Friends Theological College Ignites E-Learning
amid Covid-19 Lockdown
Friends, this newsletter comes to you with hope that the Lord has kept you safe amid these difficult times. In most cases, human understanding has it that tough situations bring stringent undertakings in one’s life. Despite the humdrum brought about by the partial lockdown and dusk-to-dawn curfews in Kenya, the Covid-19 situation has opened our eyes and minds here at FTC. It has set us on a path we would have otherwise taken long to realize. In this newsletter, I want to lead you on a glimpse of events that have taken place in the past one month.
Personally, Covid-19 has made me spend more time with my family than I ever have in the history of my active academic career. I have also read more newspapers, magazines, and journals of all forms – print and soft copy – than I ever did under normal circumstances. But surprisingly I have spent less time surfing the internet and chatting on Facebook and other social media than I used to. I pride myself to have read and completed two books between March and April 2020. I began with Marcus Rediker’s historically-informative and inspiring story about the little known and less celebrated slavery abolitionist, Benjamin Lay. The title of the book is The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf who became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (2017). Marcus Rediker is a distinguished professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Research Fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales in Paris. He passionately brings to life Benjamin Lay’s single-handed fight against the evil practice of slave trade on the African people in North America. Lay spoke out strongly and often let out a stream of invective against Quakers who owned slaves in the mid-1700s.
My second reader was a coveted, indelible narrative of Levinus K. Painter’s Hill of Vision (1966) on the History of the Quaker movement in East Africa. The third one, which is now in my hands is another rare collection, The Steps of a Good Man Are Ordered by the Lord (1976). Hellen Kersey Ford and Esther Ford Andersen lead the reader into the missionary footprints of Jefferson W. Ford right from Berea College to Cleveland Bible Institute (1898-1900) in the U.S., to Jamaica as a missionary, and eventually his laying of the foundations of the Friends movement at Lugulu region between 1914-1949.
At the beginning of April, I made a random check on how the FTC students were handling themselves and/or coping with the Covid-19 situation. As I highlighted in my March newsletter, two of our five international students were quarantined for 14 days at the point of entry into their country, Rwanda. Despite the appalling experience they encountered in the quarantine center, which was in a high school, results on their tests showed negative and they have been released back to their homes. I have not been able to reach two students from Uganda, Joseph Wabomba from Nangóma and Deocratious from Kampala, but I hope they are doing ok. I am in constant communication with Alfred Wasike, FTC Communications Director (on work-study assignment), and also a Bachelor of Theology degree student from Shibuse Friends Church, Uganda. He was locked out by the time he got to the port of entry from Kenya. Uganda President Yoweri Museveni enforced country lockdown at the initial stages when the wind of Covid-19 began blowing across the East and Central African region. To date, Uganda has registered relatively low numbers of infected cases and no deaths. This could be accredited to President Museveni’s gallant effort to lock down the country and enforce preventative measures as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Alfred lives with his cousin’s family in Bungoma in which he participates in family worship every Sunday.
Online Learning: As I pointed out in the March 2020 newsletter, the Covid-19 pandemic awareness hit us below the belt and has teetered FTC to a precipice. From the beginning of April, we have had several Zoom meetings with a variety of Friends whom I can describe as gurus in Information Technology and online learning. These include Donn Weinholtz of the University of Hartford and current chair of the Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE); Dr. Stuart Brooking of Overseas Council, Australia (OCA); and Steve Angell of Earlham School of Religion (ESR) who eventually introduced me to Dr. Steven Schweitzer, the Academic Dean of Bethany Theological Seminary. Steve Schweitzer is coordinating an online program with students in Nigeria. Kellum Ashuma, the FTC Information Technology (IT) instructor also reached out to Jonathan Vogel-Borne, the brain behind our FTC website. And in the evening of May 5 the FTC Academic Dean, Rodgers Wekesi organized another productive Zoom meeting with Prof. Eloise Hockett of George Fox University.
With these intellectual resources, the administrative wing and students feel we are ready for the online learning, which was officially launched on Wednesday, 22 April 2020. We desperately need Ksh. 50,000 ($500) as early as yesterday to enable us to sign up and hook our e-learning program to Moodle Cloud. According to Dr. Steve Schweitzer, this Moodle Cloud platform is convenient and relatively fair in price as compared to other online learning platforms. This is the same platform Bethany is using to engage students in Nigeria. However, since we do not have finances to sign up right away, we have electronically put arrangements in place to engage our students via other social media platforms – Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, and email communications. The exam schedule for residential students is now out and students will do exams in the convenience of their homes at specified time periods. Exams will begin on May 18 at 10 a.m. and end on May 26 at 3 p.m. Modular students will cover their April module syllabi from the first week of June and end in the first week of July 2020. Lectures will be done online - in most cases via Zoom and other social platforms. The FTC administration and IT instructor are also busy training lecturers and students in each of the four FTC satellite campuses in e-learning skills.
Of course, we have launched this online learning program with expectation of challenges at the back of our minds. Due to overwhelming poverty brought about by Covid-19, some students may not afford compatible appliances required for online learning such as smartphone, iPad, laptop, etc., and a good number of them are ‘computer klutzes’ in matters of information technology. We are using this window between now and May 15 as a period of training for both students and faculty. Whoever said, “Necessity is the mother of invention” was probably right!