Coronavirus: Why our children can't learn from home

Tuesday March 17 2020

Due to the ravaging coronavirus, the President has ordered learning institutions in the country to shutdown.

Shutdown of public spaces that have high population seems to be the only tool currently available to slow down a virus that seems to be spreading fast and has no cure.

Data from previous pandemics shows that infections will always start and rise exponentially, before they get under control and level out.

So it is obvious that we are indeed at early stages and it will get worse before it gets better. The challenge is that no one knows exactly how long this pandemic will take before it gets under control.

Subsequently no one knows how long schools will remain closed.

eLearning therefore becomes the most appropriate intervention to facilitate continuous learning, even as students and teachers get quarantined at home.


Is Kenya ready for eLearning?

The simple answer is a resounding no.

But don’t we have the so-called Digital Learning Programs (DLP), otherwise known as the Laptop Project that has been rolled out to over 20,000 primary schools?

Why shouldn’t students use this for remote learning?


The design of the DLP is school-based, with the learning devices being accessed from within classrooms and being locked up in school after hours. They are therefore not designed for remote learning and not useful in the current context.

Universities on the other hand may have a better chance at delivering learning content remotely during the current shutdown.

This is because many of the institutions of higher learning already have some eLearning platform in place and most students have the smart-phones needed to access learning material.

There are however three challenges that must be overcome to make eLearning a reality in institutions of higher learning.

The first one is, of course, training of lecturers to appreciate eLearning pedagogies.

Most lecturers are used to and very comfortable with the traditional ‘chalk-and-talk’ approaches and are unwilling to adapt new approaches.

In the 'chalk-and-talk' model, the lecturer is considered the alpha and omega of knowledge. He or she is considered the only source and disseminator of knowledge, despite the fact that many are relying on some yellow notes created decades ago.

With eLearning, the lecturer takes a moderator approach, guiding and pointing to digital resources of knowledge that the student should engage with and master.


Which brings us to the second challenge. Students must change their attitude as well.

Just as lecturers are used to ‘chalk-and-talk’, students have for years since primary school, been conditioned to ‘listen-and-cram’ approaches to learning.

Most students do not want to learn. They simply want to know what will come in the exam. So they attend classes with the sole intention of writing down what may likely be reproduced in the exam room.

eLearning approaches are contrary to this mode. They expect the student to be an active learner in terms of spending time and effort going through digital resources as guided by the lecturer.

The lecturers therefore set the pace with predefined milestones for delivering online assignments, lab work or quizzes through out the course of learning.

Active learning is a paradigm shift that students are likely to grapple with in the same vein as lecturers will have to struggle with a shift from being the source of knowledge to being the ‘aggregator’ and moderator of knowledge.

The third and final challenge for eLearning is the cost of internet access.

Whereas prices have dropped significantly over the years, they are still exorbitant especially for serious work that requires uploading pictures on Instagram or Facebook.

Engaging on eLearning platforms requires a high amount of data exchanges that can only be supported by high quality and affordable broadband Internet.

From the latest statistics from Communication Authority, less than half a million Kenyans have access to an ‘eLearning ready’ broadband internet link that is over 1Mbs.

The majority of Kenyans have access to cheap Internet but cannot afford to subscribe to what would constitute a high grade and reliable link that can support eLearning engagements.

It seems Kenya, the so-called Silicon Savannah of Africa, has quite some work to do to actualise eLearning.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu