What you need to know:
- Annie Njanja's joy turned into anxiety when the spread of the coronavirus stopped international air travel.
- She is glad America’s e-learning experience has kept her dream alive.
- Students have had to quickly adapt to new learning experiences,
The coronavirus pandemic has scrambled plans for students who secured scholarships to study abroad, and Form Four exam delays after the academic calendar’s disruption will affect more students wishing to attend college overseas.
One such student caught up in this logjam is Annie Njanja, who at the beginning of the year bagged a scholarship to study at the Columbia Journalism School in New York, United States.
The Kenyan journalist was elated by the prospect of finally pursuing a Master of Science in Data Journalism, until Covid-19 struck in March, derailing her plans to travel to the US.
“When I saw that email I thought I was dreaming,” Ms Njanja recalls excitedly, referring to the scholarship that she hopes will open a new horizon in her career.
But her joy turned into anxiety when the spread of the virus stopped international air travel as countries closed their skies and airlines grounded their planes. Schools and colleges worldwide shut down too as the pandemic wreaked havoc.
Unable to travel to the US, Ms Njanja says she was afraid her opportunity to do her master's was about to slip away.
But she is glad America’s e-learning experience has kept her dream alive. The institution is technologically well-equipped and has a hybrid programme, which means that she will partly study online then later attend classes in person when she is able to travel.
“It is a nice way to accommodate some of us to study and I think it is because our university realised that Covid-19 is here to stay, no one knows when it will go away,” she says, also glad that reliable internet connection in Kenya aids her virtual learning.
However, not all foreign students would be as lucky, as some countries have unreliable infrastructure, meaning beneficiaries are unable to enroll for classes.
Ms Njanja has so far missed two months in-person learning and the unpredictability of the virus means no one can really tell how much longer it will take before things get back to normal.
“This is my first time learning online and I have realised that there are limitless opportunities. It, however, saddens me that I am not in New York as I had anticipated, which means missing out on networking and getting to know other students within the journalism school.”
“With social distancing rules in place and everything being done online, it means delayed human connection and missed opportunities,” she regrets.
She is, however, glad that online learning has made up for it, albeit with some inconveniences, especially the time difference. “There are some two mandatory units scheduled for 6.30pm in the US which is 1.30am in Kenya,” Ms Njanja explains.
Organisations in Nairobi that help students get foreign admissions to international learning institutions have not been spared either.
“As I see it, Covid-19 will both help and hurt Kenyan students who want to study abroad,” says Ryan Benitez, the chief executive officer of Meto, an organisation that helps African students secure admissions abroad.
He started Meto, the first online marketplace focused on connecting African students to universities around the world.
Many of his students are admitted to some of the top universities in the US, including Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame and Princeton University.
Mr Benitez explains the pandemic has occasioned budget cuts and air travel restrictions, which means they have been unable to recruit in Kenya for some time.
And he says some parents are now reluctant to have their children venture far away.
“It seems that some families of students are becoming more conservative regarding the destination countries in light of the pandemic. They want their children to stay nearer home,” he discloses.
He also told Nation that the postponement of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams will occasion delays for students who are planning to apply to universities abroad during this application cycle.
“In the long-run, the pandemic is causing universities around the world to adopt online recruitment channels much faster than they would have otherwise, hence more Kenyans will be able to study abroad.”
Even for students already abroad, they have had to quickly adapt to the new learning experiences, given Covid-19 restrictions like social distancing have disrupted normal programmes.
I couldn’t even sneeze in peace during the midterms.
Dennis Matara, 26, a final year Master of Computer Science student at Janardan Rai Nagar Rajasthan Vidyapeeth University, in Rajasthan State in India, says it’s very stressful that his final exams have been postponed twice.
“I couldn’t even sneeze in peace during the midterms without everyone staring at me strangely,” says Mr Matara.
He also explains that Zoom classes present numerous challenges for foreign students in India.
“We are only two foreign students in our class, so when a lecturer decides to conduct the lesson in Hindi you have to interrupt all the time and remind him you can’t get anything,” Mr Matara observes.
He says new visa extension policies for foreigners in India are becoming tiresome to keep up with. “They used to give us six months visa extensions but now due to Covid-19 they are making us renew them monthly, if not after every two months.”
Peter Oluoch, a Biomedical Sciences PhD student at UMass Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts, US, acknowledges online classes have introduced a whole new experience.
“At PhD level, classes are personalised and based on the substance and quality of contributions.”
He also believes that Zoom classes introduced a new feeling of fatigue, boredom and lack of physical contact with colleagues. “At first it felt like weekends were no longer on the calendar but now our mental issues have been addressed and we are now used to the e-learning life.”
Mr Benitez says for now they will keep up with their mission to connect African students with higher learning opportunities.
“African students and universities have a great difficulty in finding each other and this is why I founded Meto.”