The recent revelation that students have shunned nearly 100 university courses is sobering. In their analysis, students and by extension the community, can’t see a future in pursuing those courses.
It is a revelation that spells doom for universities and the lecturers who offer the neglected courses. It’s just one of the challenges keeping universities’ management on edge. Even before the Cabinet Secretary for Education made this disclosure, many Kenyan universities were gasping for financial breath.
In the last decade, university education has expanded, exceeding demand, and at the same time, employment opportunities have diminished. Parents decry the high cost of education and have to make tough choices for their kids to take higher education.
Universities around the world invest heavily in online education as one way to cope with the financial concerns faced by our universities. Online education is buoyed by the confluence of new technologies, global adoption of the Internet, and intensifying demand for a workforce trained periodically for the ever-evolving digital economy.
Online education has a legion of benefits. The courses cost significantly lower than their on-the-ground counterparts. Online learning tools break the barriers of distance and location, and link students from furthest fringes of the country or continent to good education.
The courses also offer convenience: It is easy to combine them with work or other duties that would prevent one from acquiring higher education.
Online courses offer students greater control over their own learning by enabling them to work at their own pace. More engaging multimedia content, greater access to their instructor and fellow classmates via online chat contributes to improved retention.
Evidence gathered on the delivery of online courses shows that students on online programmes are assessed more frequently compared to those on traditional courses. The more often students are assessed, the better their instructors can track progress and intervene when needed.
Kenyan universities incur huge costs arising from their investment in physical facilities. Online courses, however, require limited infrastructure for classrooms, offices, dorms, and libraries. These are important incentives and cost-saving measures for financially-limping universities.
They also benefit from an increase in non-traditional students that are working full time, and the advanced state of technology making it easy to implement.
As the Internet continues to light up in all corners of the country and the price of software and hardware slumps, online education could very well become the wave of the future of education.
This is not to mean that online education is the panacea for all the ills haunting institutions of higher learning. There will always be many students who can’t thrive on online education alone. They need to have a teacher in class and a band of like-minded students to foster learning.
While online learning won’t replace on-the-ground classrooms, it will change the way we know them today — a model that may save our universities from writing their obituary.
Mr. Wambugu is an informatician. [email protected]; @samwambugu2