With clear health guidelines, Universities can find ways to operate under the present COVID-19 Pandemic, because they are training mature people and they have advanced in introducing e-learning which includes conducting some of the teaching through distance learning.
While the cautious approach by Government of Uganda to delay the opening up of the schools due to fear of the potential danger of the outbreak of corona virus pandemic is understandable, it is important to review and assess its inherent risk level by level within the education system rather than the blanket imposing of the lockdown across the whole system.
There are several reasons why universities should not be bundled together with primary, nursery and those other levels below universities.
First the main actors in universities namely, the students, lecturers, administrators and other workers and services providers are all mature, rational, and they have now internalized the inherent dangers of the pandemic.
Secondly, universities have moved and advanced in introducing e-learning and many of them are conducting some of the teaching through virtual learning.
For quite some time their regulator, the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), has set good standards in virtualizing the learning process at University level.
The NCHE has set standards for various inputs and outputs for universities and this includes students’ computer ratio and access to internet. If there are some universities that are still lagging behind, this would be the time for them to wake up and adopt online teaching.
Each university runs as an independent institution which determines when and how to conduct teaching and administer examination.
This contrast sharply with lower schools such as primary schools system where PLE exams are set and administered on same day throughout Uganda.
Each university will have its own strategy and time frame on how it will run under COVID-19 pandemic. What the universities need are some clear guidelines and phasing arrangements to control the traffic of students.
The decision to invite candidate classes and finalists had gone a long way in phasing and reducing congestion at campuses.
In addition to health guidelines, such as social distancing, exiting standards such as space utilization per students in different facilities including classroom, laboratories, libraries, halls of residence can be enforced or even revisited and improved within the COVID-19 pandemic environment.
Standards can also be extended to private hostels. Universities with huge students numbers in some subjects With clear health guidelines, Universities can find ways to operate under the present COVID-19 Pandemic, because they are training mature people and they have advanced in introducing e-learning which includes conducting some of the teaching through distance learning.
2 such as those for economics, computer sciences and social sciences could be required to deliver those lessons through e-learning.
Students can attend to one lecturer when they seated on 5 floors within the same block or in different blocks of building at the campus or even outside the campus via distance apps such as zoom.
This also brings me to one of the fundamental flows in the way Government has instituted administrative mechanism for running this country under COVID-19 pandemic.
The Government is trying to manage the country as if the executive arm has the monopoly of knowledge in this country and hence with no consultation to stakeholders.
Universities are centers of knowledge and they have a wealth of information and expertise, which they can apply to enable them to operate within the pandemic environment.
Have universities been invited to sit on a roundtable with government officials to determine how they can operate in the present circumstances?
I am sure if there is the willingness to consult with stakeholders, there must be a way out on how the universities can deliver higher education today in Uganda.
Finally, if the puzzle for teaching and residential space is solved, there is still the problem of transport.
It would be interesting to conduct a study and count and record modes of students transport to come to campuses. As much as 30% of the students may be travelling by boarder border transport.
This is true for universities as well as it is for lower level educational institutions and the government must not ignore this fact when it is considering unlocking the rest of the education system.
My take on this is that ours is a boarder border economy. There is no way we are going to do away with motor cycles all of a sudden.
After all, when everything is considered, the boarder border rider and passenger carry almost the same risk as the 3 persons in private cars.
Even if the government maintains the ban of motorcycles to carry passengers, I am still confident that it is still possible to have universities running if each university was called upon to improvise how it will operate in the current circumstances.
For example, the promotion of bicycle transport which the government has recommended is a move in the right direction. If bicycles are not so favorable to female students in some of our cultures, the existing male halls of residence at some campuses can be transformed into facilities for women.
It is need less for me to mention all options and choices available, but give each university’s stakeholders including students a chance to search for solutions and they will definitely find the most candid ones.
The Writer is Muhammad Mayanja National Chairperson of Justice Forum Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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