Article written by Professor Magnate Ntombela
Ordinarily, when a sudden disaster strikes, it forces one to determine what to salvage and take with whilst scurrying for safety. The Covid 19 pandemic has, in a way, forced us to decide what is worth saving in an academic calendar. For some, it has been the subject content; students have had to, by all means possible, ‘cover’ the syllabus. For others, there has been a need to ensure that final exams do take place. Such decisions and choices reveal the areas of the educational enterprise that are, in our minds, of greatest value. Regardless of differences in what we regard as of greatest value in the academic agenda, the Covid 19 pandemic has presented a risk that threatens the completion of educational goals.
The impact of the pandemic on teaching and learning has been felt the most on how formative assessment has been handled. In some quarters, it is fast becoming a procedural, tick-box administrative process. Formative assessment is, by definition, aimed at improving learning by systematically checking what has been learned, while also determining what has been found lacking in the understanding of the material or content. Unfortunately, with many programme delivery timelines having been adversely affected by Covid-related lockdowns, public protests and electricity load-shedding, many students find themselves in a situation where they have to sit for the final examination without having received feedback and grades for formative assessment. In this case, the formative assessment serves an administrative purpose rather than a means to fulfil a teaching and learning agenda.
The worrying effects of the pandemic on education are far reaching and often more devastating in poor communities. Socio-economic inequalities result in huge discrepancies in the resourcing of communities and their schools. It has also caused, in many schools, a serious inability to pivot to online teaching and learning. In many circumstances there is a height end expectation that, for school-going children, parents will have a role in the enhancement of their children’s learning. In many rural and urban settings, parents and grandparents are not up to this task, which disadvantages their children’s learning. In addition, for many children, not being able to attend school means a deprivation of a healthy meal. The school milieu also has an important role in the children’s development of social skills, and this benefit is not taken advantage of because of strict Covid 19 protocols which include school attendance on alternate days.
These and many other challenges call for instructional leadership which is focused on dealing with obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of learning. Furthermore, the instructional leader communicates this standpoint to all stakeholders, especially parents, in order to get support and buy-in. It follows then that Learning Management Systems that are deployed are selected on the basis of effectiveness and user-friendliness. Instructional leadership means that even if the leader is not an IT expert, they understand, and can interrogate what learners are being offered. To maintain trust, instructional leaders communicate with all stakeholders honestly and in a transparent manner particularly during a crisis.
A crisis removes comfort from our comfort zone and should steer us to new ways of doing things. Two examples that come to mind: 1) With the known benefits of the outdoors, why are all class interactions confined to crowded and poorly ventilated classrooms? This would, of course come with its own challenges but could bring some variety. 2) Covid 19 infection spikes or waves seldom hit all provinces at the same time yet the public school calendar is usually nationally determined and is uniform. Localised and responsive planning could bring about agility and allow for a better riding of the Covid waves.
In spite of all the challenges education is facing, it is not all doom and gloom. The learners who will successfully come through high school this year (Class of 2021) will have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Their resilience and grit, together with their familiarity with online approaches, will stand them in good stead at tertiary level. They will be able to operate successfully in a supported distance education environment offered by MANCOSA, for example.
Education is about learning. Not all new teaching and learning approaches will always yield success but even for those that do not succeed in the long run, they still provide us a good opportunity to learn, thus contributing to our own lifelong learning.
MANCOSA, a leading provider of management programmes through supported distance learning in Southern Africa, is renowned for its MBA offering, which is ranked among the 10 of the best MBAs in Africa. A member of Honoris United Universities – the first Pan-African private higher education network focused on nurturing the next generation of African leaders and professionals. MANCOSA serves as an innovation hub for undergraduate and postgraduate management, offering 50 accredited programmes. A selection of Executive Education Short Learning Programmes is also offered to meet the requirements of professionals in both the private and public sectors. See: www.mancosa.co.za
For queries or additional information call 031 300 7200, email [email protected] or visit https://www.mancosa.co.za/.
About Honoris United Universities
Honoris United Universities is the first and largest Pan-African private higher education network committed to educating the next generation of African leaders and professionals able to impact regionally in a globalised world. Collaborative intelligence, cultural agility and mobile mind-sets and skills are at the heart of Honoris’ vision of higher education. Honoris United Universities joins the expertise of its member institutions to develop world-class African Human capital that is competitive in today’s fast-paced, demanding and increasingly digitised labour and start-up markets.
Honoris United Universities gathers a community of 57,000 students on 70 campuses, learning centres and via on-line, in 10 countries and 32 cities. The network counts 14 institutions: multidisciplinary universities, specialised schools, technical and vocational institutes, contact, distance, and online institutions. Students have an opportunity to experience exclusive partnerships and exchange programs in more than 85 universities across Europe and the United States. Over 300 degrees are offered in Health Sciences, Engineering, IT, Business, Law, Architecture, Creative Arts and Design, Media, Political Science and Education.
Honoris United Universities. Education for Impact. www.honoris.net