For some time, I’ve been observing an underlying issue which portrays the quality of student-administration relations amongst Universities in Uganda, but there’s one thing I don’t seem to clearly understand – the effectiveness.
After schools and institutions of learning were closed on June 6 to curb the spread of COVID-19, I recently read an article in the media which indicated June 28 as the re-opening date of a new semester at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) which would happen online, and for a moment then, I imagined how the move would practically accommodate for the full population of the students currently pursuing various programmes at the institution with the prevailing situation in the country.
Today marks day 11/42 of the lockdown and a number of Universities have started off new semesters, while others have taken the continual of examinations online. Administration of exams online has been a quite a debatable move which institutions have contemplated about due to uncertainty on the quality of supervision of learners over the internet.
Last year, when a similar lockdown of institutions happened due to the coronavirus outbreak, I learnt with disbelief that a section of students at a premier institution, Makerere University missed exams due to their vulnerability to proceed online with the, then, second semester (academic year 2019/2020). The students in that effect could not sit exams they had not prepared enough for. And it turns out, the occurrence was true.
One of the affected students that I interacted with, informed me that the institution instructed them to wait until the exams would be next offered. That, in depth meant that students would have a dead year, falling behind their, then classmates.
“I was expecting something like a day or evening shift of lectures to cater for both categories of students. The admin probably thought that every student was home at the time. Students who work throughout the day to finance their living were not put into consideration.” The student, whose identity is concealed, told me
“When the lectures started, I was margined out because I was working during day, and I couldn’t handle to to balance the two, and either way I couldn’t abandon my work because it was a source of living to me”
“So I was forced to withdraw from that semester towards exams and wait for the next offering in the next academic year, which would come two semesters away from then. And that actually meant, I wouldn’t proceed to the next semester leading to a dead year because I couldn’t give in my source of income at the time. Now that the second lockdown came in, the wait will have to go longer. And I actually have colleagues who were affected by the same situation I experienced. I was not alone ” the student recalled the difficult moment
From this student’s narration, you can tell that he was willing to embrace digital learning however; he was constrained by his hustle that was clearly financing his education. Bear in mind, this was just from one college; so how about the other colleges at the institution. And even still in regard to this matter, didn’t the admin notice such an alarming number of students being left out?
He, just like his other colleagues stand uncertain looking up to the day when the next set of exanimations will come through hopefully around the end of this year.
In a separate incident, following demand from students, the student’s Guild through their president – Ms Iculet Arikosi at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) recently petitioned the university administration requesting for special exams that would cater for students who didn’t perform to the required pass mark in the examinations that happened in January this year (semester 2 – 2019/2020 year).
The petition came following a similar Makerere scenario, where MUST resumed with, at the time, pending semester (following schools closure in March 2020) online. The online exams were followed by physical exams in January, and with this move, some students who didn’t keep up with the online classes, had to enter their final exams not prepared enough. And even then, some of the affected students didn’t show up at all for these exams.
Days after submitting the petition, the students body through their president still, received a response from the administration on May 26, 2021 indicating that the concerns had been discussed however it was resolved that the students who didn’t perform to the required pass mark will have to retake the failed courses, when next offered.
“….It is noted from your letter that students were not properly taught due to various reasons. This means that offering special examinations would not be helpful to these (affected) students” the letter from the institutions Vice Chancellor – Academic Affairs wrote, in the responding letter.
The affected students, just like the ones in Makerere, will have to wait until the next set of exams comes through.
They say we all learn from mistakes, but now that the second lockdown of schools is here, anyone would wonder: were any lessons picked from the first lockdown? If yes, what has been done different about consideration of such vulnerable students in case a similar set-back materializes?
Over time, student-leaders from various universities have petitioned the education ministry regarding the unaffordability of online learning of some students from select universities. Ranging from reduction of functional fees to financial aid to price subsidization of the resources to facilitate the e-learning process, I could say I haven’t seen any positive response to any of the petitions which makes me question if the requests were actually received and considered.
Weeks ago, the government announced its plan to give out a covid-19 lockdown relief fund worth UGX 100,000(each) to certain categories of people to support them during the lockdown. To a surprise of many, students in this case were out on the list of the beneficiaries of this relief fund.
It’s understandable; the money planned for this drive wasn’t as much to accommodate for all students, but how about for a few students for example those who are stranded in hostels, because that would send out a very strong indicator of consideration at least.
With all this in mind, the question that still remains unaccounted for is whether, students cries are really ever heard out because, of course it’s debatable that most students are sponsored by their parents/ guardians, but what happens to the case of students who finance themselves. And even then, what accountability is given out to students who full pay functional/operational fees in their institutions and still go ahead to pay heavily for resources to facilitate online mode of learning when the semester resume or entirely new semesters. Can the authorities responsible for this, do better? I firmly believe they can.
The author is an analyst and student advocate.