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How Rwandan students are adapting to e-learning

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NEWTIMES 01 APR 2020

With all schools on lockdown due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Rwanda Education Board (REB) on Monday, March 30, launched an e-learning YouTube channel to facilitate students to study at home as uncertainty on when schools will reopen continues.

Earlier, REB also partnered with local telecom companies to waive internet fees for students to ease their access to e-learning portals. 

But mixed feelings regarding e-learning persist, with students, parents and teachers alike welcoming it albeit highlighting challenges.

Others have noted that it cannot be a replacement for the normal classroom mode of learning they were used to.

Some say that digital capabilities are not distributed equally across homes in the country.

Meanwhile, bandwidth and student access to computers is also an issue.

Very enjoyable when there is stable internet

According to Adriana Ineza Uwamahoro, a student at Kepler University, e-learning is “very enjoyable” when there is stable internet connection.

She added: “It is very expensive. I can spend over Rwf2,000 per day on the internet. In addition, it is not even stable. I usually study at night because that’s when the internet is relatively strong.”

Uwamahoro said she has not tried the freely-accessed platforms because some content is different yet students need many sources of information and all these require the internet.

“If telecommunications companies made the internet stable and cheap during these days, we could make the best out of e-learning platforms.”

REB platforms not user-friendly

Mediateur Shyaka, a Senior 4 student at College Saint André Secondary School studying Maths, Physics and chemistry, said they are preparing for exams at the end of the lockdown.

“However, some REB platforms are not user friendly. I am not very sure whether it is an issue of the internet or the system,” he added.

Regarding the new YouTube channel, Shyaka thinks “it can also be made free because it is very costly to watch videos on YouTube.”

I didn’t know REB’s e-learning platform is free, he says

Radia Indatwa, a Primary 4 pupil at APAPEC, a private primary school in the Gisozi suburb of Kigali, uses her mother’s phone to read and access homework from school. 

She said: “But I only do what they ask me to do. I do not surf the internet because my mother says it is very expensive. If it wasn’t, I could access more school related content.”

“I didn’t know REB’s e-learning platform is free, I will try and see how it works.”

Indatwa’s acknowledgment of a lack of awareness about the newly availed platform, perhaps, suggests that lack of information is part of the puzzle.

The internet challenge is being felt by parents with children in more affluent schools too.

A father with two children – 10 and 12 – at Kigali International Community School, which offers an educational programme (Pre-kindergarten through grade 12) similar to that offered by schools in the USA, told The New Times that the kids are having fun with e-learning.

The parent who preferred anonymity said: “These guys are enjoying this. Our problem is the high cost of the Internet! I buy Rwf10,000 every 3-4 days of Airtel bundle for their online work. I am sure everyone at home hooks on this but it is costly. So, we pay anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 every week!”

“So, self-home learning is very expensive for us. But we have saved on fuel and day feeding costs of course. But remember, this is a private school. I do not know how REB schools are faring. If LIQUID TELECOM and others were to extend cable to our homes, it would be such a relief.”

Good for fast learners, not slow learners

Wilson Byaruhanga, the Head Teacher of Nyamata High School in Bugesera District, said e-learning is good for fast learners who grasp lessons easily, but “not for slow learners” who need a teacher’s physical presence to pause and explain where they do not understand during a lesson.  

“There are children who take a long time to understand and you have to give different examples and illustrations for them to grasp things. You give them exercises and do corrections until they grasp

Byaruhanga stressed that the government’s effort in e-learning is “commendable.” But he worries about kids from families that cannot afford the requisite technology during this lockdown.

For such children – and they are a considerable percentage in his school – he said, “it is a challenge.”        

At his school, students in Senior 2 and upper classes have already been properly introduced to the basics of e-learning.

“We have a computer lab and students from Senior 2 upwards are now used to doing research on their own. A student who is used to this will do research on something she or he does not know. But those who aren’t yet properly introduced to this method will have problems.”

Moreover, even for those students who are used to e-learning, the challenge is access to the Internet and computers in their homes as not all homes have them, Byaruhanga reiterated.

“The challenge now is about access at home. E-learning is good with those who have access to the Internet. And I know the majority of our parents have no access to the Internet. But if it was possible that they get access to the Internet it would be okay.”

Irénée Ndayambaje, REB Director-General, recently told The New Times they know that it is not everyone who can access the internet.

As such, he noted, they do their best to ease access so that more people can access.

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