The Government has issued guidelines for Higher Education Institutions (HEI) to roll out distance and electronic learning.
The guidelines are part of measures to ensure that teaching in higher institutions of learning continues despite the closure of educational institutions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The guidelines were issued on Friday by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), in a document dubbed Distance and e-learning (ODeL).
Under the guidelines, institutions must ascertain the ability of all students to participate.
Academic institutions must give mitigation measures to ensure that no student is left behind in the process.
The guidelines also require academic institutions to give evidence of the mechanism of access and usage by both students and staff.
Under this, the academic institution should clarify how they will engage students who have no access to electronic gadgets, data and network coverage.
Before any institution rolls out the e-learning, both the academic staff and students must undergo training on how the systems will work.
In addition, academic institutions will provide assurance of mainstreaming of disability and gender as part of the recovery actions.
The guidelines were issued to ensure that there is unhindered access to education through open, distance and e-learning, as afforded by new media and other technology, such as phones, radios and televisions.
“The following Guidelines are provided by NCHE for enabling HEIs to commence remote teaching and learning activities during the current lockdown,” the guidelines read.
Saul Waigolo, the NCHE spokesperson, confirmed the development adding that NCHE requires the institutions to apply for authorisation before rolling out online learning.
Academic institutions are required to have proper measures on examination, including equity and quality assurance.
They will be required to demonstrate the assessment and evaluation mechanisms of learning, as a means of continuous assessment.
In case examinations are to be administered online, institutions must train staff on online examination, and provide face recognitions for both students and lecturers.
Universities, vocational and technical colleges will be required to deploy security and anti-examination malpractice protocols to administer an online examination.
In the absence of the above, NCHE has suggested that final examinations should be done on campus, when institutions re-open.
Academic institutions are required to show evidence of the ODeL capability, including the recording and documentation mechanisms for post viewing.
Institutions will also show evidence of internal quality assurance measures, including the human resources to support the same.
Practicals, cyber risks
NCHE also requires academic institutions to demonstrate strategy of completion for programmes which require practical engagements, such as medicine and engineering.
They must give an action plan indicating how teaching and learning, as well as assessment of practical and theoretical aspects of the programmes will be implemented.
Institutions must also provide attendant budget to support the new schedule of teaching and learning.
They must also demonstrate capacity to mitigate cyber risks and assurance that relevant laws and regulations, such as data protection and privacy Act 2019, will be complied with.
Records of the teaching and learning sessions completed shall be compiled for verification by NCHE through the ODeL system under this arrangement.
They shall be availed to NCHE on a semester basis.
How institutions can apply
Eligible institutions may apply to NCHE for consideration to roll out an ODeL system during the current lockdown.
Institutions are required to provide evidence of the existence of coronavirus Standard Operating Procedures as issued by the Ministry of Health, should a student, staff or NCHE official pay a visit.
The academic institution must show a structure and details of the proposed model, including equipment, such as flash discs, data provision, or available logistical arrangements of how materials will be delivered to learners.
Institutions are also required to provide a list of accredited academic programmes to be rolled out on e-learning and qualified staff who will facilitate learning.
“That every applicant shall avail to NCHE, details of the students to be engaged. This should include evidence of having traced them,” the guidelines spell out.
Upon receipt of the application, the guidelines say, NCHE will carry out the necessary quality assurance checks, including visitations, where possible.
For institutions which will not be physically visited, NCHE will require an officer from the institution to demonstrate their capability to provide e-learning.
However, the guidelines spell out that permission to emergency e-learning, will be valid for 12 months or the duration of the crisis as will be determined by the relevant authorities.
Once the period elapses and the pandemic persists, those granted permission to rollout e-learning, will be required to apply for a renewal of the same, at least two months before the expiration of the initial period.
Higher institutions speak out
Several academic institutions noted that it will be hard to conduct both practicals and examinations online.
Much as it will be easy for humanities and business courses, they said practical programmes require interface with teachers.
“It will be hard to implement these guidelines. How will engineering, which requires hands-on with equipment be taught online? We will consult and see what we can do for our students,” Prof. Joy Kwesiga, the vice-chancellor of Kabale University, said.
Dr Krishna Sharma, the vice chancellor of Victoria University, said: “We will only handle the theory and have practicals for courses such as medicine and engineering, when institutions reopen.”
He said the guidelines are good because they promote independence and autonomy of academic institutions.
A senior lecturer at Gulu University said: “The requirements are many, how will institutions trace students and train them before the teaching starts.”
An instructor from Uganda Technical College-Kichwamba said the guidelines require huge investments.
“Where will the funding come from? It will be challenging to all academic institutions.”