We can simplify the higher education challenges in this COVID-19 pandemic by contextualizing Tomaševski's 4-A Scheme.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, when the majority of the population is acknowledging that it is time for a paradigm shift, many academicians and policymakers are struggling to provide a sustainable solution. Online teaching and learning seem to be a solution. Still, implementation appears to take a lot of time which is risking students' progress and Universities' sustainability.
We can simplify the higher education challenges in this COVID-19 pandemic by contextualizing Tomaševski's 4-A Scheme. A renowned educationalist Katarina Tomasevski in one of her publications discussed about the right to education, and rights in education. Right to education includes availability and accessibility on education opportunities and rights in education includes acceptability and adaptability of the same.
If we talk about the first A - availability, the government has already given the opportunity to the private sector to set up the quality infrastructure and recruit efficient human resource. These public and private Universities have already availed education for all. Universities are also able enough to find creative and innovative ways to ensure value.
The second A- accessibility, is also complied as the Universities don't discriminate and avail their services to all. It is important to note that generally across the globe, it's only the primary and secondary education which falls under the right to education or compulsory education. However, In Uganda, like other countries, various available scholarships support the ones who are willing to acquire higher education but can't afford.
The third A- acceptability is a challenge which can be addressed by integrating online education. Education is supposed to be relevant so that it enables the learners to acquire the right knowledge, attitude, and skills to allow them to be relevant to the industry they are going in. To support the accessibility, the education industry needs a safe environment, quality resources, efficient service delivery, and realistic student experience.
If we compare the online teaching and face to face teaching, the only few things that change are - environment, service delivery, and student experience. The environment is indeed, safer online. Service delivery has only changed in medium and not quality as both are delivered by the same professors using the same content.
As far as student experience is concerned, it has the benefit of being more acquainted to the virtual space. We need to acknowledge that the work style is not going to be the same post-COVID. There will be a lot of opportunities to work remotely, and these skills are going to help students.
The fourth A- adaptability, is also a challenge which can be best solved by online teaching and learning. A wide range of students can quickly adapt to this mode of education. Imagine a differently-abled student struggling to come to University when he or she can access the same quality of education online. Imagine a student struggling to catch up with curfew while risking the spread of infection just to study face to face when it could be done online. Is it not better to take education to the students instead of vice versa?
However, I am not saying that online is all good. Just like face to face teaching and learning, it also has its challenges. But these challenges can be quickly addressed.
Quality of online education has been a concern of educators and policymakers. But the quality can be controlled, and expected outcomes can be achieved. Few studies have shown students who are taught on simple available tools like WhatsApp perform better in tests than the students who only attend a face to face classes. It could be due to better engagement of students.
On WhatsApp groups, the students ask more questions, many students answer questions from fellow students which makes it more participatory, students express how they feel about the discussion going on through emoji, and many students share relevant study material diversifying the learning. Instant messaging tools like WhatsApp enable students to automatically download the shared content even in fluctuating internet connection and access study material even offline.
However, we also have to be mindful of the programmes that require hands-on practical. This can be addressed by a blended approach of teaching and learning where students come to University only when a practical is needed. A blended approach in many studies has been found better than pure face to face or pure online teaching and learning. The curriculum and study material can be fine-tuned to fit all programmes in this structure as a solution.
Another set of challenges is availability, affordability, and familiarity. There are many open-source platforms that we use on an almost daily basis that can be smartly utilized if the absence of learning management software. Tools like email, WhatsApp, skype, google meet, and zoom etc. can be used for sharing content and organizing live sessions.
These tools have an added advantage that they are readily available, and both students and teachers are familiar with how they work. Of course, the question of the cost of the data bundle comes in. But if used correctly, it can be compensated by the savings from the cost of daily transport and accommodation near University.
The credibility of online assessment and examination has also been questioned. However, again if we use creative ways of using simple tools, it can be addressed. The forward-looking academicians are advocating for open-book-examinations which force you to critically think and give solutions to a problem.
These solutions cannot be found online due to the nature of questions. So the learners have to use the available to data, analyze, evaluate and create a solution. Even if an academician is not interested in open-book-examination and wants to traditionally examine a learner in a controlled environment, it can be done remotely.
For example, I can ask a student to share his computer screen with me using free software; for example, join me so that I may monitor that the student is not cheating using the computer. At the same time, I can ask the student to do a skype or WhatsApp conference call and keep his/ her phone at a place from where I can see the surrounding and head all the voices. Just by using these two free software, we can create an environment stricter than a typical classroom examination.
In conclusion, I propose the blended learning using the available, affordable and familiar tool to be considered as a way forward as we can't afford to lose the precious time during this uncertain period.
The writer is the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University in Kampala