What becomes of learners not favoured by online system?

A pupil operates a tablet at the launch of e-learning at Nalongo Church of Uganda in Luweero District on August 18. PHOTO/DAMALI MUHKAYE

Most pupils are in despair when it comes to online and long distance learning mechanisms.
Truth be told, a big per cent of pupils in this country attend school barefoot and on an empty stomach owing to the economic incapability of their parents.
In the first Covid-19 wave, a supplementary budget was passed by Parliament to, among other needs, cater for Open Distance E-Learning (ODEL) as proposed by the Ministry of Education and Sports.
As per the plan, learners were to be taught via radios and home schooling through providing reading materials by Ministry of Education.
To date, the radios have not been delivered to learners.  For the sub-counties (and not all) that received reading materials, each home had to meet its own costs of photocopying reading materials for their children.
There was a learning gap caused by this mechanism because disadvantaged pupils couldn’t afford a smartphone or laptop nor did they know how to operate computers let alone read with efficiency.
Undoubtedly, this applies to the majority of secondary school learners in Uganda where  an entire USE school bears one computer which usually belongs to the bursar. So learners borrow this one computer to prepare students for national exams.
With challenges such as access to electricity in rural homes, computer illiteracy, and practical subjects as chemistry, biology, physics that need a physical class presence, and many others, we are destined to register terrible performance.
The physical education intended to enhance the psycho-motor learning ability seems to have been abandoned by ODEL. Busy parents are burdened by the late season harvest and livestock grazing and stress to survive in a pandemic lockdown, are left with no choice but engage their children in house and farm chores  at the expense of their studies.
Online learning also limits   feedback from learners to teachers. Teachers only have to assume that learners have understood what they are teaching.
Even worse is the assessment module of learners as teaching is administered in a staggered way online but evaluation is specifically done physically by the schools.  Something that raised questions to the authenticity and validity of results and the whole process.
This is evidence that the ODEL system has indeed fallen short of its intended aims.
Furthermore and still worthy to note is that a large section of rural based learners have been equally frustrated by the learning process and even dropped out of school.
This is seen in the rising cases of underage marriages and pregnancies, a surge in cases of domestic violence and equal rise in the rates of youth crime in the rural areas and some urban areas as well.
ODEL is a mockery of the educational integrity given the challenges ranging from institution-based mismanagement to failed plan implementation of the learning policy by government.
Online learning only benefits a minimal percentage in urban centres who can comfortably afford all these basic amenities to learn online.
Needless to say, post Covid-19 and the new wave put the education sector at stake. The government ought to learn from the past and from other states that Covid-19 has manifested longevity and therefore short term solutions aren’t the best strategy indeed.
Government ought to reconsider the sector as an essential part of life. In this regard, protect both teachers and learners.
 Isolate them in their respective schools. Massively vaccinate them after lobbying for vaccines from international organisations. Parents, learners and teachers should strictly observe SOPs and the lockdown should be lifted.
Government should also offer tuition waivers to all students and pay salaries of teachers for a period of one year.
Students can’t afford halts on their education each time a wave sweeps across the country, because as afar my knowledge serves me, Covid 19 waves multiply per variants multiplication. Lasting solutions are needed.
John Solomon nabuyanda  is the  32nd General Secretary-UNSA.
[email protected]


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