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This is the time our digital classrooms dream should come true

Monday April 13 2020
By BITANGE NDEMO

Coronavirus has forced a pause on to the world. Strangely, the people, rich and poor, are yearning for normalcy to return. They want the world as they know it to be back.  

However, that world is shattered and may never return.

In the education sector, children are out of school, which gives us an opportunity to do good in this time.

There isn’t a single person in the world who knows when the pause will be over.  For now, we simply have to listen to Cristy Lane’s ‘One Day at a Time’ and in particular the following stanza to take it easy - one day at a time:

Yesterday's gone, sweet Jesus

And tomorrow may never be mine

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Lord, help me today, show me the way

One day at a time

Although experts estimate that the crisis may take anywhere between twelve and eighteen months, people are anxious to get back in six months.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers have been vocal in demanding that government should not use schools to quarantine suspected Covid-19 carriers and that exams should be postponed. What do they know to make such demands?

We can do some good in education one day at a time before the crisis comes to an end.  By my estimation, there is a teacher in every village or estate in Kenya.

There are radios, televisions and smartphones in virtually every home. The entire country has broadband coverage.

These are the tools we need to facilitate a hackathon (dictionary.com defines it as “a sprint-like event; often, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others collaborate intensively on software projects.”) of content developers, in other words teachers creating content in their area of expertise.

DEVELOP CONTENT

They can choose to enter the competition from wherever they are. They develop content from each module (subject topic) and a team of subject matter judges picks the top five.

The content will then be uploaded to a cloud (server) for delivery/broadcast through multiple platforms. Teachers wherever they are will spend a few days encouraging the students to leverage the online content to finish this year’s syllabus.

In the event the crisis takes twelve months or eighteen, there will be no anxieties about exams being postponed for the year. We can never recover lost time.

Curfews and lockdowns do not mean that we cannot use the time to do good. After all, it doesn’t make sense for people to stay idle for some unknown period and expect that the salaries continue to flow.

In my view, if there are teachers out there who love their job, this should be a pro bono exercise. Those whose content becomes popular can be paid based on the number of downloads.

Whilst the doctors are at the frontline fighting the virus, teachers should at the frontline through online platforms fighting ignorance and making the children busy.

The economists will do the same on the economy and all other professions will do the same to their calling. It doesn’t help waking up and doing nothing in the house.

When the universities started online teaching of the graduate programs, many criticised the move, saying it will not work. They said that traditional learning in classrooms is better than online. 

The emerging circumstances have changed the equation and we had to face reality. Two weeks into the program, most lecturers have overcome the initial hiccups. They are teaching to the extent that some students are wondering aloud why we always struggle through traffic jams to physically attend classes.

The next move is on how to deal with larger classes in the undergraduate programs.

Distance learning has evolved over the past three centuries to the current integration of digital technologies that have deeply influenced formal learning globally. 

Many of the teaching and learning platforms are free, making education today accessible and inclusive. This has truly democratised education such that with right policies, developing countries can greatly benefit their citizens.

SHOWN THE WAY

Experimentation at institutions of higher learning should give policymakers the impetus to introduce the same in primary and secondary schools to mitigate prevailing circumstances.  Moi Forces Academy Kiswahili teacher has shown the way by using a Zoom platform to successfully teach his students.

If the adoption goes well, it could even be introduced in adult education with some incentives. There are many people out there who missed the opportunity of learning, some not because of their choice.

The advent of technology in education has far-reaching implications. That those who had learning difficulty can very easily learn using artificial intelligence to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and provide customised resources and learning to address the unique needs of each learner.

Staying at home should not mean that it is a holiday of some sort. It is a time to reflect deeply with the aim to finding solutions to an emerging socio-economic problem.

After the virus, the world could possibly plunge into a recession. We can lessen that by doing what we’ve got to do, one day at a time.

 The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. 

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