AU Shifts to Online Classes, But Some Students Remain on Campus

Africa University students are adapting to online classes. The institution closed its main campus on March 24 and moved teaching and learning online following a Zimbabwe government directive that shut down all schools, colleges and universities to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Zimbabwe is currently on a three-week nationwide lockdown. The country had recorded seven confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death, as of April 1st.

Online instruction began March 30 for the more than 2,500 Africa University students from across the African continent. University leaders were proactive in addressing potential internet access challenges in the various communities and countries by having students download large data files to their personal devices prior to leaving.

“Despite the scourge of COVID-19, classes will continue as if the students were on campus,” said Stephene Chikozho, director of advancement and public affairs.

No internet issues have been reported to date, according to the Students Representative Council. The university plans to work with students to find solutions if problems arise.

The Rev. Peter Mageto, AU deputy vice chancellor, said there were only four weeks left in the first semester when the university closed.

“We had completed 80 percent of the curriculum, so it will be easy to complete the rest online,” he said. “We are excited and the students are happy as they will be able to complete their work for the semester.”

Africa University was the first tertiary institution to be approved to conduct online learning by the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education. The online programs started in November 2017.

The Rev. David Bishau, director of the Institute of Theology and Religious Studies, said online classes already had commenced in his department. The institute has more than 130 students.

“We are using various applications including Zoom (for meetings), WhatsApp messaging service and emails,” he said.

“I have created a file for the institute and I am pre-recording and uploading lectures on YouTube,” Bishau said.

When the university closed, some international students had no option but to remain on the campus.

Fiston Okito, the AU Students Representative Council vice president and a final-year divinity student, is one of the students who remained on campus.

“I am a student leader. For me, there is no way I can go and leave the international students who are here because some of them do not have money to travel and there are others whose home countries have closed their borders,” he said.

Africa University has introduced stringent measures to ensure everyone on campus is safe. People entering and exiting the campus are getting their temperatures checked at the main gate, while handwashing facilities and sanitizers have been strategically placed around the university.

“We have taken social distancing seriously,” Chikozho said.

Staff members, with the exception of those in essential roles, are working from home. The students who are staying on the main campus are housed one to a room. The AU dining hall has changed serving and seating arrangements and meal times have been extended to three hours so those on campus do not all have to be served at the same time. The dining hall staff also has been provided with personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.

Adapted from a U M News article by Eveline Chikwanah, a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Conference.