Consortium Seeks to Boost Digital Learning in Kenyan Universities

Dr. Muia delivers his speech during the webinar

The disruptive nature of Covid-19 pandemic is a threat to affordable, accessible and quality higher education, three factors that are vital for Kenya to achieve sustainable development.  It is against this backdrop that a survey was conducted in June 2021 on digital learning to identify issues that could impede this trajectory.

The survey conducted in eleven local universities revealed that most institutions have very low capacities to hold virtual laboratory sessions and examinations, inadequate internet bandwidth in remote areas, and lack of gadgets by staff and students thus necessitating urgent solutions. This is so because digitization of teaching and learning relies heavily on the existence of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) infrastructure.

In response to this, a consortium of eleven universities in Kenya, including Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), has drafted a joint proposal on a pipeline project on how universities can be supported to mitigate the challenges of Covid-19, especially in areas of digital learning ICT infrastructure within the next five years.

The proposal was presented by Prof. Elijah Omwenga, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs, University of Kabianga during the Education for Sustainable Development in Africa (ESDA) stakeholder’s webinar held on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

The webinar forum featured various panel discussion sessions by Vice Chancellors from respective universities.

Prof. Doroba affirmed ADB’s commitment in financing the digital learning ICT infrastructure project

Addressing the over 200 webinar participants, the Principal Secretary at the National Treasury, Dr. Julius Muia, said, “Kenya lags behind partly due to underfunding and low focus on Mathematics and Science”, adding that there was need to create synergy in response to Covid-19 and for collaborative research among institutions of higher learning which would be possible through the ESDA initiative.

The Principal Secretary’s remarks were echoed by Division Manager, Education, Human Capital and Employment African Development Bank Group (AfDB) Chalwe Doroba who noted that there was need to supplement the 0.8 percent funding allocated to higher education so as to champion the fourth industrial revolution which has ICT at its core. She stated that ADB is to develop programs to strengthen learning in TVETs as well.

The proposal aims to develop adequate ICT infrastructure and provide training equipment for staff and students as well as enhance student experience especially through virtual simulated labs, which Prof. John Njenga, Vice Chancellor, Zetech University says, are critical in allowing for practical skills in courses such as hospitality and engineering.

The JKUAT task force working on the seven billion shillings proposal comprises of Prof. Stephen Kimani (Dean School of Computing and Information Science), Prof. Rebecca Waihenya (Director School of Open and Distance Learning), Prof. Urbanus Mutwiwa and Dr. Cherono Kipchumba.

The Kenya Education Network (KENET) Executive Director, Prof. Meoli Kashorda said laptop ownership in the university community must be prioritized and underscored the need to retain high talent ICT resource persons in the institutions.

Prof. Kashorda explains KENET’s role as Kenya’s sovereign research infrastructure which allows universities to use the platform for free

“Campus systems need continuous upgrades and therefore the faculty should be well equipped. Also, there is little awareness on cloud-based resources which can enable the scaling up of virtual labs. This is necessary for online learning which can make education more affordable,” Prof. Kashorda stated.

The eleven collaborating universities: Daystar, Nairobi, Dedan Kimathi, Zetech, Garissa, Kenyatta, Kibabii, Pwani, Kabianga, and South Eastern Kenya University, will serve as centers of digital learning and research collaboration. They will be accessible to all other Kenyan universities, which will in turn, digitally transform the institutions into sustainable technology-mediated learning centres.

Other partners in the project are: Inter University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and Commonwealth of Learning (COL).

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