Varsities have lost chance to spruce up operations

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha (centre) inspects  Mount Kenya University in Thika, to assess preparedness for reopening. 

Photo credit: Simon Ciuri | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Improving university facilities such as lecture halls, residential halls, ablutions, water reservoirs as well as installing water taps and providing sanitisers and soaps in the campuses is mandatory.
  • Currently, practical courses are badly affected and face-to-face contact of students surpasses virtual lessons by all means

The coronavirus has affected all areas of human survival with nobody having any knowledge about its treatment. Nobody or country can claim knowledge and cure for the virus although there is encouraging attempts to getting a vaccine.

 Doctors worldwide have performed commendably, some of them losing their lives. Education in particular has been tremendously affected.

What is so peculiar about education? It is because everybody was restricted to their homes hence creating unprecedented populations in the house, village and community. Therefore, demand for every amenity from food to water, energy, and general comfort became constrained.

A large population of this congregation was students. Universities were closed and there is no academic programme going on other than virtual but specifically for the students and staff who are better endowed and enabled to connect. Issues of cost, power availability, network, electronic devices and technical preparedness compromised the programmes.

The cost of these items competed with purchase of food provisions. Fortunately, a few were able to apply virtual learning in some universities and disciplines but my estimate is that just less than 30 per cent were able to benefit from this.

Basic hygiene 

International donors extended generous support for protocols of basic hygiene requirements including personal protective equipment (PPEs).

But capital investments including infrastructure to allow for social distancing was not forthcoming. This is a lost opportunity. Parents have been anxiously agitating for reopening of schools and colleges.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has repeatedly offered explanations on the consequences of reopening learning institutions, which to me, makes a lot of sense. We have to avoid misfortunes experienced by countries that have reopened and were forced to close because the infections rose dramatically.

The major concern is that institutions require financial assistance to expand facilities to get ready for reopening. Improving university facilities such as lecture halls, residential halls, ablutions, water reservoirs as well as installing water taps and providing sanitisers and soaps in the campuses is mandatory.

Two, universities with predominantly practical courses should be supported to put up facilities that allow for social distancing. In some extreme cases, karakanas would assist. These are four-walled structures just like hospitals were putting up at the peak of the pandemic.

I am not implying that those of us like staff of University of Nairobi who have been engaging in virtual teaching (Google classroom and e-class), which I have successfully used after being trained, should not continue.

The exposure should continue but not stop reopening when the pandemic ceases. Currently, practical courses are badly affected and face-to-face contact of students surpasses virtual lessons by all means.

There are many challenges associated with virtual classroom in view of the fact that many students lack access to gadgets and Internet.

As much as we can use virtual graduation to stay on academic schedule, graduands worldwide always want a pompous ceremony to boast of their academic achievement and need to be seen in their graduation attire for future reference. This is an opportunity which would never be reclaimed in life.

Whatever little budget, if any, was accorded to the university would have improved the conditions in universities.

Prof Michieka, is lecturer at the University of Nairobi and previously, JKUAT vice-chancellor;

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