African Physics Newsletter

Teaching and Research Support by the Kenya Education Network During the COVID-19 Lockdown

Thanks to an already existing organization, Kenyan universities have been able to quickly convert to online teaching.

The Kenya Education Network (KENET) started as a not-for-profit organization that provided internet connectivity to both private and public tertiary institutions across the country. KENET later evolved to become the National Research and Education Network (NREN) licensed by the Communications Authority of Kenya, now offering additional support such as cloud services, research services, web meeting platforms as well as e-learning to member institutions, travel grants and capacity building.

Currently, KENET has over 140 member institutions which are connected to high-speed global internet. To catalyze research, KENET has supported special interest groups in the fields of engineering, computer science and information systems (CSIS), computational modeling and materials science (CMMS) and education technology in engineering in Kenya for several years. The special interest group support has targeted young faculty in universities in the country.

Enabling online teaching and examinations

In this period of COVID-19 pandemic, KENET has been in the front line in promoting teaching and learning in member institutions by procuring subsidized data bundles from different mobile network providers for faculty and students in tertiary institutions. This has made it possible for some of the institutions to conduct online teaching and examinations for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

The uptake of the web conferencing services offered by KENET through the BigBlueButton platform has grown exponentially in the last few months, more so after their week-long training for faculty members of member institutions. This has led to ease in academic interactions between faculty members in different institutions through weekly webinars within Kenya, and has received participants as well as speakers from abroad, as witnessed by the growth of materials science and other organizations.

Raising statistics

The number of meetings per month on KENET is a service to research and education (left). The number of people participating in meetings across KENET leapt to nearly 130,000 in June (right). (Data Credit: Authors; Graphics Credit: I. Gledhill)

The interim statistics of KENET support for e-learning and web meetings during the COVID-19 lockdown and earlier tell a remarkable story.

The number of meetings was 399 in March, compared to 8,713 in June – and the total number of participants leapt to 129,115 in June. The total number of meetings held since 2015 now stands at 17,847 and KENET is handling 130 to 160 meetings concurrently in an hour. The typical number of participants in a large meeting is 150 to 200 and the largest to date in June hosted 297 people.

George Amolo, The Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya, and Victor Odari, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya

This post has first been published in the African Physics Newsletter. © American Physical Society, 2020

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