Education institutions must develop post-Covid Open Distance e-Learning (ODeL) strategies because e-learning is the future of education, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) has said.
As the government locked down all sectors including closing all schools at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the ministry and NCHE pushed for the countrywide adoption of OdeL to facilitate continued learning during the lockdown. Uganda was the only country in the world that locked out all its 14 million learners from physical learning for over two years due to Covid.
Speaking at the 4th National Council for Higher Education conference under the theme: enhancement of teaching, learning and assessment with open and distance e-learning in higher education at Hotel Africana, Ms Museveni said the government will mainstream open distance and e-learning through the ministry's strategic plan 2021-2024/24 by having it mainstreamed in all higher institutions of learning due to its enormous benefits.
"ODeL increases enrollment of eligible learners, increases the teacher-learner ratio and provides solutions to the emergencies in the education sector. It is flexible in terms of time and distance. It is not discriminative in terms of age, gender, religion or physical ability," she said.
During the Covid lockdown, NCHE issued emergency guidelines to be followed during the implementation of ODeL, especially in higher institutions of learning. According to NCHE, only 48 out of 250 institutions fulfilled requirements and were approved to implement open distance and e-learning.
Prof Mary Okwakol, the executive director of NCHE says the emergency ODeL guidelines will not work post covid, and that institutions should develop programs they intend to teach using ODeL and have them accredited.
“We expect that all institutions that wish to continue with ODeL to have developed programs which they should submit to NCHE...institutions that haven’t developed programmes and had them approved to be delivered using OdeL mode won’t be permitted to continue,” she said.
Prof Mike Kuria the deputy executive secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa says if OdeL is to be successfully implemented, there is a need to develop policies and guidelines that should be compatible with open distance and e-learning.
Alionzi Lawrence, a student at Makerere University told The Observer that ODeL is inevitable despite the challenges that come with it. Alionzi says government should ease access to the internet, and that lecturers should be taught how to use the ODeL mode of learning so that they train their students as well. Like Alionzi, Price Bbosa a law student at Makerere says ODeL requires expensive gadgets which students can't afford.
"Open distance and e-learning requires an oversight body. We need to test the technology and system before it is implemented. ODeL requires expensive phones and laptops which we don't have," Bbosa said.
Prof Eli Katunguka, the chairperson NCHE told The Observer that higher institutions of learning have been advised to put up infrastructure to implement open distance and e-learning. Katunguka says at Kyambogo, where he serves as vice chancellor, steps are being taken to implement open distance and e-learning such as easing access to internet and making gadgets affordable.
"We have a contract with Absa bank which will provide students with loans to buy laptops and pay back slowly on higher purchase. We have worked with Renu to expand our bandwidth, created many hotspots on campus and taught student leaders and staff how to use ODeL." Katunguka said.