In real terms educational models are “a collection of theories and pedagogical approaches,” constructed by teachers who design educational programmes, define the learning process, and systematise the programmes that students will receive or can have to enable them learn.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a real test for both lower and higher education institutions in Uganda and around the globe in terms of their level of readiness, flexibility and adaptability in responding to similar global crises.
Nevertheless, some experts says on a bright side, it serves as an effective ‘change agent’ for promoting rapid adoption of e-learning in such characteristically change-resisting institutions.
In Uganda, just like many other countries, the Covid-19 pandemic affected the schooling system precipitating the Ministry of Education and Sports’ efforts to provide alternative learning methods. The emergency study on provision and uptake of alternative learning methods in Uganda’s secondary schools in periods of shocks was funded by the government of Uganda through research and innovation fund code named Makerere Research Innovation Fund (MAK-RIF), which has seen Makerere University coming up with 500 research projects under it.
Presenting the study findings at Makerere University on February on 17, the lead researcher, Dr John Mutenyo said the study took place in both urban and rural areas of 20 districts of Uganda distributed in all the six regions of Uganda, (Central, East, Kampala, North, South and West). The districts that were visited, are: Butaleja, Gulu, Hoima, Iganga, Kampala, Kamuli, Kayunga, Kibale, Kyenjojo, Lira, Lyantonde, Masaka, Mbale, Mbarara. Others were, Mukono, Nakasongora, Ngora, Palisa, Soroti and Wakiso.
Using a questionnaire and an interview guides, the study obtained information about the ownership/access of different ICT facilities such as smart phones by the students and parents/guardians, availability of televisions (TV) and radio in the homes, knowledge of information technology (IT) by the students and teachers, and affordability of internet, among other questions. In each district, two schools were selected, one in the urban and the other from the rural area.
Of these two schools one had to be government aided and the other privately owned. In each school, at least 12 students from S.1 to S.6 were selected bearing in mind gender equality. Additional information was obtained from key informant interviews (KII) and these included head teachers, teachers and parents/guardians.
The key informants were head teachers of the selected schools, two teachers; one a science teacher and arts teacher from each selected school, and two parents/guardians from each selected school.
The study findings show a significant difference in access to ICT facilities among the urban and rural schools, with students in urban schools having more access compared to their counterparts in rural schools.
The mean differences for alternative teaching methods by rural versus urban areas were significant for TV teaching, school WhatsApp, coaching by teachers, school website, YouTube teaching and teaching via social media. In addition, there was no significant mean differences of alternative learning methods between the private and government owned schools.
Most of the students, ranked teaching via television as the most preferred choice, followed by online teaching via smart phones as number two. These were followed by online teaching via computers/laptops/tablets, distance learning via printed material from the school, printed materials from the ministry of education, distance learning via radios and newspapers.
Why TV is best
Dr Mutenyo and his fellow researchers said: “Distance learning via television was preferred by students largely because students can see the teacher and what is being taught. Even the practical science subjects including mathematics can easily be taught since the students can listen at the same time watch the demonstration by the teacher. With learning using WhatsApp, learners can easily seek for clarification from the teacher. While printed material from school, Ministry of Education and newspapers can be referred to at a later date.”
Among the many recommendations that they have come up with for the government, the five research economists who undertook the study have advised the Ministry of Education and Sports should set up its own Radio and Television stations that do not require monthly subscription purposely for learning.
In their recommendation on provision and uptake of alternative learning methods in Uganda’s secondary schools in periods of shocks the economists in the research findings stated that in the television station there should be no advertisements but should have a clear programme on learning for various classes. Among many other recommendations, the research economists says the government should increase the supply of well written and detailed reading materials, distribute learning materials to upcountry areas, sensitise and encourage e-learning countrywide.
Dr Mutenyo said Covid-19 pandemic has affected almost every country in the whole world including Uganda. The pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history affecting over 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents based on the UN, 2020, and as a result, countries locked down their economies including schools.
Their research findings reveal that challenges encountered while using different methods of alternative learning. When using radio, majority of the respondents agreed that it is very hard to understand what is being taught if one cannot see the teacher.
When using television there is a challenge of monthly subscription fees, the challenge of unstable electricity and signals, which makes them miss some lessons.
Challenge of studying by newspapers, a considerable number of students mentioned that they cannot consult and get clear explanations about the concepts in the newspapers. When using WhatsApp, the majority of the respondents observed that data is expensive let alone additional expenditure on OTT. Respondents also reported poor network connections as a big challenge.
School Website: One needs to buy a lot of data bundles which is costly, especially in times of lockdown.
Challenge of handouts from the Ministry of Education and Sports: The ministry provided complicated notes which are very hard to understand. The copies were insufficient and inaccessible to most schools and a number of students.
Responding to the research findings, Principal Education Officer in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Mr George Mukose said going forward the Ministry is working on a comprehensive preparedness and emergency response policy for education. “The policy will articulate education interventions in emergency situations and how they are funded and managed,” he said.
“Secondly, the ministry is also developing the ICT in education policy. While plenty of opportunities exist for expeditious adoption and scale up of ICT in education, a policy framework needs to be in place to support the process. In the curriculum reforms, the focus is now on lifelong learning. Instead of focusing on giving knowledge to the learners, emphasis is to be shifted to equipping the learner with the skill of learning, which would support learning beyond the classroom,” he explained.
Mr Mukose said the Ministry is expediting the development of the private provision of education policy.
Problems students face during e-learning
Remote learning is the new norm, and it shall continue gaining traction until it becomes indispensable to education. Many e-platforms have emerged which offer curated sets of courses and learning programmes such as webinars and lectures for anyone who wants to learn. Moreover, software applications such as MS Teams and Google Classrooms have become quite successful in simulating classroom environments. Students have gained and will continue to gain the most out of these platforms.
Nevertheless, the transition has not been entirely smooth because there are many problems that the student community often faces during e-learning.
There are dramatic differences between real-time classroom learning and real-time virtual learning. We have become accustomed to the former that transitioning to the latter requires us to effectively change our tendencies. But, it is not just about our psychological responses to e-learning that might affect the educational process; there are also technological limitations that are not easy to get rid of. However, e-learning comes with a number of limitations and problems including:
Impact on social cues
Social cues are extremely impacted during e-learning. A classroom is conventionally understood to be an intimate association of people. The physical presence of fellow students and teachers in a single room affects our learning process. Social cues are readily accessible for interpretation because communication tends to be direct. However, e-learning is remote. Because of the inadequate access to social cues, teachers may be unable to ‘read’ their students, which, in turn, affects students. For example, teachers would not be able to gather that a particular student is being inattentive or unable to understand because there is no physical monitoring.
There are only a select number of countries where internet connectivity is nearly uniform and high quality. Internet connectivity is a major concern in developing and underdeveloped countries, particularly in African regions. News reports from affected regions highlight the hardships of students to stream lecture videos or stay online throughout an online class. In Uganda, the cost of availing Internet connection is high, which also adds to the problem.
Remote learning works on the assumption that the user is computer literate. It is presumptuous to think that computer literacy is a worldwide phenomenon. Yes, we are undeniably connected via the virtual world, but not everyone is. In fact, not everyone owns a computer or has ever used one. Schools in remote areas often do not have the right infrastructure to impart computer literacy to children. Even those in urban centres may not be well-equipped to handle the processes online. You might find it difficult to accept, but computer literacy does not come so easily and cheaply. Therefore, many students, who are not tech-literate, might find it problematic to perform adequately during e-learning.
Lack of motivation
If you check the facts, you would find out that the drop rates in online courses are quite high. A large number of students join online courses but only a few of them manage to successfully complete them. During live online classes, it also becomes difficult to stay put throughout the session. The lack of immediate monitoring and continuous interaction affects the mood of the participants, making them take e-learning less seriously or not seriously at all. This is one major limitation which technology has to weed out if we want remote learning to be nearly effective as classroom learning.
There are many online courses available. Most of them do not come with very strict deadlines, and there are also plenty of those which are self-paced. Due to the said nature of online courses, students become complacent about time management. The absence of dedicated time management causes students to delay completion of courses or miss deadlines of courses which could have been easily met. Now that students are solely responsible for managing time, they dilly-dally and lose a lot in terms of learning because of this.
Authenticity of online courses
You will come across hundreds and thousands of online courses. This means, there are chances that most of them are not authentic or of the right quality. The presence of multiple options confuses students as to which ones are most preferable. Many platforms attract students with low fees and fewer deadlines, and those students who sign up for these courses often end up with disappointment due to sheer lack of quality in the courses. It is, therefore, a major obstacle for students to determine which course is authentic and is the right one for them.
20 Districts: The study took place in both urban and rural areas of 20 districts of Uganda distributed in all the six regions of Uganda, (Central, East, Kampala, North, South and West).
The districts that were visited, are: Butaleja, Gulu, Hoima, Iganga, Kampala, Kamuli, Kayunga, Kibale, Kyenjojo, Lira, Lyantonde, Masaka, Mbale, Mbarara. Others were, Mukono, Nakasongora, Ngora, Palisa, Soroti and Wakiso.