Majority of universities not fit to offer virtual learning
What you need to know:
- Universities are a required to have reliable internet connection on campus and functional Learning Management System hosted in a secure data centre.
- Only a few universities, mostly private ones such as KCA, Daystar, Strathmore, Zetech, USIU-Africa, Africa and Nazarene University have continued to offer their lessons online.
A majority of universities have not complied with accreditation requirements for their virtual learning programmes despite a mandatory stipulation that they acquire new accreditation before offering the courses through blended learning or via e-learning.
The new regulations by the Commission for University Education (CUE), the professional body mandated by the Ministry of Education to inspect the quality of university programmes before accrediting them for teaching by the institutions of higher learning in Kenya, aim to ensure that universities offer high quality education institutions around the world shift to virtual learning in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A preliminary report by the commission shows that most universities, especially the public ones, lack the relevant infrastructure and digital material to support blended learning.
Many public universities also struggled to switch to virtual learning when learning institutions were closed in March last year in an effort to stem the pandemic.
The chief executive, CUE, Prof Mwenda Ntarangwi, said that so far, only 30 percent of both public and private universities in the country have submitted self-assessment reports showing their readiness to offer blended or e-learning as part of their programmes.
“The commission asked universities to send self-assessment reports of their readiness to offer e-learning/blended learning and only thirty percent have done so,” he said.
From the number that sent in their SARs, Prof Ntarangwi pointed out that only three quarters of them have met the threshold to allow CUE to assess their readiness to offer blended learning.
Currently, there are 39 public universities and 34 private ones, bringing the total number of universities to 73.
Going by the preliminary report from the CUE, this means that only 21 out of 73 universities have filed their SAR report to allow inspection. From, those, only 15 have met the requirement for inspection, therefore six of those that submitted their reports do not meet the threshold and may have to resubmit.
Majority of those that have not met the requirements and are yet to send their self-assessment reports are public universities.
The universities that are yet to submit self-assessment reports of their blended learning preparedness and are continuing to offer the courses online are doing it illegally.
The blended e-learning mirrors face-to-face learning and is accessible to students through smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers. After universities were given the green light to reopen for face-to-face learning last year, some of the universities abandoned their online lessons and shifted back to in-person lectures.
Only a few universities, mostly private ones such as KCA, Daystar, Strathmore, Zetech, USIU-Africa, Africa and Nazarene University have continued to offer their lessons online.
Among the challenges that public universities are facing include lack of laptops for their students and internet to keep the students engaged during the lectures. There have also been concerns that some lecturers lack the technical skills required to offer lectures online.
Some public universities such as the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University have been progressively conducting their masters and doctorate defenses virtually.
The shift to e-learning left most students out, the result being that they did not sit for their end of semester examinations.
Prof Ntarangwi told Higher Education magazine that the commission provided universities with benchmarks that will be used to accredit online infrastructure to offer e-learning and blended learning last year.
“This is because before universities can fully offer quality e-learning, they need to have the right infrastructure and readiness such as learning management systems, policies in curriculum development, internet connectivity and staff preparedness,” said the CEO.
In the guidelines, universities are required to seek fresh accreditation of their degree programmes before they offer them online.
According to CUE, the current programmes which universities are offering were only approved for one-on-one learning and cannot therefore be deemed to have been accredited for the blended learning.
Open, Distance and e-Learning
The guidelines for the accreditation were availed in the Open, Distance and e-Learning (ODel) published by the commission and sent to the universities.
For a programme to be accredited, CUE is inspecting the universities’ digital infrastructure and faculty skill sets. For universities to start implementing the ODeL programmes, the institutions should have adequate IT staff and appropriate infrastructure.
Universities are also required to show proof that they have reliable internet connection on campus to support live streaming of lectures.
They must also have functional Learning Management System which is hosted in a secure data centre, existence of anti-plagiarism software and tools for access to e-library for students.
The ODel protocols also require universities to ensure quality assurance mechanism in delivery of online examinations and a mechanism for managing and monitoring the ODeL programme.
Currently, most universities have active online and distance learning departments which they are upgrading to meet the CUE requirements.
By last year, universities had invested in e-library resources where students and lecturers can access books for their research.