The general populace and educational stakeholders have expressed their frustration over the situation where all educational institutions have been rendered in-operational by the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is understood that safety and life take pre-eminence, what is happening may be a wakeup call on how we define and provide education.
The conventional classroom that is inexplicably tied to the physical presence of the teacher/educator for learning to take place may be with us for a while. However, the limitations of such delivery mode is becoming very evident when it is dangerous for crowds to be together. It is in light of the foregoing that it is imperative to explore how best education can be delivered in unusual times. The following are possible options:
- Educational institutions have always given assignments to learners in form of home-work, take away assignments, term papers, research papers all of which are done away from the conventional learning institutions
- Most of the universities and other tertiary institutions have components of what tyhey refer to as distance learning where materials are packaged in hard copies in form of modules and given to students who make reference to such and continue learning away from the “main centres of learning.” The main premise of using hard copies is to address the challenge of access to internet, electricity among other technological challenges.
- Online learning or blended learning where students can register for programmes and pursue such with minimal visit to main campuses are also an option. University of South Africa (UNISA), the Open and Distance Learning (ODeL) Campus of University of Nairobi, Digital Schools of Kenyatta University, National Open University in India among others serve as classic cases where learning can continue uninterrupted
- Use of online delivery modes such as the google classrooms, zoom, hangouts and video conferencing provide a rich array of content delivery and a platform of learning. While many other platforms exist, a few issues need to grab the attention of the stakeholders.
Learning without frontiers: Imperatives
- The conventional teacher training institutions emphasized the role of the teacher as a dispenser of knowledge and made it mandatory for a teacher to be physically present for learning to take place. Even where teachers were advised to make their learning sessions student-centred, there was an implied demand for physical presence of the teacher. Managers of educational institutions would have taken it as negligence to leave a class unattended; whether they had assignments or not. To navigate new learning territories, there is need to interrogate the process and the inputs and outputs of learning. Initially, it was assumed that a teacher would provide the smallest percentage to the teaching equation. However, the desire to churn out excellent grades (desirable as they are) led to a lopsided situation where the teacher had academically spoon-feed the learners; a situation that produced learners with no critical thinking skills. Going forward, learners need to be re-instated as key players in the learning process but not simply individuals who regurgitate information.
- Learners need to be generators, interrogators and synthesizers of information whether from books or from online sources. It is a waste of time, energy and resources for an educator to travel for many kilometres to provide information that learners can easily access. Educators need to act as facilitators, sharpeners of perspectives, cheer leaders and not conveyor belts of notes.
- It may take a while, but today’s educator may need to “decrease” so that the learner may “increase”. The educator needs to allow the learner to explore, to experiment, try and try again, express some independence and even respectfully question some of the existing perspectives so that the learner can begin to express the latent potential which needs to be manifest by being provided with the suitable environment.
Suggestions for now and the future
- It is imperative that the national and county governments collaborate with researchers and educators so that the same can be drivers of informing policy and practice in matters relating to disasters, emergencies and matters of national importance
- There is a dire need to retool the educators at all levels so that they can keep abreast with emerging technological changes.
- The Central government needs to re-think their investment in research and financing of higher education. The current revenue streams for higher education are very limited. If we are to make meaningful progress, researchers, innovators and financing of higher education needs to be a key focus
- There is need to encourage partnerships between informal sectors and universities in production of necessities customised to our needs rather than importing of items that could easily be locally produced. The slogan of “buy Kenya, build Kenya” needs to be pursued more vigorously