BY CONRAD MUTYABA
On the 4th of April 2020, the minister of education announced that institutions of higher learning including UCU should not conduct any form of teaching including on line exams or classes.
This was supposedly in line with the presidential directive instructing all universities, schools and other institutions of learning to close immediately. According to the president, he intended to decongest centralised big cells of students who were a fertile ground for the quick spread of the novel coronavirus.
That was effectively adhered to. Some universities including UCU came up with creative and novel ideas of conducting online classes, and online take home exams. A wonderful innovative step in Uganda’s predominantly archaic education system.
The strategy was simple. Give students their exam through any means possible. E- mail, social media class groups, etc. give them enough time (18 days to be exact) to write their exam from the comfort of their homes using either their smart phone, laptop, tablet. Etc. then students send their answers to the university through email. This would have encouraged research based work, creativity, reduced exam related panic and mental pressure associated with class room exams.
Such a system would have saved lecturers from contracting the deadly corona virus emanating from exchange of answer papers ( from where the coronavirus is scientifically proven to last up to five days ) and kept certain key low risk sectors of the economy running. lecturers and other key workers would stay employed easing pressure on the government.
Besides, UCU had allowed all students to do their exams with out paying a single coin for those that couldn’t and would pay on assessing their exams or on graduation. Which graduation would most probably be done online, in real time and there after deliverance of academic transcripts at a students known address. What a creative idea!
Why the decision to stop UCU online exams is not wise!
First, its economically straining to students and parents. When they emerge from the quarantine, they will all be financially drained, to ask students to travel back to universities will require huge amounts of money for transportation of property and persons, paying new hostel accommodation, food, up keep and obviously an extra fee to the university for standard operations.
Parents who haven’t been working for a month or more won’t have that money. As a result students are most likely to drop out. (a report by government recently indicated close to a million Ugandans would have slipped back in to bottle tight poverty by end of quarantine)
Secondly, and most importantly, the ministers decision to suspend UCU take home exams was in violation of Article 28 of the Constitution of Uganda, which under Article 44 (c) is non derogable ( it can never be suspended no matter the circumstances) reference is made to the UCU vice Chancellors letter, dated 4th April 2020, the minister afforded the university no hearing at all before she announced the prohibition. This is unfair and unacceptable! In law, contestable, illegal and irrational.
Thirdly, its a step backwards to Uganda’s already backward and old styled education system. Today all over the world, universities have resorted to continuing their classes on line and administering take home on line exams. Forward looking economies eg. The UK, USA, China, South Africa, Nigeria etc are encouraging this for students not to lose time, money and effort due to the uncertainty posed by the COVID – 19 around the world, no one truly knows when it will come to an end.
Such universities conducting take home online exams include: California, Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Texas which started exams on 23rd March, Berkeley, MIT, Zhejiang (China) among others. The list is endless.
Besides, the move by the Ministry of Education discourages development of technological capacities by other universities, as they’re seen as redundant when needed, like for example in such times. This is when Uganda’s ICT infrastructure must be put to an evaluation test.
World over, degrees, masters, PhDs etc are done online and as such UCU’s strategy was not un-precedented.
Fourthly, the ministry’s declaration is not in line with the rationale behind the presidents directive of closing universities.
The purpose of the presidential directive was to displace big congregations of students into smaller cells, the so called social distancing.
The directive couldn’t have meant that classes and exams shouldn’t be administered in an all inclusive manner as we have to look at the mischief the president intended to cure – reducing on the gathering of students. Online take home exams are safe and pose no health risk to the student or lecturer. The UCU on line exam policy was all in.