Most public universities have cancelled or postponed their end of semester examinations as they struggle to give online lessons under a Covid-19 lockdown.
In contrast, private institutions, which have an edge in information technology infrastructure, are going ahead to give online examinations without disrupting their academic calendars.
A Nation survey across the higher education sector shows that some public universities have sent out communication to their students, informing them that they can only sit their exams when the institutions are fully reopened, while others are pondering how to deal with the challenge.
University of Eldoret has already told its students that examinations for end of semester will be done when “normalcy resumes”.
“We will not offer online examinations because we neither have a policy to guide us on it nor do we have the infrastructure to push us through. But we are consulting as a university with the help of IT experts and other universities on how to resolve the incapacity for the future,” said Vice-Chancellor Teresiah Akenga.
She said, however, that supervision of postgraduate students is going on well online, while research centres and laboratories are open but operating under strict World Health Organisation guidelines and other health protocols.
All learning institutions were ordered closed on March 15 to ensure learner safety in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, which has seen more than 350,000 people die globally and more than five million infected. In Kenya, 55 people have died while 1,471 have been infected.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is this weekend expected to announce a decision on when the institutions can expect to reopen.
Lecturers at Technical University of Kenya are waiting for official communication from the institution’s authorities on how to tackle the problem.
Vice-Chancellor Francis Aduol on Wednesday declined to give details on how the university is coping, saying he was in a meeting, but a senior lecturer at the institution said they were “in limbo, waiting for official word”.
The lecturer, who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak for the institution, said all students in second year and above had been scheduled to sit their exams in April but that did not happen.
He said the First Years had already begun their examinations when learning stopped.
“All the exams have been set but we really don’t know how to go about giving them online. We know the Senate has been meeting to thrash out the issue, but we haven’t heard from the university. We are waiting, but we know online examinations are out of the question for now,” he said.
At Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, Vice-Chancellor Stephen Agong’ said they were yet to decide on online examination delivery, but they were exploring it as an option.
He said one of the factors they were looking at is remote invigilation technologies to conduct virtual exams.
“We have had a very robust online support system for learners, but we have not institutionalised online examinations. We need software with security features that will not compromise the conduct of the examinations. There are worldwide recognised online examination systems that we are exploring right now,” he said, adding that it would be a challenge to administer practical examinations online.
At Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Acting Registrar of Academic Affairs Thomas Sakwa said they had rolled out e-learning for the students to make up for the lost five learning weeks.
“We have trained our lecturers and rolled out e-learning, but we know we may not reach all the students. After that we will administer examinations. For those who may not have a chance for online learning, we may be forced to give them special examinations once things return to normal,” he said.
At the University of Nairobi, however, online examinations have already started in some departments while others are preparing to give them.
Academic Registrar Humphrey Webuye has already issued detailed guidelines to students and lecturers on how the examinations will be conducted.
The guidelines include basic issues such as ensuring the laptop or gadget is fully charged, the environment is quiet and safe, internet connectivity is strong and stable and how to log in and out of the portal.
“In the unlikely case of challenges with connectivity before or during a scheduled examination, ensure you submit a written report to your dean or chairman of department,” says the circular, which also gives a list of ICT experts that students can reach out to in case of challenges.
“During the online examinations, in the most unlikely event that you experience electricity outage or internet disconnection, you are advised to report in writing to the Chairman of Department or the relevant Dean/Director of your Faculty/School/Institute/Centre immediately using your university email for appropriate action/advice.
It should be noted that only the cases outlined above and reported within 24 hours will be investigated and a report made to the Senate for appropriate consideration,” says the circular by Mr Webuye.