The future of university education is online
The education sector has been disrupted in this country in no small measure.
When the President in March announced measures to help curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, he gave universities about a week to close.
Students and lecturers went home almost immediately. The challenge was how to get international students back to their parents when flights were being suspended.
Some universities have been hosting their international students since then.
Responses to the closure have been varied. Some institutions moved their classes online while others went to wait out the virus.
But waiting out the virus has become a challenge since it is not showing any signs of going away anytime soon.
In the meantime the institutions that went online had initial challenges. Some of the teachers had never run online classes and had challenges of transition to the online platforms.
Some did not have working computers. Some lived in areas where there was difficulty accessing high speed internet.
Then there was the high cost of broad band that many had to deal with.
But step by step most of these challenges are being overcome. Some lecturers dusted old computers and took them for repairs.
Some students who had no access to the web started visiting cybercafes and then soon realised it is in fact cheaper to purchase basic smartphones.
Zoom came in and provided lecturers with platforms through which they could get in touch with their students.
Lecturers even learnt how to go around not paying for zoom by simply using the most basic service which is free.
They would be locked out, but they would just log in again, bring their students along and the exercise became even entertaining.
Then the government launched loon that allows remote areas to connect via a much better capacitated 4G.
KENET, on their part, provided internet bundles to faculty and students. The solutions may not be great, but they are working.
Most of those teething challenges are receding. The State is considering how to transition back to the regular system that was upended in March. The question is whether that will even be possible.
Moving online has provided flexibility that both students and faculty had not even dreamt about.
Imagine the challenge of joining the traffic jam every morning to get to campus for the 8am class! Online classes have sorted that out.
A lecturer can wake up at 7:50am, quickly clean up, set up his or her phone, put on a fake background and start connecting students.
The challenge of worrying what the maid will be doing to the children when you are away are gone.
You are right there with the children. The lecturer may be visiting the fridge rather often in the course of the day – but it is a lesser evil.
There is no more haggling with students so that you have to extend the submission deadlines.
Everybody understands that Mr Internet is the one accepting the assignments and it will shut down at some point and everybody who is late will be locked out.
Even those given to copy pasting their assignments are in for a rude shock. The inbuilt software in some of the platforms first checks the similarity index before the assignment is submitted.
Try getting into the shoes of the student who attended classes in the evening.
They had to fight the evening traffic to get to class, and then to get home. Who is going to want to get back to that experience if you can attend class from the comfort of your office while waiting out the traffic?
The horse has bolted on this matter. University students and their teachers may just have found a common ground which will define the future of university education.
It is going to be online. The ministry of Education may be scratching the head on when to open up the system.
But for some, the system was never closed and will continue that way. — The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University