The release of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam results last week marked the end of the 2020 education cycle. This is not entirely true as there are children returning to school. school to complete their third term. For testing, the next step will be the 2021 exams scheduled for March of next year.
The next port of call is post-secondary education, be it technical and vocational colleges or universities.
The first days at university are nostalgic.
Covid-19 has changed all that, however, and students are now undertaking an online orientation, learning online and even graduating online.
Over the past month, I have participated in a conversation with colleagues from various universities about our experiences and a future vision for digital higher education in Kenya.
Organized by the Partnership for Research on Social Governance and Governance in Africa and the University College of London, the discussions looked to the past and explored ways to learn from these lessons.
While initially the universities were frightened and grappling with challenges, they subsequently reacted in a far-sighted and catalytic manner. They have brought universities permanently into the digital age, addressing some fundamental challenges.
Two of them stand out. The first concerns finance and the second infrastructure. From a financial point of view, digital education helps reduce certain costs, including transportation and accommodation for students. The majority of students spend significantly more on accommodation and food than on fees.
Covid-19 has shown that you can learn from the comfort of your home.
Second, the state of physical infrastructure is a huge obstacle for universities in their pursuit of quality education. Space conflicts between programs, lack of computers, desks, microphones, and even desk space limit delivery. With Covid-19, homes have become classrooms and offices, reducing pressure on university infrastructure.
However, the related challenges, including increasing inequalities among learners, have placed psychological pressures on learners and instructors.
Therefore, discussing what the future should be like is not as simple as saying that we must maintain what we have earned. The more legitimate question is how we respond to the lessons we have learned. This was the subject of the three meetings I attended.
One of the main takeaways for me is that digital higher education is the future and the country needs to adapt, plan, support and maintain it.
It requires moving from emergency distance learning to true digital education. This requires sound planning and adequate funding both at the institutional level and by the government.
One of the steps is to tackle the cost elements that can generate resentment in the medium to long term and hamper sustainability.
Second, get supporting technology and skills. The majority of students relied on phones for their lessons. One of the top students on last year’s KCSE exams indicated his inability to join online courses due to lack of equipment.
I also know people in college who cannot type fast and are at a disadvantage in online exams.
To address this, consider embracing digital learning not just for higher education, but for the education sector as a whole.
The original Jubilee government proposal in 2013 to provide laptops to primary schools needs to be reviewed.
The government should ensure that the use of technology is part of the education system from primary school onwards. To do this, there must be budget support for reliable internet and gadgets.
Third, pedagogy. Digital higher education needs to be more learner-centered, which requires retooling of instructors.
In this way, the new standard will be fair and inclusive.