Pres. George Weah and UL President, Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson I am making this case for over 17,500 students studying at the State-run University of Liberia (UL). I am channeling my disagreement with the latest “e-Learning policy” through a number of cogent reasons.Op-ed 

A Case for 17,500 university students – Why E-Learning isn’t feasible at UL right now

By Martin K. N. Kollie 

I am making this case for over 17,500 students studying at the State-run University of Liberia (UL). I am channeling my disagreement with the latest “e-Learning policy” through a number of cogent reasons. 

Here is my issue. As an alumnus and a former student leader of UL, am I against “e-Learning” or “Online Education”? I am not and I will never be because Information Communication Technology (ICT) is all that matters right now and everywhere too. What I am against is the premature imposition of “e-Learning” on students and lecturers. 

E-learning is not feasible and possible at this time because of 20 initial reasons:

  1. UL does not have any high-tech broadband or Wi-Fi internet. In fact, internet access in Liberia is very slow. 
  2. UL does not have a virtual learning lab or an e-learning computer lab. UL does not even have an e-Learning Library.
  3. The so-called “e-learning website or platform” is not user-friendly. It is currently down again (e.g. This site is under maintenance). 
  4. Over 90% of the students and lecturers including professors do not have laptops and smartphones. 
  5. No intensive training or capacity-building was held before this knee-jerk “e-learning program” was imposed.
  6. UL is embroiled into electricity crisis. In fact, only 12% of Liberians have access to electricity. 
  7. Hike in data charges. How can students and lecturers bear this financial burden amid inflation and high unemployment in Liberia? Impossible.
  8. Over 90% of students and lecturers at UL are computer illiterate. They need to be trained in Computer and Internet Surfing. 
  9. Internet penetration accounts for only 19% in Liberia. This means that 81% is left out. 
  10. The imposition of e-learning at UL violates NCHE 2020 Education Protocol which by far makes e-Learning optional across various tertiary institutions. e-Learning should not be compulsory. 
  11. There is no clear-cut policy or framework on e-Learning at UL. Where is UL’s sustainability plan for this “e-Learning program”? How will it be maintained and sustained? Through what means will it be funded and what impact will it have on education at UL? These questions remain unanswered. Vision does not mean an imposition. SMART Consultations at every stratum or level must be held in order to assess the feasibility and analyze potential threats. 
  12. Network is inaccessible in most parts of rural Liberia. What if Martin Kollie, as a student of UL, wants to access the “e-Learning platform/site” from Belle Yellah in Gbarpolu County? There is no network there. There is no network even in some communities in Montserrado County. Geographical obstacle is also an issue here. 
  13. Who pays for the downloading of academic materials and extra data for special classes or overtime for both lecturers and students? A funding source is yet to be identified. 
  14. UL is owing LEC a huge amount of arrears. LEC often disconnects UL. This is a FACT. 
  15. The internet providers (Lonestar Cell and Orange) are also dependent on LEC and LEC is not stable at all. It frequently goes off. So, there will always be disruption in e-Learning classes due to power outages or power failures. 
  16. E-learning comes with impractical deadlines, time mismanagement, technical challenges, and less/no motivation. Students at UL are already accustomed to in-person classes. This is why “e-Learning” should be and must be optional or 40/60 but not compulsory. 
  17. Before transitioning from in-person classes to e-Learning classes, there should be an adaptability strategy or adjustment plan. UL does not have one and they did not even roll out any before introducing “e-Learning”. 
  18. UL cannot even pay faculty members and support staff on time, how can it effectively run an e-Learning system? LWSC just cut off UL’s waterline because they are owning arrears. UL is even operating in deficit this fiscal year.
  19. Faculty members are largely demotivated because their salaries have been cut two different times since 2018 in order to cover up for Pres. Weah’s failed “tuition-free policy”. The registration fee at UL was increased. So, education at UL is not even free as claimed by Pres. GMW. 
  20. COVID-19 pandemic must not be used as an alibi or a justification for imposing this premature e-Learning system on students because AMEU, UMU, AMEZU, CU, TU, AUWA, SMP, etc. are still having in-person classes amid COVID-19. 

The real problem at UL that the President of the University, Dr. Sarwolo Nelson, do not want to tell Pres. George Weah that he is underfunding UL and his so-called knee-jerk “tuition-free policy” which was never researched is a failure. Dr. Nelson wants to impose a premature “E-learning Program” in order to save cost because when students are not attending in-person classes, UL would be able to save money. This cost-saving measure is rash and ridiculous.

EJS left UL’s annual budget at US$19.1 million in 2017. GMW has reduced it to US$16.1 million amidst huge challenges at UL. Why did he reduce it especially after promising a “tuition-free education”? GMW should be blamed for prevailing contradictions and crises at UL. Dr. Nelson needs to speak truth to power and refrain from imposing an artificial burden on students. 

A Legal Argument: 

The National E-Learning Requirements for Universities and Colleges in Liberia:

Requirement #1: The institution must demonstrate preparedness and IT readiness which include: e-learning platform, affordable internet access for faculty and students, electricity, and e-learning portal. 

Our Debate: UL does not have internet access (e.g. Wi-Fi and Broadband) for faculty and students. The premature “e-learning system” that they want to impose is currently down. LEC or electricity at UL is unstable. In fact, LEC has cut UL off because of arrears owed.

Requirement #2: The institution must have an academic unit or a Department of Distance Learning specifically responsible for e-Learning programs.

Our Debate: UL does not have any Department of Distance Learning. UL also does not even have any Information Technology (IT) Department. 

Requirement #3: Provide Courses online as a supplement to traditional learning or in-person learning. 

Our Debate: UL does not offer any online courses. Zero. 

Requirement #4: The institution must conduct periodic training or capacity development in technology and pedagogy.

Our Debate: There has been absolutely no periodic training or capacity building in technology and pedagogy at UL. 

Requirement #5: The e-learning program must have all necessary hardware and software requirements at its IT Department.

Our Debate: UL is too far from meeting this minimum standard. In fact, UL does not even have an IT Department. 

Requirement #6: The e-learning platform must be globally utilized and supported.

Our Debate: If a student sits in Sierra Leone, he/she cannot link up to and attend classes via UL’s e-learning platform. It is locally utilized and supported. 

Requirement #7: Every student who opts for e-learning must be computer literate. Every student must take at least two semesters of basic computer course.

Our Debate: Over 90% of UL’s students, including faculty members, are computer illiterate. No student has taken at least two semesters of basic computer course. 

Requirement #11: The Institution must develop e-learning policies.

Our Debate: UL cannot show any policy on e-learning that it has developed. 

There are 14 requirements under E-Leaning Requirements for Higher Education Institutions in Liberia. I have only dealt with 8 requirements. Please read further. In addendum, under E-Learning Standards for Higher Education which begins from Section 1.1 to Section 2.6, UL is violating almost every provision.

For instance, Part 1 Section 1.10 says, “40% online and 60% in-person classes especially during COVID-19.”

Please read all sections for yourself which I have attached. E-learning should and must be optional. The imposition of 100% e-learning is a violation of the National Policy on E-Learning and an affront to thousands of poor students. 

The laws on e-learning are crystal clear. The administration of the University of Liberia has woefully and willfully chosen to violate this law. UL is losing this debate. The students were/are right to protest. 

Academic freedom is a fundamental right. We say no to “imposition” and “repression”. Once again, I am not against “e-learning” or “online education” but I am against its premature imposition on students. 

My Final Argument: 

I have to help provide a variety of cogent arguments and perspectives in defense of 17,500 students against a premature e-learning program. So far, I have provided:

  • The Legal Argument (The imposition of e-learning violates The 2020 National Policy on E-Learning).
  • The Logical Argument (No Adaptability Strategy, Sustainability Plan, and Internal E-Learning Framework). 
  • The Technical Argument (No E-Learning Lab, IT Department, and Capacity Building).
  • The Technological Argument (No high-speed Wi-Fi or Broadband).
  • The Logistical Argument (No Computers and Smartphones for Students and Lecturers).
  • The Economic Argument (Hike in data charges, inflation, and high unemployment throughout Liberia).
  • The Academic Argument (UL is not offering any online course and most lecturers/students are computer illiterate).
  • The Geographical Argument (Lack of network or internet access in most rural communities or locales).
  • The Electrical Argument (No stable electricity at UL and across Liberia. Only 12% of Liberians have access to electricity).
  • The Traditional Argument (Students and Lecturers are already accustomed to in-person classes). 
  • The Budgetary Argument (UL does not even have money to pay lecturers and staffs on time. How can it run an effective e-learning system is which also cost-intensive?). 

E-Learning must be optional if there will be any such program which seems inapplicable at this time due to funding, technical, administrative, and technological constraints. In-person classes or offline classes are feasible for now. We have to be practical about development and begin to reimagine our context. 

But before I can close, I want to present my twelfth (12th) argument and it is “The Scientific Argument”. It is not possible and feasible for UL to go 100% e-learning because this public university runs four (4) important science colleges where students have to attend in-person labs and do practical lessons:

  • Thomas J. R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology (Courses: Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Physics, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Zoology, Mining Engineering, and Civil Engineering).
  • William R. Tolbert, Jr. College of Agriculture and Forestry (Courses: Agriculture, Agronomy, General Forestry, Home Science, and Wood Science and Technology)
  • A. M. Dogliotti College of Health Sciences (Courses: Medical Science and Pharmacy)
  • School of Public Health (Courses: Laboratory Science, Health System Management, Environmental Health, and Applied Epidemiology). 

All these courses require/demand in-person labs and practical lessons. So, how is “100% E-Learning” possible and feasible at this time? UL should refrain from this gimmick. It is a subterfuge. The administration has lost this debate. They must allow students to attend in-person classes. Academic freedom is a fundamental right.

About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a 2019 graduate of UL. He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Economics (Cum Laude). Kollie currently lives in exile after being viciously chased out by the government. He can be reached via martinkerkula1989@yahoo.com

Main Photo: Pres. George Weah and UL President, Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson

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