Interviews du Mois avec Professeur Janvier Gasana au journal Œil d’humanité

Interviews du Mois avec Professeur Janvier Gasana au journal Œil d’humanité

/ Invité du Mois / Wednesday, 06 January 2021 13:04


Hello, your presentation (function and experience in online)

I am Janvier Gasana.

 When did you start teaching online? For what reasons?

I started teaching online back in 2002. The reason was a request from my dean at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, in 2000. He came to my office and told that I and my colleagues had to start teaching online. I immediately told him that I did not believe in online teaching. You see, when you are tenured professor, you can disagree with your dean with any repercussion.

He turned around and said: “Well, if you don’t teach online, soon you won’t have any students because they will go to universities that offer online teaching”. Then, I said that he made a very good point and told him that I would give it a shot and see what happened! Thank God, I accepted the challenge because I won’t be that savvy in teaching online during COVID-19 pandemic here at Kuwait University (KU).

 I can imagine that when the arrival of covid19 pandemic proved that you were right

starting online? Can you tell us more?

KU dragged their feet until late July 2020 as they did not believe in online teaching as I did not when my dean approached me. Indeed, when we were told to start teaching online, I was more than ready given my 15+-year experience teaching at FIU and at Medical College of Wisconsin where I have been online professor and course director for the last 6 years (I’ve never been to Wisconsin) (In about two weeks, starting on January 18, 2021, I will teach the online Introduction to Environmental Health).

So, here at KU, many of my colleagues were in panic mode because they did not have the experience I had. We quickly formed a committee (in which I played a key role given my experience), looked for helpful hints from various resources, and compiled them while summarizing them in user friendly documents and videos. We also put together hints for students also since they did not have the experience either.

It was challenging during the 1st COVID-19 semester from August to November 2020. In the 2nd COVID-19 semester (from December 2020 to March 2021), colleagues and students are now quite comfortable with teaching online using Microsoft Teams (for live lectures) and Moodle (for discussion forum and assignments).

 You are the one of people with an immigrant background who has been able to integrate

professionally. Throughout your experience, can you give advice to immigrants?

Well, I have been lucky to be able to secure a tenure position at FIU as soon as I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago. My advice is “1st to do well in graduate school and 2nd to stay focused in your field of study” by “being perseverant, patient and pro-active.”

 There are some theories which confirm that immigrants are very important for their

host countries and still claim that immigrants do not contribute in their host countries.

Based on your experience, can you discuss this topic?

It depends on a number of factors including your area of expertise and the need of your expertise of the host country. In my case, in 1995, I joined a small graduate department of public health at FIU that had a master of public health (MPH) program with 7 colleagues in other fields of public health and I was the only one covering the field of environmental and occupational health (EOH) sceinces (my field of study at the MPH and PhD levels).

After 5 years in that role, an opportunity to establish a new school of public health manifested itself and I was asked to build from scratch an EOH department from one-man army that I was to 7 colleagues (that I recruited) (the school had 77 faculty members running MPH and PhD programs) by the time I decided to move to Kuwait University (KU) in January 2016. Indeed, for about ten years at FIU, I singlehandedly took care and taught all the courses [alternating online and onsite teaching along with the use of blended learning (online and onsite along with field visits)] of the concentration of EOH sciences in the then FIU Department of Public Health which evolved into the Stempel School (named after my late colleague Dr Robert Stempel).

At KU, I am now one of the leading faculty members who are developing onsite and online academic programs (BSc, Graduate Diplomas, MPH, and PhD) in the new school of public health and the new department of EOH (that I am building up again from scratch) using the expertise he acquired over the years. The Graduate Diploma in occupational safety and health (OSH) that just got approved by our EOH Departmental Council will lead to an MPH in EOH for any candidate who wishes to pursue a board certification in Occupational medicine (for physicians), Occupational Health Nursing (for Nurses), Industrial Hygiene/Safety (for Others).

At KU, I have recruited 3 faculty members so far and 3 more to go and I will be done, moving to the next challenge of building online public health and OSH programs with a focus on targeted areas in Africa among other areas [The key is to have local partners for the field (hands-on or applied) aspect of the teaching].

 In your opinion, what role should the Africa diaspora play in development of Africa

Well, the African Diaspora can play a significant role in the development of Africa given the expertise and experience that they acquired from host countries. The African diaspora is a major source of foreign income - so large that it now outstrips foreign aid sent by Western donors. Nearly 140 million Africans live abroad. The money they send back home, remittances, is worth far more - in value and usefulness - than the development donations sent by Western financial institutions. The exact amount of these remittances is unknown because not all of it is sent through official banking channels. But the official volume to the continent has gradually increased over the years, from $11 billion in 2000 to $60 billion in 2012, according to the World Bank.

The good news is that the African Union (AU) embraced the Africans in Diaspora by establishing the 6th AU region for them. Africa has shown a growing will to reconcile with the African Diaspora. In 2003, the AU amended its Charter so as to “… encourage the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of the continent”. Within the African Union, there are 6 regions: 1. North Africa, 2. West Africa, 3. Central Africa, 4. East Africa, 5. Southern Africa, plus one last region, the “Sixth Region“, which constitutes the African Diaspora. The political, economic and cultural importance of this Diaspora is increasingly recognized. The emerging Diaspora movement to become more active in Africa’s development efforts, the growing political will in Africa to recognize the Diaspora’s potential contribution, and the possibilities created by information technology show that the African Diaspora is not, after all, a total loss to the continent.

Virtual participation has tremendous potential to channel the untapped intellectual and material input from the African Diaspora. Moreover, it recorded a growing awareness among the African Diaspora of its moral, intellectual, and social responsibility to contribute to Africa’s development efforts. Moreover, AU just established PAVEU (Pan African Virtual and e-University) is located in Yaounde, Cameroon, this will be instrumental in using the talents of the African Diaspora.

You have launched an online master’s degree in occupational and environmental medicine. Can you tell us more about?

In 2 years from now, we plan to start 1st an online graduate diploma in occupational safety and health (OSH) and 2nd an online master’s degree in OSH with a number of partners we have in our African network through Occupational Safety and Health Africa Foundation (OSHAfrica) we established in 2018 in Dublin at the ICOH (International Congress of Occupational Health). OSHAfrica is a Pan-African Occupational Safety and Health organization legally registered in 2017 with the principal aim of bringing together Occupational Safety and Health professionals across Africa, creating an atmosphere for collaborative work, sharing of knowledge and OSH data across different countries and sub-regions of Africa.

We aspire to be the African information agency on Occupational Safety and Health. OSHAfrica has been structured with a Regional Administrative Office in Lagos, Nigeria with sub-regional leadership offices across all African sub-regions with the sole aim of bringing activities closer to each OSHAfrican. We held our 1st OSHAfrica conference in Johannesburg, S. Africa in September 2019. We have lively platforms through WhatsApp and Telegram. It has 3 committees (1. Research, Data and Publication Committee which I chair; 2. Education and Competency Improvement Committee; and 3. OSH Legislation and Policy Committee).

 You come from Rwanda, why did you choose to set up university in Kuwait instead of in

Rwanda? Do you have innovative projects for Africa and in particular in your country of


Kuwait University is a stepping stone which brought closer to Africa through OSHAfrica and a number of other venues. My colleagues and I are putting together online programs (Bsc, Graduate Diploma in OSH, master’s degree in EOH/OSH, and PhD) for a number of African universities including of course, the University of Rwanda School of Public Health Department of EOH.

These are programs that we are building up here at Kuwait University and we are in the 3rd year (we recently graduated 10 from the 1st batch MPH degree program, the 2nd batch is in its 2nd and final year and the 3rd just started). The graduate diploma in OSH will lead to an MPH in EOH with a possibility of board certification in Occupational medicine (for physicians), Occupational Health Nursing (Nurses), Industrial Hygiene/Safety (Others). So, in addition to the Graduate Diploma and MPH in EOH/OSH, as we do here at KU, we plan to have BSc and PhD degree programs in public health and OSH,

 When we arrived in your native village, what were the impressions of the people of your

village? Do you have nostalgia?

It was quite an emotional reunion with tears, hugs, and laughs! My people were still the same warm people that I missed for 23 years. Yes, I do have nostalgia but I have a possibility of visiting them often.

 Do You have anything else to add about our discussion?

In the last 10 months, the COVID-19 pandemic led to school closures across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.

In whatever format such as language appsvirtual tutoringvideo-conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.

With access to the right technology, online learning can be quite effective. Studies show that on average, students retain about 40% more material when learning online compared to only 9% in a classroom. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 50% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting. Students can learn at their own pace, going back/re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.

Regarding added value from the Diaspora contribution, unlike Western experts sent to Africa, African health professionals are more aware of the health problems of their countries. Most even speak the local languages, which makes easier the direct communication with stakeholders even remotely during tele-conferences that can be held on a regular basis.

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