STUDENT representative bodies have chastised government’s decision that all schools and tertiary institutions should commence with e-learning amidst the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Students Union of Namibia (SUN) said in a statement that should institutions of higher learning turn a deaf ear on their pleas and recommendations, they will seek an urgent court interdict against forced online education, as well as persuade and spearhead mass cancellation of higher learning.
In a petition meant for the Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Ita Kandji Murangi, the SUN stated that amidst the COVID-19 catastrophe, the union has observed Namibian universities cancelling physical learning and putting in place plans to move all courses to e-learning despite advice against it.
The union added that the move was also done despite information that the country’s largest university has students who will be unable to continue with their studies on e-learning platforms.
The University of Namibia earlier this week noted that only 16 000 out of its 27 788 students have accessed the online system since 30 March 2020; which is less than 60% of that student population.
The SUN expressed great discomfort with the decision of universities to disregard the social-economic and socio-psychological realities of students by imposing online education.
“We advise that institutions of higher learning immediately suspend online learning,” the union demanded.
SUN noted that their demand to have e-learning plans cancelled, include the fact that more than 50% of the network coverage of MTC and TN Mobile in the country is limited to 2G, which is an obvious barrier for effective and efficient e-Learning.
In addition, the student representatives argued that many students do not own the correct devices to partake meaningfully in this imposed way of learning, given that the critical majority are too seriously disadvantaged and underprivileged to have access to electricity or reliable network.
“In a bid to meet this compulsory online learning, a great number of seriously disadvantaged students will be forced to scavenge from one place to another in search for facilities fitted with proper technology which will put their lives and of others at risk,” the union said.
In addition, it stated that perhaps the most important is that students who are unable to operate or navigate through e-learning have a higher chance at failing modules and thus risk losing funding from NSFAF.
In its recommendations, the SUN called for the amendment of the academic calendar in order to utilise weekends and the June/July/December recess periods to make up for lost time or to start the first semester of the current academic year in July.
If, however, institutions of higher learning still insist in offering online education, the union proposed that all students who wish to study online must be provided with devices, such as laptop computers or other internet linked devices loaded with enough data and that practical and technical courses be offered online at all cost to avoid on compromising on the quality of education.
The union stated that students who do not wish to study online must be given an option to put their studies on hold, and all fees paid should be credited to the students’ accounts so that they are in a better position once they resume with their studies.
Sharing the same concerns, the Namibia National Student Union (NANSO) also called on the management of Unam to suspend online education with immediate effect, pending consultations and assessment of the program.
“We firmly hold the opinion that the halting of online learning and the adjustment of the learning calendar is the best possible solution that will ensure all students have an equal opportunity. We echo a clarion call for all other higher learning institutions to join in the fight to ensure learning is equal. We equally recognise and appreciate the efforts of academic staff whose efforts with online learning do not go unnoticed,” Patience Masua, acting secretary general of NANSO said.