Covid-19

by James Gashumba

Marlene Muhongerwa, a second year medical student at the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda, was in March informed by the university via email about changes in her learning model.

This followed a decision by the Rwandan government on March 14 to shut all schools for an initial period of two weeks, as a measure to fight COVID-19 transmission. Five months later, schools remain closed, as the country is still battling with the coronavirus.

On a recent Friday morning, Muhongerwa sat through a lecture in her brightly lit room in Burera district. She and other students have to adapt to remote learning.

She attentively listened to a lecture on infectious diseases delivered via video conferencing from 8:15 a.m. local time (7:15 GMT) until 9:45 a.m.

For the first three days of the week, the online lectures are held from 8:15 a.m. until 4 p.m. local time with regular short breaks in between. For the remaining two days lectures are held only in the morning hours.

“It is an amazing experience because the online class system we use is effective. Our lecturers make the online classes as interactive as possible by bringing in activities like breakout rooms and flipped classes (using zoom), which keep the lessons interesting,” she told Xinhua.

“My digital campus experience was and is till conducive. The video conferencing materials we use are advanced with good quality,” she added.

Bernard Bahati, director for teaching and learning enhancement at the University of Rwanda (UR), one of the best universities in Rwanda, underlined the need to shift mindsets among teachers and students and close the digital divide to facilitate remote learning.

“The UR accelerated digitizing teaching and learning since March. Lecturers were asked to upload their instructional material to the university learning platform so that all students keep engaged in learning off campus,” he told Xinhua.

The university has been monitoring students’ visits on the learning platform and majority of them were logging onto learning material, he added.

According to Leon Mwunvaneza, chief information officer at Rwanda’s Ministry of Education, there are thirteen free e-learning portals for universities, meaning students in public and private universities are accessing the learning material made for them free of charge, under an arrangement with telecom companies.

Audio-video lessons are also broadcasted on the national television and private radio and television stations every week day, covering the different subjects.

“We need to keep students learning at all levels through different channels such as radio, television and Internet. We started with making the education content available for learners, and the second was to strengthen the means of publication of the necessary content,” Mwunvaneza said.

The learning material for different subjects are uploaded on learning portals for each level of learning, which are accessible on laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphone, he explained, adding that the ministry set up a team to monitor and ensure that there is learning and teaching at all the education levels without interruption.

The monitoring shows that learning and teaching has been effective, according to him.

Visits to the ministry of education’s e-learning platform increased to more than 70,000 students a day from 5,000 before the pandemic, the ministry’s figures showed.

For students to assess the learning process, Ministry of Education introduced an application assessment platform on both smart and feature phones.

A series of well-structured questions for every subject at any level were put on the platform to help students to test their learning outcomes and reflect on what the teacher has taught or on what is catered for across the curriculum.

Although great efforts and progress have been made in facilitating remote learning, students told Xinhua that they still face some challenges in adapting to this new means of studying. For example, they can’t have hands-on laboratory activities and get teachers’ instruction in time.

Official figures showed Rwanda has about 2.5 million primary school students and about 600,000 secondary school students.

Online learning measures introduced during the outbreak of novel coronavirus are likely to continue in a post-pandemic world, said the recent Global Learners Report of Pearson Education, a company that provides education contents and assessment services to schools and corporations.

It polled over 7,000 people in different countries including the U.S., UK, Brazil, China, Canada and Australia.

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