Candidates and university finalists remain the biggest casualties in the education sector to be hit by the ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Education is yet to pronounce itself on whether final exams for the two groups will be re-adjusted. Coronavirus has forced school closures and a ban on group gatherings across the world, and therefore different academic systems are adopting different measures to conduct final exams.
Take for instance, in Norway, written examinations have been cancelled for final year students in junior high school; in West Africa, the West African Senior Certificate Examinations have been suspended until the health situation improves; while in the United Kingdom, sixth year medical students have just taken their exams online for the first time; but for Germany, secondary school leaving exams will take place under strict hygiene and social distancing regulations.
In Uganda, passing final exams is a ‘do or die affair’, usually, there’s always higher expectations for students joining candidate classes but this also creates anxiety for them to work harder.
This is similar to final year university students who set targets that may land them their dream jobs after university.
Ever since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot has changed. The Ministry of Education continues to make headway for students by providing print educational materials to continue with what has been described as “remote learning”, including teaching by radio and television. Meanwhile university students have been urged to use internet for research purposes since it’s a rich eco-system for learning.
On top of the Ministry’s response plan, different schools across the board are adopting different strategies to keep their candidates academically engaged.
According to Samuel Mulindwa, the principal at Gombe Education Services, his school administration has adopted e- learning to keep candidates engaged.
He says teachers are using Whatsapp and emails to send learning materials to candidates through parents. However, this is accompanied by a set deadline within which students have to hand in work.
However, Mulindwa decries the exorbitant internet data charges since the school has to buy internet data to send content to every student. This is also straining teachers who are forced to keep their phones at full battery to keep in touch with the students.
Mulindwa also says another challenge the candidates have faced are practicals for chemistry, biology, physics and agriculture, since most of them have no apparatus such as chemicals, and test tubes, and therefore serious science practicals may only resume after the lockdown on schools is lifted .
He notes, however, that Covid-19 is a blessing in disguise for candidates since it has created enough time for them to revise.
“Primary Seven candidates may not be so much affected by the crisis since most of the content set in Primary Leaving Examination begins from Primary One,” he says, “that’s why it has been possible for some pupils to sit for PLE while in Primary Six.”
Whereas Uganda National Examination Board (Uneb) has not yet pronouced an adjustment to its examination calendar, Mulindwa’s view is that, its possible for the final exams to be readjusted to next year. He says after all, in his days as a student, final exams were done in March.
He says if Uneb is not ready to make an adjustment, then the examinations set should cover content from senior one to three for O- level, while A-level content should cover from senior five to first term of Senior Six.
Job Matua, a biology and chemistry teacher at Pope John Paul High School in Nakaseke District has kept his students engaged via WhatsApp to supply them with academic materials. However, his main challenge has been conducting practicals which he says needs close supervision.
Matua says most schools had not yet completed the syllabus at the closure of schools and this presents a bigger challenge.
Annalizer Kirunga, a senior four candidate at Trinity College, Nabbingo in Wakiso District has since retreated to her parents’ home in Buyanja, Rukungiri District ever since the pandemic broke out.
When I reached out to her on phone to find out how she was coping with revising from home, her voice sounded desperate. She told me she left school at a time when the syllabus was incomplete and to compensate the time, her school sent her ‘a lot of notes’ which she has to copy, while, at the same time, she has to keep revising. This she says, is overwhelming her.
To beat the pressure, she had to create a timetable which she adheres to everyday for her academic work.
In April, Janet Museveni, the education minister stated that candidates will only write one set of mock examination. This is against the old tradition where candidates have been required in the past to do a number of internal and external mock examinations to test their readiness for the final examinations.
Matua says doing one set of mock examination will not yield the required results since it means that most schools will test their candidates on internal mock examinations.
One key requirement to complete a university course is to do industrial training attached to a given company, usually for not less than two months. However, getting an internship placement in Uganda is similar to a job search by a fresh graduate. It’s never a rosy affair.
It’s one of the biggest dilemmas that will face university finalists when they resume campus. The negative economic effects of the pandemic is forcing companies to call off internships and graduate trainings.
On May 9 , Uganda Communications Commission set the pace by calling off its internship and graduate training programme.
A statement on its website reads in part: “Owing to the disruption occasioned by Covid-19, we regret to inform the public that the Commission will not be able to take interns this year.”
Ramathan Wabyona, a final year Social Sciences student at Makerere University makes an analysis of what may befall final year university students.
Wabyona says ideally an internship must last for eight months, but this is likely not to happen considering the short time span. Alternatively, he suggests that universities must consider the previous internships for finalists. He says its even worse if some companies have called off internships, indicating that it’s a fresh struggle to get another internship placement.
Whereas research remains a key tenet in any university for a finalist, Wabyona’s view is that this is likely to be affected by quality issues such as plagiarism since there won’t be enough time to do it.
On the economic side, Wabyona notes that most students have a fixed budget which is supposed to run through the semester and the disorganisation means a fresh start which has attached financial implications- yet most parents and guardians are not working.
“As a finalist, you set your targets as you look for possible ventures after campus but the economy is struggling. This means employment opportunities will be nowhere,” he explains.
Alexander Koykwijuka, the Dean of Students at Management Training and Advisory Centre (MTAC) in Nakawa, a Kampala suburb says the institution is considering shifting its graduation which is scheduled for October to next year. This, he says, will provide ample time for the final year students to do their final internship and research well.
He notes co-curricular activities for this academic year will be shelved to create ample time for students to focus on academics and save time.
While for Cavendish University, it is considering the first virtual graduation for its finalists. According to Evans Maganda, the Director of Distance Learning, the graduands will follow the proceedings via their phones and laptops if the virtual graduation is approved by the Ministry of Education.
“We were supposed to have the graduation in March but then the virus kicked in, which created disorganisation and we kept on postponing but the university realised it was inconveniencing students who had completed their studies,” he says.
Initially, for Islamic University In Uganda (IUIU), the plan was to continue with online learning, however, Dr Ahmed Ssegendo, the rector at the university says, the administration realised some students would miss out especially those that cannot afford internet data as well as those in rural areas with poor access to internet.
Dr Ssengendo says the university may adjust graduation to compensate for lost time.
He says, “It has affected students in the sense that by now they would have completed semester exams. We already have a shortage of seven weeks in the last semester, which has got to be taken care of. There’s no compromise on rushing students to graduate when they have not been adequately taught.”
Patrick Kaboyo, the National Secretary of Federation of Non- State Education Institutions says Uneb has to plan ahead of time so as to mitigate the risk of cheating.
“Those (schools) that were still not serious with academics were caught unaware with the closure. We expect them to devise means of cheating; so Uneb has to think about it,” he warns.
He adds: “It shouldn’t be surprising that these exams will appear and everybody will want to cheat to compensate on the time lost. So, the public needs to be more vigilant.”
Kaboyo says currently there are gaps in handling of education materials since they were placed in the ‘wrong hands’.
“When you design such good academic materials and you place them in the hands of local councils, and RDCS who have no direct business in the affairs of schools, it becomes a misguided principal, he says, adding that: “The ideal people to manage such a process would have been head teachers, DEOs, directors of private institutions as well as teachers because they are technical in nature and understand their category of students.”
For e-learning, Kaboyo says Internet access is still a challenge.
“IT solutions in terms of application and usability is a big challenge to learners as well as teachers. Their capacities remain low which required retooling of teachers.”
Kaboyo also faults telecom companies which kept a deaf ear to educational institutions to subsidise internet data charges. Kaboyo argues that instead of contributing billions of shillings to the National Task Force on Covid-19, the money ought to have been channeled to the education sector.
Studying from home
The first step is to create a study plan. You can set reminders on your phone or use a wall planner. The study plan can be created around the topics that need to be covered and assign time according to your understanding of the topic.
It is important to take notes while you study. Include all details of the source and ensure that you note down the page numbers of each information you select. Do remember that note-taking does not mean that you copy down every word given in the book.
Access a wide range of online books in your specific field of study from the various websites and platforms availing E-books online.
Mock Test/Online Quiz
While self-studying, students can take mock tests and quizzes available online to evaluate their knowledge in the subject/topic.
Additional information sourced from: www.skillingyoungadults.com familyandchildcaretrust.org