Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Why Chance Favors the Prepared Mind?

By John A. Akec*

When the University of Juba announced a contingency Plan C which meant delivering a home-based learning that is supported wholly by arrays of digital technologies, some concerns were expressed by many of our stakeholders (students, parents, and government officials) about the feasibility of such a project in South Sudan’s context. And I do understand their concerns.


And before I delve into addressing such concerns, I would like to explain something about different plans the University of Juba considered for teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic.


First, Plan A was the normal academic calendar that would have seen teaching beginning in May 2020. This plan was rendered useless under Covid-19 lockdown and closure of schools and universities in March 2020. The closure of schools and churches has not been lifted until the date of this writing. Towards the end of May, the University of Juba deliberated on Plans B, C, and D that described different teaching scenarios as follows:


First, Plan B involves a hybrid system of learning in which students mostly (from science-based schools and departments), all first year and all final year students will be taught in small classes that are spread out throughout the day with teaching contact hours reduced by 50%. Under this scenario, students would download lecture notes online or given printed lecture notes during the lecture (for those with no access to internet). However, majority of students from social sciences, arts, and humanities will entirely depend on material delivered over the internet, or printed material delivered through other means, for their home-based distance learning, until situation change.


Second, Plan C expressed the adoption of complete home-based/eLearning approach in which students will have no direct face to face teaching as described earlier in the introduction of this article. Namely, students will use various digital technologies and online resources for their instruction and learning.


Third, Plan D stands for a scenario in which the University of Juba administration and faculty just “wait and see” what the government will decide. The Deans’ Board and the Senate of the University, through their various meetings conducted in recent weeks, flatly rejected Plan D (also called “Do Nothing Scenario”); and proposed Plan B as the best of the two worlds (between doing it in the old conventional way, or doing nothing) in the face of Covid-19 Pandemic, while endorsing Plan C as the minimum scenario to adopt. That is, provide some learning if Pan B does not get government approval.  


Plan B was applauded by most students, while Plan C got a mixed reaction.  Some of our stakeholders approved Plan C as necessary in the face of continued closure of universities, while others condemned it as infeasible, or amounts to “damping down of the quality of university education.” These stakeholders prefer that we wait until such time when it is possible to open all universities. Weak ICT infrastructure in the country and ICT illiteracy among students deem this project impossible, they claimed.


In addressing the above concerns, I presented several arguments.


First, I reminded them that some learning is better than no learning. In fact, studies have shown that long periods spent without engaging in some learning lead to deterioration in learner’s academic and intellectual abilities (this concern was expressed by UNESCO leaders recently in the context of South Sudan).


Second, I urged that the University of Juba as well as all other South Sudan’s universities to see the challenge of teaching in era of pandemic as an opportunity to close the digital divide and catch up with the rest of the world by harnessing the available digital learning technologies to the full potential. In one of my radio talk shows, I reminded listeners about the fact that the opportunity for digital connectivity in South Sudan today are much better than the US and Europe’s in the late 1990s and early 2000’s. I lived in Europe during that time and I can testify to that experience.


Thirdly, that we will provide choices to suit conditions and needs of different students and staff for access to online learning and teaching resources. A special taskforce set up to study opportunities and available digital technologies for online and distance learning, as well as institutional ICT-readiness, has delivered its report. We are also talking to different technology providers to explore how we may improve our digital infrastructure.


Finally, come 31 August 2020, we will start teaching under plan B or C. This goes to support the mantra that “chance favors the prepared mind!”



* Was first published in Juvarsity Vol 03 Issue 03 August 2020


  • Very insightful article Professor. In this case, I see plan B having a concrete output more than C and D. Wishing for the best during this trying moment.

    By Blogger G. Aketch, At 3:21 AM  

  • Very nice work, really appreciable. Good to know something new today, keep it up.
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