Kenya: Learning in the Shadow of Covid-19 - a Student's Experience

Public health officials carry the body of a man who succumbed to Covid-19 complications.
7 September 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has put several college and university students in a tight corner even as they grapple with online learning.

The closure of learning institutions is part of the Covid-19 containment measures put in place by the government to flatten the curve of the deadly virus that has so far killed more than 500 Kenyans.

The closure of universities and tertiary institutions exposed students to several challenges. Many college students are finding the online mode of learning quite challenging.

The mental health of thousands of students have been affected. Most students are unable to attend online lessons, while others just make technical appearances.

One such student who is struggling to cope up with the new style of learning at home is Ayub Otieno, 20. The Software Engineering student at KCA University is also pursuing a certificate course in Data Science at Strathmore University.

Times of crisis

"Covid-19 pandemic has affected me emotionally, however, learning cannot stop. In times of crisis, it can only get better. We shall come out of this crisis stronger, more resilient, innovative, and responsive," said Mr Otieno in Lanet on the outskirts of Nakuru Town.

Mr Otieno says: "Distant learning can be stressful particularly to students from poor backgrounds since they are struggling to pay internet charges to access daily online classes."

He reveals that his academic life and mental health have been adversely affected since the government ordered the closure of all learning institutions in March.

He says he has been battling anxiety and stress. He is worried that he may not be able to complete his studies on time and graduate.

"The university was closed just when I had started my first year in a data science course, and I was doing my third year of the Soft Engineering course and I felt depressed," says Otieno, adding that he has been struggling to meet internet costs for e-learning.

"I had to quickly adjust to online learning, so I bought e-learning equipment."

Reliable internet

"I was forced to buy a portable MiFi Hotspot Router from Safaricom at Sh13,000 because Lanet is not connected to fibre network and I could not install a Wi-Fi. I needed a reliable internet connection with good speed," he said.

He adds: "I am a heavy user and paying for Sh3,500 for data bundles is very expensive. When the rest of the family uses it, the data bundles cannot last 10 days."

Mr Otieno said he had to buy a small printer.

"Studying at home comes with various challenges and coping up has not been easy," he adds.

"Even as I study at home from 8am to 6pm with the family around, I cannot escape other domestic chores, this is another challenge I have overcome."

He has attended counselling since the Covid-19 outbreak and says thousands of other students across the country have been undergoing the same experiences.

"I am lucky and when the pressure mounts, I reach out to my mother Peninah Njenga, who is a medic, for counselling. Mum has been a pillar during this time, she has helped me manage the stress."

The student says he is missing his colleagues and face-to-face interactions with his lecturers.

Complex course

"Studying online and with no hope of joining my classmates anytime soon due to the pandemic makes me sad," he said.

Mr Otieno says that pursuing a complex course like Software Engineering online is not a walk in the park.

"Online classes are very comprehensive and handling 14 units in a semester virtually with a lecturer explaining a tough mathematical concepts online is very hectic. The level of understanding becomes low. Online learning cannot replace the face-to-face learning experience in some technical courses," he says.

He says the lecturers who are also coming to terms with the new system of learning are bombarding the students with excess classwork.

"Under the normal learning environment, the classwork would not be that heavy. The lecturers are overburdening us, considering that one unit goes for four hours. This means you spend the whole day on your computer with little or no time to relax," said Mr Otieno.

He said getting in touch with the lecturers is not easy as they are overwhelmed by the workload.

"Some things you need a one-on-one conversation with your lecturers for better understanding and it has not been easy getting hold of a lecturer to explain something you did not understand during virtual learning," said Mr Otieno.

Despite many seemingly negative aspects, Otieno has demonstrated resilience.

With the right support from loved ones and, even more critically, from his parents, he has been able to maintain good mental health.

He suggests that to make online learning more friendly and reduce anxiety among students, the universities should structure the courses in such a way that only theory-based courses are done online to reduce stress among students.

He appeals to universities to activate counselling units to ensure the students are in good state of mental health.

"Since the pandemic can have adverse consequences for students' mental health, universities should move their counselling services online."

Mr Otieno suggests that university counselling centres could offer support groups or workshops in virtual spaces where students could share unique challenges they are facing.

The student also wants the government and private universities to subsidise the cost of e-learning by paying part of the internet charges. Thanks to coronavirus, he says he has settled on a side hustle to boost his financial base.

"I have two greenhouses where I grow capsicum and tomatoes and although balancing learning and farming is not easy," said Mr Otieno.

"I sometimes go to the greenhouses after virtual classes and when I come out, I feel rejuvenated to learn," he says.

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