Reagan Sebyaala was in his third year when the government imposed a second Covid-19 lockdown in June.
He had planned to finish his college year in the midst of the pandemic, but that did not happen.
Sebyaala says that when they were sent home, classmates called him to alert him to teachers sharing work on WhatsApp groups, to which he did not have access.
“When the schools closed, I went to the village to farm. I don’t have a smartphone and I can’t access the work my friends get, ”says Sebyaala.
Sebyaala is one of the many students who have not had the chance to be part of the many initiatives put in place to ensure the continuity of learning in the midst of the pandemic.
After learning from the first lockdown in March last year, some schools and other educational institutions have devised several approaches to ensure continuity of learning.
E-learning was at the top of the list, requiring students to have smartphones or computers with internet connection to access Zoom courses.
Elvis Namayo, a second year student at Kampala International University, says learning materials have always been made available to them via WhatsApp. He said they had to take online classes on a schedule.
“You had to have data all the time. It got expensive and I decided to stop. I know it won’t be easy to catch up with my friends when the universities reopen, but I have no other choice, ”he says.
Namayo hopes to return to school, but is also concerned that his mind will now focus more on entrepreneurial ideas, forcing him to weigh options of returning to school or dropping out and focusing on money.
Students, who are now faced with new realities in access to education, must adapt quickly to the integration of digital technologies and e-learning both through open and distance learning in order to stay in tune with demands and maintain quality learning.
Mr. Julius Ssekatawa, spokesperson and focal point for e-learning at the University of Kampala, said that when the government said that learning must continue, it introduced the information management system on education and trained teachers and students in its use.
Mr Ssekatawa says it is expensive to run the platform because it is a robust platform where students access everything from the system.
He says they need to train teachers and students to use it, and some students come from remote areas, which made them miss out because they don’t have the resources to participate in online classes.
Online learning places considerable demands on institutions, as well as on staff and students. Teachers have had to be reoriented from traditional physical classes to virtual or online teaching and learning.
Educational materials must be suitable for online delivery, and staff and students alike must have Internet access, which requires commitment, determination, literacy and financial resources.
Ms Alice Nakalembe from Nansana in Wakiso, who had taken her three children from primary school to a community teacher for mentoring, said she was overwhelmed with expenses and ordered them to stay home until when schools reopen.
Ms Nakalembe, who paid Shs 2,000 per child every day, said she thought it would make more sense to invest this money and collect school fees when schools reopen.
“We live in uncertain times, which forces us to think beyond today. If I keep paying this money, I will be doing their future a disservice, ”she said.
The deep digital divide, problems with Internet access and limited access to ICT equipment have made it difficult to set up an inclusive e-learning program.
Social borders in the country also contribute to the limited access of these online initiatives aimed at ensuring the continuity of learning, as not everyone has an internet-enabled gadget to ensure online learning.
Other means of ensuring continuity such as coaching also registered a number of challenges. Teachers say they have been deceived by parents who do not respect their end of the bargain to pay for services rendered.
Grace Kyomuhangi, a teacher in Kyazanga, says she dropped out of home classes after several parents cheated on her.
Many learners have also taken various practical vocational training such as working in garages, construction sites, beauty and cosmetics stores and the hospitality industry.
The United Nations says more than 91% of learners globally have been affected by the temporary school closures, and about 1.6 billion young people were out of school in April.
In Uganda, nearly 15 million children have seen their schooling disrupted by lockdown since last year.
The Internet Society claims that the use of Zoom, a source of shared educational resources, has helped develop the skills of teachers and learners.
But with challenges such as access to electricity in rural homes, computer illiteracy, and practical subjects such as chemistry, biology and physics that require a physical presence in the classroom, and many others, the education sector faces greater challenges.
What can be done?
Many institutions have continued to address some of the concerns and needs to maintain the blended education and training format under current circumstances.
Professor Tonny Oyana, director of the College of Computer and Information Science (CoCIS) at Makerere University, said the government, through the Ministry of Education, should purchase academic licenses that can be used at all levels of teaching from face to face learning. is not possible at the moment.
He says that these government academic licenses will not only improve online learning, but also provide a better blended learning experience.
Professor Oyana argues that although the government has done a great job in setting up the national backbone covering almost the entire country, it needs to look at infrastructure development and also meet the challenges of the user of the latter. kilometer from the Internet.
“They should partner with telecom companies, introduce 4G and 5G, which in some cases will also increase bandwidth. Bandwidth is becoming one of those essential utilities for our development. Reducing the cost of data, especially for education, by delivering zero-rated websites will help us overcome some of the barriers to online learning.