Educationists have poked holes in the approach used by the government to enhance digital learning in Uganda at a time when children are grounded in homes, as part of the coronavirus disease lockdown.
Schools, parents and entrepreneurs are all tapping into the stay home campaign to ensure continuity of learning, using various platforms, among them Zoom, WhatsApp, broadcast media and a series of other virtual corresponding tools.
But while the experience might be exciting for some, to educationists, the haste with which digital learning is handled might cause the premature death of the idea in its infancy. Many are arguing that the rush to complete the school work online in response to the COVID-19 crisis could result in unprecedented confusion for the learners and their teachers.
Gerald Businge, whose agency, Ultimate Media Consult is promoting the Yaaka digital learning platform, observes that learning rushed into experimenting the complex e-learning field, and assumed that they would have everything in place just within a few weeks.
Businge’s Yaaka Digital Network provides class notes, online classes and enables teachers to connect with students and trainers through a tablet.
But Businge observes that before such teaching tools are rolled out, parents, learners, and teachers need to be guided on how to use them and avail equipment that can support digital learning both online or offline rather than assuming that they are equipped.
Businge notes that even countries that have for many years developed e-learning tools are yet to scale it up as opposed to many stakeholders in Uganda are assuming.
Educationist Johnathan Kivumbi says that many of the interventions were hurriedly developed without guidance. He adds that the education ministry and schools are using the wrong time to introduce a completely alien model of teaching and learning. To him, the approach of adopting digital platforms both offline and online at such a moment is akin to chasing the wind.
“The would-be policymakers are also using a copy and paste approach. They want Uganda to do things as they are being done in the developed world and left institutions to lead the sector into an abyss. Digital learning is not something you just introduced out of the blue,” says Kivumbi.
Shyaka Mbanda, a team leader at TOD Idea, a company seeking to apply Digital Tools to solve educational challenges, points out a need to understand the regulation, approval and assessment of the digital content that learners are consuming. His argument is rooted in the fact that the current curricula were not designed for such development.
Mbanda stresses that most of the people who are developing the platforms are not teachers yet some of them are using teachers who are not skilled in online learning methods.
A number of private universities boast of having set up strong digital learning platforms with some already hosting blended courses where learners can have preloaded materials online and later have a face to face interface with lectures.
But Saul Waigolo, the spokesperson of the National Council for Higher Education observes that the council is still in its primary stages of developing a policy on implementing digital-based programs.
The initiative also presents pedagogical challenges. Dr Jane Egau, the Commissioner for Teacher Training and Education notes that this is a sensitive area if the country is to ensure quality education.
“A lot of lessons are being learnt and I think after the lockdown this is something that must be thought of. There is no way we can employ these tools when teachers are not trained to use these models, “says Dr Egau.
She also hints that the ministry has started working on a national framework that will guide the integration of digital learning. However, at an individual level, she also acknowledges that it shouldn’t be driven at the pace in which different institutions are moving.