Teaching Online the Crisis with Opportunities: Uganda Educators’ Ordeal

The advent of COVID19 has caused misery to most service sectors but also opportunities for some sections of the economy. How a section is affected has been somewhat predetermined by factors that include the nature of service and the level of preparedness to easily adapt to alternative means of service delivery. The education sector is one of the service areas where alternative means of continuing teaching and learning were presented as opportunities. Today, we can affirm that with the exception of a few, academic entities in particular and the country, in general, were never prepared to turn this kind of a situation into an opportunity. The education leadership has thought of a thousand ways to continue the teaching and learning and nothing agreeable is forthcoming with inducing escalation of COVID19 infections. It is so bad that even institutions that seemed prepared and attempted to continue uninterrupted were at one point considered unnecessary disruptors. It should not surprise any of us that all these forward-looking academic institutions were private. We all acknowledge that under the sun, everything has a foundation, and times like these tests the presence of such foundations.

 In spite of all efforts Uganda galvanized towards development, the country has in almost two decades increased rural electrification by only 7% according to the energy minister. Electricity (or energy) is the primary enabler of any form of electronic teaching and learning. Whereas many African countries have greatly improved on dispersing electricity, Uganda is among a couple of countries still struggling. Therefore, it is unlikely that a discussion about electronic means of teaching and learning that ‘leaves no one behind’ should yield any productive results. By default, many are meant to be left behind.

The question to answer is, should everyone improvising electronic means of teaching and learning wait until no one is left behind? It is not wisdom to solve a problem by getting complacent and I don’t remember development that looks at ‘everyone’ at once. Development is gradual, starting from the stronger point while influencing the weaker spots. For example, it may not be feasible for ministry of education to provide computers to over 10,000 public schools in a fiscal year but that does not stop the ministry to start with 500 schools.

Today, there is a thin line between schools, colleges, and universities endowed with electricity, electronics, internet, and those challenged with these somewhat school life privileges. Profile schools and universities in Kampala and all-new cities have been equally challenged with teaching electronically. Also squarely challenged are the majority of educators at all levels with a small percent able to adapt and continue remote teaching utilizing prior skills acquired in educational technology. I am aware of a couple of schools that enthusiastically started out teaching with what would qualify for rudiment technology in education and when the fun was depleted the teaching flow stopped as well. We have to accept that educators are so much disconnected from the 21st-century classroom that you wouldn’t recognize them away from the traditional setup. An educator would comfortably convince you how they cannot launch into electronic teaching because their institution has no sufficient electronic equipment. This conversation goes on while the educator is flipping a Galaxy-Note series phone with all necessary capabilities to support teaching and learning including screencasting(Projector). In the U.K for example it is a requirement to prove you can use technology to teach before you are permitted to teach. I must admit I have not found a teachers’ training college or university that prepares educators to conduct teaching different from the traditional form. If they were never prepared for electronic teaching, how do we expect them to so quickly adapt? In 2016, I did a min survey on Uganda and Kenya on the subject of eLearning at higher education tertiaries.  Out of ten colleges, Kenya had at least four having the element of eLearning incorporated in the system, and Uganda out of ten had none. Today when educators talk about teaching electronically or online learning, the only phrase you hear is Zoom. My response has been Zoom or virtual classroom may contribute only 10% of a well-developed Distance and Online teaching and learning. The common term used in the Educational Technology industry is Technology Enhanced Learning & Teaching (TEL&T). It’s a cocktail of Technology, Pedagogy, equity, curriculum, resources (OER), learner and their environment, analysis, collaborations, educators among others. In otherward, for one to comfortably teach at distance or online, they should be cognizant of TEL&T elements and how they integrate to facilitate a conducive Distance and Online teaching and learning environment.

Before COVID19 struck, I was involved in training small groups of educators bits of TEL&T and they were not shy about their technology in-class challenges. Among the profound pitfalls cited, is the inability of educators to evolve into alternative methods of teaching and learning. Educators in most primary and secondary schools argue that it is by design that they’re unable to teach using electronic means because almost all ICT programs have targeted the students and less or no attention to educators. Notably, the majority of their colleagues in higher education are not any better when it comes to ICT in education. However, I want to emphasize that there is a defined line between having ICT skills and being competent to conduct a technology-supported pedagogy in education, and apparently, to a larger extent, we seem to have neither in our education system.

The other echoed phrase from educators as the reason for being unable to pick up new teaching skills is pointing to the curriculum. To some extent, I agree with them but even when the discussion is about personal development, one would religiously remind you of how they’re guided by the curriculum that you may think they are the students. It’s very clear that a curriculum is a principle document designed and standardized to guide teaching and to some extent learning but should it be the excuse for an educator’s personal development deficiency? Teaching and learning standards are good but do they address the education needs of the 21st century! When educators stop researching, reading, and acquiring new knowledge and skills, that’s where learning stalls even when the teaching may continue. Today, knowledge evolves fasters than three decades ago. For example, in chemistry, the periodic table of elements has been growing and just last year, four elements were added. If you’re the educator of that subject and you disfranchise yourself from adopting TEL&T which includes collaborations through communities of practice, possibly you will never know about the new blocks of information on the subject until the curriculum recommends a new edition and the learner will be going out with half information in the name of a static curriculum.

The point here is that schools including colleges and universities were and not prepared to conduct teaching and learning differently and attempts by many to launch into technology quick fix methods has greatly revealed that as a nation, we are some kilometres away from the technologies that support education. Settling for quick fixes will only lead to frustration and most initiatives will die almost immediately.

Way forward!

  • it is imperative that institution management boards adopt what is known as blended or hybrid teaching and learning. Blended or hybrid learning is combination of both traditional teacher led-classroom and electronic or online learning approaches to conduct teaching and learning. This form effectively facilitates distance and on-campus learning.
  • It is pointless to start on this kind of a project from a vacuum. Academic institutions at all levels need to craft policies that will guide the development, implementation, and management of TEL&T. Here, there is no room for casual consideration if this program is to succeed at any institution.
  • Plan how this program will be funded from the beginning. Many such program worldwide stall because the financial continuity plan was never considered. Look for ways that should reduce the cost of running the program. Such ways include considering Open Education Resources(OER) developed within or acquired through collaboration with educators and others institutions.
  • Plan not just to orient but fully providing training to educators. These areas can be considered for training. Instruction designing (TEL&T), Online facilitation, OER development, integrated tools, researching among others. Miss out on this element and you do know have a progressive program.
  • Incorporate Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching in teachers /educators training curriculum. Keep in mind, there is a defined line between ICT skills and TEL&T skills.

The critical challenge the education sector faces going forward is not the understanding of the need to adopt and adapt to new forms of teaching and learning but rather how to respond to the glaring need and the actions to choose to start on the journey and the resolve to keep walking.

By Moses M. Mwebaze

Edutech Specialist/Team Leader at Kavedin

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