Cheers as university resumes giving laptops to poor students

Notwithstanding Ernestine Uwimana’s hope for a better future after joining the University of Rwanda, her first academic year was marred by frustrations as she struggled to complete all the assignments and academic activities on time.

As a government-sponsored student, Uwimana is from a family that is too poor to buy her a laptop. Moreover, at the time she joined, the university had suspended providing laptops to students in this category.

Until 2019, the university provided government-sponsored students with locally assembled laptops, but the initiative hit a snag after the devices proved not to be functioning properly. Government sponsorships cover students’ tuition fees and include monthly stipends for living costs.

But there is hope. All government-sponsored students can now apply for a laptop on the basis of a repayable loan that will be added to their government-sponsored loans, the university management announced on 26 June 2023 in a circular signed by Dr Didas Kayihura Muganga, the acting vice-chancellor.

According to the circular, “Specific laptops have been carefully assigned according to particular study programmes and required laptop capacity.” These details are not yet available, but students and lecturers welcome the step – also because the government has contracted a new provider and set standards for the devices.

ICT facilities lacking

“It is frustrating to study without a laptop,” Uwimana said. She is now a second-year student in international relations at the University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences.

As the university does not have enough ICT facilities, Uwimana and other students who study on a government loan had to borrow devices from a few students who have laptops or queue for hours at the limited number of computer labs to work on assignments or other academic activities.

The College of Sciences and Technology (UR-CST), which focuses on ICT, has about 600 computers that are shared by 6,500 students – roughly one computer per 11 students. Sources from other colleges say their situation is worse. There are more than 30,000 students at the different colleges of the University of Rwanda, mostly government-sponsored.

Uwimana said: “It was hectic, and it affected our learning process. Most assignments should be submitted either as soft or hard – handwritten submissions are not allowed, except in tests and examinations.”

Uwimana is delighted about the announcement. “This is a good move and will ultimately affect our learning process positively. I am eagerly ready to apply for the laptop and I hope I will qualify for it and get it. I will use it to study and conduct more research and finish assignments on time and I am optimistic this will help me perform well,” she said.

Costs not clear

Another student, who is identified only as Mahoro, from UR-CST, welcomed the initiative, but questioned the modalities by which the laptops are provided.

“We are happy we are going to be given laptops, which are paramount to our studies and learning process. However, something is not clear, especially when it comes to the prices which we will be paying,” he said. Students paid more than US$700 for a laptop under the previous initiative, which Mahoro calls illogical and not in line with market prices.

“We want the university to be clear and explain to us how much we will pay as this is a loan and we have to be well informed about it. Otherwise, the move is positive, and acquiring laptops will make huge changes in our studies and academic performance in general,” he said.

The University of Rwanda says that applicants will get more details during the application process.

Initiative welcomed

Equipping students with quality laptops and offering quality internet could ensure smooth learning and effectively improve the quality of education the university aspires to offer, officials said. It is important to provide such learning facilities at a university where more than 60% of the teaching material is available only online.

For IT experts, providing laptops to university students is a positive move as it eases the learning process and enables students to work when they want and need to.

According to Dr Alfred Uwitonze, dean of the ICT department at UR-CST, resuming the provision of laptops is long overdue.

“It is very important to provide laptops to needy students. Students who do not have laptops can hardly perform well in classes as the university does not have enough ICT-equipped labs to accommodate all the students,” he said.

“Besides, students who have laptops can access online resources and learn independently without depending on physical classes. They can easily carry out their own research to complement their studies and use the laptops to keep notes and ensure they revise any time they wish,” Uwitonze said.

Boost for quality education

He added that such a move would contribute to boosting the quality of education the country wants to achieve.

Experts have also lauded the provision of laptops to students in an online era when a blended learning system is becoming mandatory.

With lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, when physical classes were suspended and replaced by online classes, experts urge that students be appropriately equipped.