Educational institutions must develop Post-Covid Open Distance e-Learning (ODeL) strategies as e-learning is the future of education, according to the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).
When the government locked down all sectors including the closure of all schools at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the ministry and NCHE pushed for the nationwide rollout of OdeL to facilitate continued learning during lockdown. Uganda was the only country in the world to ban all of its 14 million learners from physical learning for over two years because of Covid.
Speaking at the 4th Conference of the National Council for Higher Education on the theme: Improving Teaching, Learning and Assessment through Open and Distance e-Learning in Higher Education at Hotel Africana, Ms Museveni said the government will promote open and distance e-learning E-learning through the Ministry’s Strategic Plan 2021-2024/24 by anchoring it in all higher education institutions due to its enormous benefits.
“ODeL increases enrollment of eligible learners, increases teacher-learner ratios and provides solutions to emergencies in the education sector. It is flexible in terms of time and location. It does not discriminate based on age, gender, religion or physical ability,” she said .
During the Covid lockdown, NCHE issued emergency guidelines to follow when implementing ODeL, particularly in higher education institutions. According to the NCHE, only 48 out of 250 institutions met the requirements and were approved to implement open distance and e-learning.
Prof Mary Okwakol, Executive Director of NCHE, says that post-Covid emergency ODeL policies will not work and that institutions should develop programs they want to teach using ODeL and have them accredited.
“We expect that all institutions that wish to proceed with ODeL have developed programs that they should submit to NCHE… Institutions that have not developed programs and have been approved for delivery in OdeL mode are not allowed to proceed,” she said.
Prof. Mike Kuria, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa, says that if OdeL is to be successfully implemented, policies and guidelines need to be developed, which should be compatible with open distance and e-learning.
Alionzi Lawrence, a student at Makerere University, told The Observer that despite the challenges involved, ODeL is inevitable. Alionzi says the government should facilitate access to the internet and that lecturers should be taught how to use the ODeL learning mode so that they also educate their students. Like Alionzi, Price Bbosa, a law student at Makerere, says ODeL requires expensive equipment that students cannot afford.
“Open distance and e-learning require a supervisory authority. We need to test the technology and the system before implementing it. ODeL requires expensive phones and laptops, which we don’t have,” Bbosa said.
Prof Eli Katunguka, NCHE chairman, told The Observer that higher education institutions have been advised to set up an infrastructure to implement open distance and e-learning. Katunguka says steps are being taken at Kyambogo, where he serves as vice chancellor, to implement open distance and e-learning, such as making internet access easier and gadgets affordable.
“We have an agreement with Absa Bank, which grants loans to students to buy laptops and slowly repays them for larger purchases. We’ve worked with Renu to expand our bandwidth, created many hotspots on campus, and trained student leaders and staff on how to use ODeL,” said Katunguka.