that one can learn from the comfort of their homes.

Secondly, the state of physical infrastructure is a huge barrier to universities in their quest to deliver quality education. Fights over space among programmes, lack of computers, desks, microphones and even office space limits delivery. With Covid-19, homes became classes and offices, thus reducing the pressure on university infrastructure.

However, the related challenges, including enhancing inequality among learners imposed psychological pressures on learners and instructors.

Consequently, discussing what the future should be is not as easy as saying we must sustain what we have gained. The more legitimate question is how we respond to the lessons we have learned. These were the subject of the three meetings I attended.

Some key take-aways for me include the fact that digital higher education is the future, and the country requires to adjust, plan for, support and sustain it.

This requires a move away from emergency remote learning to real digital education. This requires sound planning and adequate financing both at the institution level and by the government.

One of the steps is addressing the cost elements that can generate resentment in the medium to long-term and hampering sustainability.

Secondly, get supportive technology and skills. A majority of students relied on phones to undertake their classes. One of the top students in last years’ KCSE exams indicated his inability to join online classes due to lack of equipment.

I also know of people at university who are unable to type quickly and get disadvantaged during online examinations.

To address this, consider adopting digital learning not just for higher education but the entire education sector.

The initial proposal that the Jubilee Government came up with in 2013 of supplying laptops to primary schools need to be revisited.

The government should ensure that use of technology is part of the education system from primary. To do this, there must be budgetary support for reliable internet and gadgets.

Third, pedagogy. Digital Higher Education instruction should be more learner focused, which requires retooling of instructors.

This way, the new normal will be equitable and inclusive.

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