After the closure of schools due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, many Universities across the world turned to online learning. Both students and lecturers had to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of learning as that was the only way the academic year was going to be saved.
However, the migration to online learning by Universities was not smooth as it was hampered by limited ICT infrastructure and albeit an unprepared human resource, and also the socio-economical circumstances of the students.
In an interview, Mweenge Malitino, a second year law student at the University of Zambia (UNZA), said that e-learning proved be a challenge due to expensive bundles in Zambia and ZESCO loadshedding.
Attending classes on Zoom is quite costly as the platform uses up a lot of bundles.Mwenge
Power at home also used to go for almost seven hours and this made me miss classes alot of times.
Malitino was the not the only student at UNZA who struggled with e-learning. Haggai Bwalya, a second year Mathematics student, was forced to withdraw from the current academic year as he could not access Moodle.
I missed alot of classes and tests as I didn’t have an android phone (smartphone), so it was better to withdraw than write the final exams as I was obviously going to fail.Bwalya
E-learning at UNZA made inequality rear its ugly head as Haggai is only one of the many students that have withdrawn from the highest learning institution due to failure to cope with e-learning. While there may not be numbers to match this fact, students have been left behind in their studies and their own crime is that they come from poor backgrounds that cannot afford some learning devices.
Furthermore, e-learning brought UNZA lecturers’ lack of knowledge in ICT to the fore, as many struggled to teach online, let alone log into the Moodle platform.
Fidelis Muzyamba, a lecturer at UNZA said despite the University management offering courses on how to use online teaching platforms, some lecturers did not have the opportunity to go through the courses.
Maybe some colleagues [lecturers] did not take the courses offered on how to use Moodle and Astria seriously, hence the struggle with teaching online.Muzyamba
The struggle by lecturers to conduct online lessons was not only limited to UNZA as some lecturers at Delhi Technological University (DTU) in India also found online lessons to be a herculean task.
A third year Zambian student studying Electrical Engineering at DTU, Hamlet Mukuwe, revealed that some lecturers did not know how to operate some features on online platforms.
Some lecturers would be talking to the class without realising that their Mic was muted.Mukuwe
Mukuwe also said that the security of online platforms like Zoom is so porous that people who were not part of his class would access the platform and start dancing while the class is in session.
Therefore, having looked at the myriad challenges that both lecturers and students at different Universities faced, it is unthinkable that UNZA management only gave students nine working days to have physical classes and three weeks of exams.
The decision to fast-track physical lessons and exams was not done in the best interest of the students, but that of management. It wants to save the academic year at the expense of students having meaningful interaction with their lecturers.
The quality and substance of education offered to students this year has been highly compromised by lack of physical interactions in campus, and it is only prudent that students are given enough time in school for them to engage lecturers and properly understand their modules.
The obsession to maintain the Southern Hemisphere school calendar by UNZA has effectively condemned many students to parroting notes in the exam room, and this is a recipe for having half-baked professionals in future.
For anyone who cares about upholding academic standards at the 18th highest ranked University in Africa, the decision to rush the students to write exams in a short period of time should leave them gnawing their teeth.