, 19 March, 2020 / 4:26 AM
Catholic-run institutions of higher learning in Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon and in other African countries have taken to technology-based virtual learning to help students interact with their lecturers in the safety of their homes as various governments on the continent take precautionary measures against the spread of COVID-19, the new disease caused by coronavirus.
In Ghana, a poster giving students at the 17-year-old Catholic University of Ghana an option to stay away from classrooms has called on lecturers at the Sunyani-based university to design learning materials that will be accessible to learners who choose to stay away from the campus.
“Ghanaian students are permitted either to stay on campus or to go home by 20th March, 2020,” reads the poster dated March 16, adding, “However, the students who choose to go home shall not be allowed to return to residence on campus until the university officially re-opens.”
The poster that was signed by the university’s registrar, Henry Harry Akossah further advises, “In order to facilitate your studies during this period, all lecturers have been directed to give students their lecture notes and PowerPoint slides.”
Other communiques with similar content have been making rounds on social media, advising lecturers to fashion studies in ways that will adhere to various governments’ directives to suspend lectures in schools.
The Rector of the Catholic University of Central Africa (UCAC), while limiting the number of students in any given classroom, has directed that various course instructors at the university will be required to upload their teaching materials online to facilitate off-campus learning.
“The response of Universities in the world to this (COVID-19) pandemic consists in respecting the control strategies validated by the accredited bodies, and concomitantly to continue the normal course of training and research activities in digital form,” reads a statement from UCAC seen by ACI Africa.
In the statement, the university’s management noted that huge numbers of students on campus provide a rich ground for the spread of the virus.
“In view of the constraints related to the crowding of student numbers and current knowledge about this pandemic, and while taking into account the risks of its spread in an environment of high human density, as well as the need to adapt intervention strategies to our socio-cultural realities, the Rector of the Catholic University of Central Africa has taken (some) measures to strengthen prevention,” reads the statement.
Among the measures, the administration of the Cameroon-based UCAC has directed the suspension of classroom teaching in lecture halls and classrooms with a capacity of 150 and 100 students during the period from March 17 to April 13, 2020.
“This period may be extended if necessary,” reads the UCAC communique.
The Yaoundé-based institution of higher learning has also communicated radical changes in teaching methods, “in particular through the strengthening of educational digital technology.”
Key on these digital options is the creation, at the University, of a Centre for Information Technology (CUTI) platform, which will be dedicated to putting teachers' courses online, thus “a link for students to access these courses,” the UCAC Rector says in the communique.
The school has proposed the setting up of virtual lecture amphitheaters by assigning email addresses to teachers and learners by subject and level of study.
Kenya’s Catholic institutions have responded to the government’s directive to close all institutions of learning by suspending physical classes in favor of technology-based learning with seven confirmed COVID-19 cases in the East African country as at close of day Wednesday, March 18.
Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) and Tangaza University College (TUC) in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi are among Catholic institutions of higher learning that have adhered to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to suspend physical learning until further notice.
“I hereby inform you that the University Management and Senate has resolved to suspend all on-site learning and non-critical operations at the Lang'ata and Gaba Campuses with immediate effect,” reads part of a circular addressed to the community at the Nairobi-based Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).
In the March 16 statement seen by ACI Africa, the suspension “will remain until further directive from the Government.”
Signed by the Vice-Chancellor, Fr. Stephen Mbugua, the statement also notifies the Institution’s stakeholders that “only critical services at the University will remain operational supported by minimum staff.”
With approximately four weeks of teaching remaining before the examinations period and the need to ensure continuity in learning as per the University calendar, the institution that is owned by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) has committed itself to ensuring that “lecturers upload class notes and assignments to students via the online platform.”
To ensure the success of this virtual learning arrangement, the institution has, in the two-page circular, requested for collaboration between the students and the lecturers.
“We urge all our International Students and Staff to keep their respective families and guardians updated on their safety and health status, intercountry travel is discouraged but, if you must travel please confirm the travel and entrance requirements back into your country,” the statement has advised and added, “The Dean of Students, Security and HR Offices will be at hand to assist where they can.”
The move to suspend physical learning comes days after the management of the university asked lecturers to prepare online learning materials, as a precautionary measure in case COVID-19 would lead to closure of educational institutions.
In a March 9 memo, CUEA Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mbugua directed the teaching staff to “develop online teaching modules for all the units they are teaching this semester so that they can be uploaded to the university’s academic online platform.” The modules were to be submitted to the Blended Programmes Office by March 20.
Similarly, the Nairobi-based Catholic Institution of higher learning, Tangaza University College (TUC) also suspended physical classes and opted for virtual learning.
In a March 16 memo to the TUC community, the Vice Chancellor Designate, Prof. David Wang’ombe stated, “Physical classes are suspended effective, Tuesday, 17th March 2020. In their place, virtual classes will take place using google classroom and Moodle platforms until further notice.”
In the one-page memo, the constituent college of CUEA that is jointly owned by 22 Religious Orders announced that offices will remain closed, though “discretion will be exercised for key services that will be needed.”
“The end of semester examinations will be done once the university reopens,” the memo added.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa