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COVID-19 has “created awakening to rethink meaning of University”: Kenyan Vice Chancellor

The Vice-Chancellor (VC Designate) of Kenya-based Tangaza University College (TUC), Prof. David Wang’ombe during convocation ceremony Friday, August 21, 2020.

At the convocation to mark the official start of the Academic year 2020-2021 of the 34-year-old Kenya-based Catholic institution of higher learning, Tangaza University College (TUC), the Vice Chancellor (VC Designate) said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered reflections around the meaning of the institution of the university.

“COVID-19 pandemic has provided uncertainty that we have not experienced before. In essence, it has redefined life, it has redefined how we relate, it has redefined what we do and how we do it. To me, it has redefined the definition of University or better still, created an awakening for us to rethink the meaning of University,” TUC’s VCD Prof. David Wang’ombe said Friday, August 21.

“Many of us who have perhaps studied through High School thought of University as some place we shall go, some kind of epitome, the highest level of education,” Prof. Wang’ombe said and added, “But perhaps along the way we confused the meaning of University. It is not a place. The place with the buildings and the resources and structures are only tools to facilitate what a University is.”

The Kenyan-born Prof. who has been at the helm of the jointly owned Catholic institution since January continued, “A University’s function is the function of knowledge sharing, knowledge creation. It is a function of using knowledge for community transformation.”

“Let us not think, at any one moment that Universities are closed. No, Universities ought to be carrying out their function in the new norm and that is we are challenged to,” Prof. Wang’ombe said during the August 21 event at TUC, a nine-Institute entity that is owned by 22 Religious Orders and Societies of Apostolic Life.

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In March, Kenyan government ordered the closure of all learning institutions as part of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the East African nation.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Education had initially announced that institutions of higher learning would begin a phased re-opening in September. However, the Ministry announced a change in the plans after a survey revealed that many Institutions are yet to fully comply with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 protocols for a safe resumption of learning. 

In a July letter addressed to members of Tangaza family, Prof. Wang’ombe announced that “the new academic year will start as planned on August 21, 2020.”

“We are determined to ensure continuity of teaching and remote learning has thus been ensured for the vast majority of our programs. The respective Schools/Institutes will advise on the platforms to use but remote teaching/online classes will run from Monday 24 August 2020,” the VC said in his July 20 letter. 

During the August 21 event broadcast on social media, Prof. Wang’ombe noted that “virtual learning for our students who are used to face-to-face classes has been adopted as a mode to increase and to enhance quality, flexibility, access to cost-effective education as the University uses technology to enhance relevant and holistic education.”

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“We are conscious about timely completion of academic programs. For this reason, we have committed ourselves that between now and when face to face interactions will be open, we shall continue to conduct our affairs using the e-resources,” he added.

Acknowledging the high cost of Internet services in the country, the VCD said that TUC’s leadership “negotiated with internet service providers for cheaper bundles to facilitate the learning and teaching process.”

He called on members of TUC family to be mindful of the less fortunate among them saying, “Remember those who have been challenged and cannot access the remote classes. They do not have money; they don’t have resources to acquire the tools that we need to ensure there is remote teaching.”

“For this reason, I call for your support. I ask you to engage other partners to support especially those students who are saying they need a webcam enabled laptop or smartphone yet they don’t have food and are not assured about tomorrow,” the 49-year-old Prof. said and underscored, “Let us do everything possible and do all that we can to support the underprivileged members of our society.”