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Online learning – Are attitudes holding universities back?


John Agaba 17 October 2019ShareFive years after a new national information and communications technology (ICT) policy was unveiled in Uganda, bringing with it hopes of a revolution in higher education teaching and learning, there are concerns that institutions have failed to grasp the opportunities offered by online learning.

When engineer John Nasasira unveiled the national ICT policy for Uganda in 2014, the ministry of information and communications technology hailed the move as the beginning of a new chapter, a digital era that would revolutionise the nation going forward.

For higher education, in particular, it was anticipated the strategy would mean investments of ICT infrastructure and software as well as broadband connectivity for institutions of higher learning.

It would also usher in the training of academic staff with the necessary ICT competences to encourage them to start using electronic information and communication technologies in their teaching. It would foster a new culture and learning environment characterised by online education.

Attitudes

Fast-forward to 2019, however, and experts are not entirely convinced there has been a change in attitudes and that institutions of higher learning in the country are ready for online learning.

“Sometimes I feel we [students and institutions of higher learning] are not ready [for online education],” said Michael Niyitegeka, programmes director at Clarke International University and International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) Africa Country Manager for Uganda.

“We have not really changed our attitudes to start looking at online education as a serious opportunity and to give it a chance. We are still excessively inclined towards the conventional face-to-face mode of instruction,” said Niyitegeka in an interview with University World News.

“Our foundations and education systems in Africa generally do not encourage students to learn on their own and to be independent and proactive,” he said. “We have grown up knowing a student moves into a lecture room and waits for a lecturer to tell them what to do. This hasn’t changed.”

Internet access

The fundamental lack of trust on the part of society towards online education is a feature not only of Uganda, but of the East African region and the continent, particularly because internet penetration, speed and cost is “narrow, unreliable and expensive”, according to Niyitegeka.

“Effective online education requires reliable and affordable internet

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