MASERU – The National University of Lesotho (NUL), which appears desperate to salvage the second semester at all costs, says it will begin online teaching on April 16, to mitigate the impact of lockdown on teaching and learning but students have rejected the idea saying online learning is far from ideal as not all of them have computers and smartphones.
At the NUL, the country’s premium university, students were required to vacate the residences after Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane declared the novel coronavirus a national emergency and instructed that all schools, universities and colleges be shut down.
The government later, on March 29, enforced a preventive nationwide lockdown for 23 days, one of the strongest national measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. During lockdown, citizens are not allowed to leave their homes except to procure essential goods and services.
“Staff and students of the NUL community are hereby notified that at its special meeting held on Tuesday April 7, the Senate Executive of NUL considered the current lockdown situation, assessed its implications on the teaching and learning activities and decided on strategies that will ensure that teaching and learning activities continue during lockdown,” the university’s registrar Liteboho Maqalika Lerotholi said on Friday.
“Management, therefore, announces to staff and students that remote teaching and learning activities shall be undertaken online through the university’s Learning Management System (LMS), THUTO effective from the 16th April, 2020,” Lerotholi added. She said lecturers were advised to scale-up their engagements with students and take full advantage of the measures that had been put in place by the university with support from the ministry of education and training and other development partners to ensure that the university’s core business was not compromised.
She explained that the measures were that, among others, access to THUTO and other NUL portals would be zero-rated by the network service providers, namely, Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) and Vodacom Lesotho (VCL). “This means that staff and students will access the site free of charge from their devices, being desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Online advice, consultations, and assistance will be provided to students and teaching staff using the portals shred through THUTO and emails,” Lerotholi said.
She added that: “While Deans, Heads of Departments, Coordinators and Tutors will communicate further with staff and students on what is accessible remotely, it is important to note that laboratory-based learning activities will not be possible through remote teaching.” With remote learning being a fairly unfamiliar territory, NUL students have raised concerns about how it will work and have stated categorically that they reject it, forcing the university management to ask them to come up with a better plan.
The university’s SRC president, Reatlehile Makateng, told Public Eye on Saturday that approach taken by the university was elitist with problematic assumptions. Makateng said it seemed all students can suddenly have computers and smartphones they can use to log into the university portals. “This is not true,” he said. He indicated that some students live in rural areas where there is no electricity.
“The university is imposing the online learning during lockdown. The senate executive made a decision on this matter in its sitting and I must emphasize that the SRC was not part of that meeting,” he said. “The decision was made by the senate executive and later communicated to the SRC and we said NO to it and presented all troubles we could find ourselves in if were to take that route (online teaching and learning),” he added.
Makateng said after the decision was communicated to the SRC, he invited class representatives and presidents of the various student associations in the campus to share their views on the proposed online teaching. “They equipped me with additional negative impacts the online teaching might have on our academic work and when he tried to present these issues to the management, we were told that it was not up for negotiations whether we take online learning or not as it was already decided,” he said.
He indicated that after further consultations, the university management took a softer line and gave SRC until Tuesday to come up with a better plan to salvage the academic year. Some students who spoke to Public Eye indicated that there were students who come from homes where the is no conducive environment for them to do their work. They said some families were under threat of domestic violence during the lockdown but it seemed the university management believed university students were immune to such. The students said poor network coverage in some villages, domestic violence and lack of access to electricity were some of the realities that confront many students when they were at home.