Coronavirus unmasks weak ICT systems

Tuesday July 21 2020

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Children computer user. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK  

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged government systems, disrupted industries, and exposed institutions in numerous ways. But one of the sectors that critically suffered is the education sector.

When Covid-19 broke loose, Rwanda moved fast in implementing a lockdown and subsequently closed schools until September, as efforts to control the spread of the virus intensified.

The pandemic warranted that institutions and students had to adapt to new ways of learning.
With all students at home, the only alternative was to study online, this necessitated government institutions to join hands with schools and universities to ensure that learning continues.

Although ICT has been at the centre of the education system for over a decade and billions of government funds spent on IT infrastructure, electronic learning has failed to take off at a time when it is needed most.

Online classes and electronic learning has failed to kick off in higher learning institutions. This failure is largely due to low skills by teachers to teach online while many students also lack the skills they need to use online learning platforms.

As of now, 94 per cent of Rwanda is covered with the 4G network, yet students still grapple with challenges as basic as lacking the needed digital literacy skills to learn online.

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A decade ago government rolled out the one laptop per child programme, with the cardinal goal of initiating school-going children to digital learning.

Majority of the pupils who got these laptops are now in high school or university, so students being unable to learn digitally is an indictment on government programmes that consumed such money.

Internet also remains expensive for a big segment of the country's population, which has come back to haunt students.

Adapting to e-learning has been a bit easier for primary and secondary students, who have continued to learn via radio stations, televisions and video calls with their teachers, especially in the cities of the country such as Kigali.

But the story has been different for higher learning and students, particularly those outside of Kigali.

The government needs to go back to the drawing board and fix the flaws that still exist as regards digital learning systems in the education system. And more urgently it needs to come up with more subsidised internet packages for students who are at a crossroads in their education now.

Some mobile network operators have stepped up by providing free e-learning platforms, but these efforts need to be supported by the government in order to increase scale.

Private universities have to be warranted to set up credible online learning infrastructure, while government- owned universities and vocational schools must also have these infrastructures by now.

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