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Online learning during COVID-19 emergency -a descriptive study of university students' experience in Mozambique

Authors:
  • Higher Institute of Health Sciences
  • Higher Institute of Health Sciences, Maputo
  • Direcção Provincial da Educacação
1
Online learning during COVID-19 emergency – a descriptive study of university students’
experience in Mozambique
Lénia Cecília SitoeD
Keywords Abstract
COVID-19;
educational technology;
emergency;
higher education;
online learning.
Initially described as pneumonia of unknown etiology, COVID-19 emerged
in China in late 2019 and quickly spread around the world. Its impact
has resulted in the closure of schools in several countries, including
Mozambique, and at that time, the teaching and learning process shifted
to digital platforms. In this context, this research was developed with the
aim of describing students’ experience with the teaching and learning
process using digital platforms during the state of emergency. We
surveyed 6,542 students from 43 public and private higher education
institutions, of whom 3,226 (52%) were male and the average age was
24 years. The survey was answered using the Google Forms platform
between 4th and 12th of May 2020. Descriptive statistics were used for
data analysis, and the results are presented in simple tables. 98.5% of the
students were at the undergraduate level, about 1% pursued a Master’s
degree and only 0.3% were attending a doctoral course. The most used
platforms were WhatsApp, email and Google Classroom, and about
64% reported an unsatisfactory level of competence and just over three
quarters had some kind of diculty. The most used device to access the
platforms was the cellphone (59.4%), however only 45.5% had the device
available full time. Only 27% of the students were able to follow all classes,
and diculty of comprehending some topics and the poor quality of the
internet were the main barriers. Furthermore, only 34% of them stated
that they continued to have all classes initially planned and about 78%
rated the performance of their teachers as poor or reasonable. About
65% believed that the quality of the teaching and learning process had
decreased, and 80% had an unsatisfactory experience in their adaptation
to the process and almost the same proportion (79%) would not continue
with this teaching modality. During the suspension of classes, students
used a variety of digital platforms and faced constraints regarding access
to the internet, as well as diculties in adapting to the process.
Article Info
Received 9 March 2021
Received in revised form 19 April 2021
Accepted 22 April 2021
Available online 23 April 2021
DOI: https://doi.org/10.37074/jalt.2021.4.1.16
Content Available at :
Journal of Applied Learning
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JALT
http://journals.sfu.ca/jalt/index.php/jalt/index
ISSN : 2591-801X
DLecturer, Instituto Superior de Ciências de Saúde, Head of the Department of Community
Outreach and Coordinator of Sexual and Reproductive Health Projects
Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching Vol.4 No.1 (2021)
Ana Paula Xavier MatusseEELecturer, Instituto Superior de Ciências de Saúde, Digital Marketing Consultant
Hélio Rogério MartinsAAAssistant Lecturer, Epidemiology and Public Health, Instituto Superior de Ciências de Saúde,
Maputo, Mozambique
Iolanda Cavaleiro TingaBBLecturer, Instituto Superior de Ciências de Saúde, Maputo, Mozambique, and Nutrition
Course Coordinator
José Luís ManjateCCHead of Department, Department of School Nutrition and Health, Provincial Directorate of
Education and Human Development, Maputo Province, Mozambique
2Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching Vol.4 No.1 (2021)
Introduction
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19), initially described as
pneumonia of unknown etiology, is an infectious disease
caused by the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that was
rst detected in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, in the
People’s Republic of China in December 2019 (Lu et al.,
2020; Cruz et al., 2020). Due to its rapid spread, the World
Health Organization declared the disease an international
public health emergency on 30 January 2020, thus alerting
the international community to take measures to control
the disease (World Health Organization [WHO], 2020a). The
continuous disseminations of COVID-19 led to its declaration
as a pandemic in less than two weeks after the disease was
classied as public health emergency (WHO, 2020b).
In the rst months of 2020, the disease had already a
systemic impact on a global scale, not only in morbidity
and mortality but also in socioeconomic life (Sohrabi et al.,
2020). In this process, the closure of schools was one of the
measures implemented in several countries (Huang et al.,
2020). This measure, which has its scientic support from
the experience of some countries with the 2009 inuenza
epidemic, aimed to reduce contact between people as a way
of containing the spread of the disease (Viner et al., 2020).
Estimates from the United Nations Educational, Scientic
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2020) indicate that by
20 April 2020, around 191 countries had decreed the closure
of schools, aecting more than 1,579,634,000 students. In
Mozambique, the suspension of face-to-face classes was
decreed on March 20, with eect from 23rd of the same
month, for a period of 30 days, with the teaching and learning
process being done using digital platforms, especially in
higher education (Ministry of Science, Technology and
Higher Education [MCTESTP], 2020). Subsequently, the
government decreed a 30-day State of Emergency with
eect from April 1st (Boletim da República, 2020), thus
extending the suspension of face-to-face classes until April
30, 2020.
In order to guarantee the continuation of classes, the
Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education issued
an ocial letter instructing all public and private Higher
Education Institutions to design activity plans for the 30-
day period and to use the Information and Communication
Technologies (ICT) such as email, WhatsApp, Skype, Google
Classroom and other digital platforms to deliver lessons
(MCTESTP, 2020).
According to Salimo and Gouveia (2017), in a higher
education classroom in Mozambique, between 40 and
60% of students have portable computers and between 90
and 100% have cell phones with internet access. However,
this does not necessarily imply that these students are
prepared to migrate to a teaching and learning process
based on digital platforms. In addition, considering the
challenges that still exist in the use of ICT by teachers and
students both in face-to-face and distance learning (Lobo
& Maia, 2015), as well as the weaknesses in the provision
of internet access (Krönke, 2020) and the move from onsite
to online classes without proper preparation, we deemed
it opportune to describe students’ experience in learning
using digital platforms in order to evidence challenges and
opportunities of the teaching and learning process in a
context of emergency caused by COVID-19 in Mozambique.
Literature review
The study by Butler-Henderson et al. (2020) shows that
there have been numerous publications on how students
and institutions responded to the demands caused by the
outbreak of COVID-19 during the rst half of 2021, when
rapid adjusments were needed to keep the teaching and
learning process in place.
While there is a consensus that the outbreak of COVID-19
has disrupted education systems worldwide, the evidence
suggests that the impact and response varied between and
within countries (Bonk et al., 2020; Crawford et al., 2020).
Although the developed countries have made a smoother
transition to online classes, at least from the infrastructure
point of view, still students experienced some diculties
to adapt, with their mental health and well-being aected
by concerns about their academic situation and future
professional life (Aucejo et al., 2020; Crawford et al., 2020;
Hasan & Bao, 2020; Hawley et al., 2021). On the other side,
the developing countries faced more challenges to support
the transition from traditional to online learning models
(Crawford et al., 2020; Nyerere, 2020).
In Africa, studies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic have shown
that online education is aected by resource constraints. A
study held in Kenya by Nyerere et al. (2012) revealed that
the delivery of online learning faces infrastructural issues
as one of the main handicaps, with students reporting low
levels of satisfaction with the resource centres, programme
organization and delivery. Likewise, in Zimbabwe, Mpofu et
al. (2012) found that distance learning was threatened by a
lack of properly trained teaching sta. These scenarios still
prevail in many other African countries, where the level of
digital literacy or preparedness to use electronic devices
and the internet coverage and access are yet to improve
(Krönke, 2020; Nyerere, 2020).
From the available literature, it is evident that the COVID-19
pandemic forced signicant changes upon the teaching and
learning processes. To the best of our knowledge, this is the
rst study to examine students’ learning experiences during
the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Mozambique,
thus contribuing to document a singular event from which
many lessons can be learned so as to rethink and improve
the education system.
Methodology
A descriptive study with a quantitative approach was carried
out through an online survey using Google Form. The
objective was to describe the students’ experience of the
teaching and learning process using digital platforms during
the state of emergency. The survey was open between the
4th and 12th of May 2020 and was disseminated through
social media (WhatsApp) and also by email. Respondents
were able to share the link with their network of contacts,
3Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching Vol.4 No.1 (2021)
thus allowing the survey to reach more eligible people. The
study population consisted of undergraduate and graduate
students from public and private institutions in Mozambique.
The data collection instrument was developed based on
the literature review and contributions from the research
team, covering aspects about the platforms used during the
suspension of face-to-face classes, the eectiveness and
quality of teaching as well as satisfaction with the process.
In all, the survey had 29 closed-ended questions.
All students were informed about the research objective and
participation was voluntary. The information was displayed
in the opening of the survey link and students were asked to
conrm their willingness to participate in the study, and only
after this procedure, the study questions were displayed.
No identifying information was collected, thus ensuring an
anonymous and condential participation of students.
Results and discussion
Students’ general characteristics
We obtained 6,542 responses and after cleaning incoherent
data and duplications, 6,224 responses were considered
valid, with 3,226 (52%) male, 2802 (45%) female and 196
(3%) who chose not to identify their gender. The mean
age was 24 years (SD = 6.16 years), ranging from 16 to
64 years. Altogether, the survey reached students from
43 higher education institutions. Approximately 59% of
the students attended public universities. Regarding the
training cycle, 98.5% were at the undergraduate level, about
1% were attending at Master’s level and only 0.3% attended
a doctoral course. Although it would be expected that the
number of students decreases at higher educational levels,
the gap between undergraduate students compared to
those pursuing Master and doctoral degrees is steep. There
were fewer students entering the fth and sixth years, a
fact that is explained by the small number of courses with
training programs going beyond four years. Close to three
quarters (74.2%) were daytime students, with the majority
of them in the eld of Applied Sciences and Engineering
(31.8%) followed by Economic/Financial Sciences (28.8%)
and Social Sciences (16%) and to a lesser extent, students
of Arts and Culture (1.6%) and Sports Sciences (0.5%). Table
1 summarizes the characteristics of the study participants.
Digital platforms used by students in the teaching
and learning process during the suspension of face-
to-face classes
Just over half of the students (51.3%) stated that they had
never used any digital platform to attend classes before the
suspension of on-site classes. In the period of suspension of
face-to-face classes, the predominance of a combination of
dierent platforms in the teaching and learning process was
notorious, where a combination of WhatsApp, email and
Google Classroom was the most used (18.9%), followed by
email (12.1%) and the combination of WhatsApp and email
(10.4%). The least used were Zoom and YouTube with 0.9
and 0.1%, respectively. Only about 10% of students reported
using a specic platform of their institution for the continuity
Table 1: Students’ general characteristics
of classes (Table 2).
We noted that the platforms used were predominantly
asynchronous, with the information provided by the
facilitator accessible anytime by the students and there often
not being any real-time interaction (Basilaia & Kvavadze,
2020; Ruiz et al., 2006), though they may also be real-time
interaction in cases where classes take place at a previously
agreed schedule. Another salient aspect is the weak use
of video platforms such as Zoom and YouTube, which can
be due to costs and quality of the internet (Baticulon et
al., 2020; Krönke, 2020). The small proportion of students
who report using the institution’s specic platforms reects
the unavailability of these platforms or the impossibility
of making them operational to cover the entire academic
community during the emergency period. Considering
the advantages that the institution’s specic platforms
oer, such as ease of monitoring of the teaching process,
producing academic statistics, recording activity and storing
information, it is unquestionable that higher education
institutions should pledge to put these tools in place.
According to research by Cacheiro-Gonzalez et al. (2019)
the specic learning platforms promote more autonomy in
learning, facilitate access to bibliographic materials and the
4Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching Vol.4 No.1 (2021)
interaction between teachers and students. However, studies
that compare the eectiveness of learning using institution-
specic platforms and tools used by students during the
emergency may be more illuminating on the subject.
Table 2: Use of platforms during higher education and
during the suspension of face-to-face classes
One important aspect for eective use of digital platforms
is the level of competence that users have when using
those platforms. In this regard, we found that about 64%
considered their level of competence as poor or reasonable
and only 4.4% said it was very good or excellent, while 19%
did not know how safe they were in using those platforms.
About 76% of the students faced some kind of diculty in
using the platforms, most of whom obtained support from
colleagues (26.4%), and others from a family member/friend
or neighbour (7.9%). However, it should be noted that about
30% of students who had diculties did not get any support
(Table 3).
The high proportion of students who reported having a
poor or reasonable level of competence and diculties in
using the platforms can be seen as a consequence of the
sudden transition that took place from classroom classes
to the use of digital platforms, without training them in
its use. Incompetence in using digital teaching platforms
can compromise the quality of the teaching process and
students’ performance, as evidenced by Bhuasiri et al. (2012).
According to data from 34 African countries, including
Mozambique, only 20% of the adult population is able to
make use of digital platforms for learning or to support a
family member in this process (Krönke, 2020).
Table 3: Level of competence in the use of platforms and
support received
Electronic devices used and places from where class-
es were assisted
Electronic devices are essential elements when it comes to
using digital platforms. In this regard, the cellphone alone
was the most used (59.4%) followed by a combination of
cellphone and laptop (23.3%). As with platforms, we also
found a combination of various types of devices. Looking at
the availability of these devices, less than half had them full-
time (45.45%), almost 17% had the devices available many
times, while the rest (38%) had more access restrictions.
Bearing in mind that one of the objectives of suspending
face-to-face classes was to limit the movements of students
as a prevention strategy for COVID-19, we probe the location
from which students followed classes. In this, we found that
more than three quarters (77.8%) did it from home, while
the rest had to move for several reasons, including the
demand for internet and devices for accessing the platforms.
The quality of the internet network was another element
analyzed, where we found that around 87% considered it as
5Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching Vol.4 No.1 (2021)
poor or reasonable. Approximately 10% rated it as good and
close to 2% of the students rated the quality of the signal as
very good or excellent (Table 4).
As mentioned, the cellphone was the most used device,
however it is worth noting that most students had diculties
following the classes due to the limited availability of the
devices. Indeed, in an assessment carried out in 34 African
countries, it was found that only 46% of households have a
cellphone or computer or both (Krönke, 2020). The quality
and stability of the internet are still a challenge in developing
countries and the crisis imposed by COVID-19 may have
aggravated this scenario, as several other activities moved
to an online environment, generating greater demand in
this period. In a survey conducted in Ghana involving pre-
university and university students, only 36.4% said they had
access to the internet to attend classes (Owusu-Fordjour et
al., 2020). Adnan & Anwar (2020) identied that about 52%
of students in Pakistan indicated the quality of the internet
as one of the main obstacles to the use of platforms.
Table 4: Electronic devices used and location of students
Barriers to online classes
Considering the limited time that higher education
institutions had to migrate from face-to-face to distance
learning, we explored possible barriers that may have
existed in the teaching and learning process, especially if
students were able to attend all the classes. We found that
only 27% were able to do so. Among those who were unable
to follow all classes, the biggest barrier was the diculty in
comprehending the content (58.3%), followed by the poor
quality of the internet (24.6%) and also the costs associated
with access (10.3%) (Table 5).
Diculty in comprehending the contents may be due to
students' lack of preparation for remote learning, associated
with the fact that it has to take place in an environment that
was eventually not usual. A similar scenario was identied
in Ghana by Owusu-Fordjour et al. (2020) where only 19%
of students said they experienced eective learning from
home after face-to-face classes were suspended due to
COVID-19. In addition, regular students regard online
teaching negatively and believe that face-to-face interaction
is necessary for learning (Adnan & Anwar, 2020).
Table 5: Barriers to attending online classes
6Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching Vol.4 No.1 (2021)
Disciplines taught and teachers’ performance
Only 34% of the students stated that all disciplines planned
at the beginning of the semester continued to be taught
after the suspension of face-to-face classes, while 27%
stated that most were being taught via digital platforms
and about 3% reported that no discipline was being taught.
Digital platforms allow implementing a variety of teaching
strategies that can enhance student learning. In this sense,
we probe the strategies deemed useful by the students,
where the most pointed were classes for discussing reading
materials and assignment (37.4%), classes for clarifying
doubts (20.7%) and the combination of test, individual and
group tasks (11.5%). Just over 78% of students rated their
teachers’ performance as poor or reasonable, approximately
17% as good and only 4.6% as very good or excellent (Table
6).
The two preferred forms of learning, where interaction
with the teacher is necessary, show that students are
more adapted to a model where the teacher is a present
element in the teaching and learning process. The study
by Dietrich et al. (2020) also shows that students have
little anity with models where the teacher is an absent
gure. The appreciation of the teachers’ performance can
be seen from two perspectives. On the one hand, it may
reect the impartial appreciation that students have of
their teachers. But on the other hand, it may be that the
diculties with, and negative perceptions of, the digital
platforms by the students inuenced them to negatively
evaluate their teachers. However, it is possible that teachers
had diculties in implementing or adapting an appropriate
teaching methodology to the context. Baticulon et al. (2020)
identied poor communication and lack of instructions on
teachers’ side as one of the main barriers pointed out by
students in online education. In addition, body language and
facial expressions are two important teaching instruments
that teachers cannot use in online learning, particularly in a
situation where they were not prepared to compensate for
these limitations (Bao, 2020).
Students’ satisfaction with the use of digital plat-
forms as a support of the teaching and learning
process
We sought to explore some variables that could reect
student satisfaction with the teaching and learning process
via digital platforms. The majority’s perception is that
quality has decreased (64.7%); to about 30%, the quality
was not aected, while almost 6% said it had increased.
Approximately 80% of students considered their adaptation
to the teaching and learning process via digital platforms as
poor or reasonable, whilst it was good for close to 12% and
very good or excellent for 3.3%. The whole process was seen
as poor or reasonable by 90.9% of students, good for about
8% and very good or excellent for less than 2%. Finally,
about 79% would not choose to continue this teaching
format (Table 7).
Data from Krönke (2020) shows that the level of readiness for
online education in Mozambique, assessed by digital literacy,
Table 6: Number of disciplines taught and teachers’
performance
is around 36%. In addition, student-teacher interaction,
teacher’s performance and teaching and learning evaluation
are important factors for student satisfaction when it comes
to distance learning (Ali & Ahmad, 2011), factors that have
been greatly aected by the pandemic and which may have
led to a perception of reduced quality of education.
The perception of reduced quality of education cannot be
dissociated from the diculty of adaptation revealed by
the majority of students, a fact identied in a research by
Baticulon et al. (2020), where only 41% of students in the
Philippines felt able to adapt to online teaching, which has
turned out to be been one of the main barriers to remote
learning.
Although this reduction in the quality of education is
plausible, one must consider the negative impact that the
pandemic had on students’ well-being, as some studies
reveal feelings of anxiety, despair and stress among students
(Bao, 2020; Baticulon et al., 2020; Cao et al., 2020; Hasan &
Bao, 2020) that certainly interfere with learning, and may lead
to their evaluation the process in a negative way. In addition,
the lack of interaction with colleagues was also identied as
a negative aspect aecting learning in this period (Baticulon
et al., 2020). Moreover, there were demands from social
7Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching Vol.4 No.1 (2021)
life that led students to become involved in household or
income-generating tasks that limited the time available for
studies (Baticulon et al., 2020).
The high proportion of students who would not choose
to continue the learning process via digital platforms is
consistent with their evaluation of their adaptation and the
process itself. However, this result should not be interpreted
as a rejection of digital platforms or distance learning, taking
into account the context in which the process took place,
where neither students nor teachers had the necessary
preparation. In addition, the data presented here must be
interpreted with caution, particularly because it describes
the situation in the initial phase of the higher education
institutions’ transition and adaptation process, which may
have changed over the six-month suspension of face-to-
face classes.
Table 7: Student satisfaction with the teaching and learning
process via digital platforms
Conclusion
In this study, we show that teaching and learning processes
were highly heterogeneous, given the diverse prole
of students from public as well as private institutions in
Mozambique. A notable aspect was the multiplicity of
platforms used to guarantee the continuity of the teaching
and learning process and the weak use of specic online
teaching platforms that could allow students to access
teaching content in a standardized manner. Internet access
also represented a considerable constraint during this
period. But despite these obstacles, we believe that higher
education institutions in Mozambique should capitalize on
the teaching experience based on digital platforms, which
can be useful in enhancing the teaching and learning
process, increasing students' autonomy and creativity in
learning.
Not least important is the need for the government in
general and the higher education instititions themselves
to nd a mechanism to facilitate access to digital devices
such as cell phones and laptops by students and to adopt
or consolidate specic teaching platforms in view of the
numerous advantages for the teaching process when
compared to the common platforms widely used in this
period. Given the high proportion of students who stated
that there has been a reduction in the quality of teaching, it
would be elucidative to assess the extent to which the basic
skills for each level were achieved.
Finally, the objective of this research was to provide
an overview of the teaching and learning process in
Mozambique after approximately a month of teaching via
digital platforms. There are certainly dierences between
courses that should be explored in future research and
that can reveal peculiarities of certain areas of teaching,
facilitating an innovative approach to distance learning or
via digital platforms. We think that this research constitutes
an opportunity for reection on the importance of using
available technologies and digital platforms, as well as the
need to prepare and train teachers and students for their
application and use in dierent learning contexts.
Availability of data and materials
The data that support the ndings of this study are available
from Hélio Martins but restrictions apply to the availability
of these data, which are not publicly available.
Funding
This research did not receive any specic grant from funding
agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-prot sectors.
Acknowledgements
The authors acknowledge the academics who hepled in
disseminating the questionnaire and the students who
agreed to participate during the early stages of class
disruption and who also shared the questionnaire with their
colleagues.
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