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Education during COVID-19: the Commonwealth response
“Pandemics, natural disasters and social/political unrest are realities that
countries will continue to face in the future.”
In just a few months, COVID-19 has turned whole educational systems upside down. At the height of the pandemic, an estimated 574 million students across the Commonwealth were out of school due to closures. Distance and online learning became the primary means to keep the doors of learning open, and for many, it was uncharted territory.
Despite these formidable challenges, the Commonwealth was quick to respond — improvising and implementing new approaches to teaching and learning in a matter of days. In many Member States, education ministries targeted children with stepped-up digital and broadcast lessons and launched virtual learning portals for teachers, students and parents.
Past examination papers have been regularly published in the Guyana Chronicle, and the Namibia Reads digital reading app has been made accessible for the entire country. In India, the SWAYAM MOOC platform has provided learning continuity online, and in Fiji, parents and guardians were encouraged to access educational materials via the Walesi platform, available on their smartphones.
The current challenge of COVID-19 has provided governments and institutions with an opportunity to rethink their approach to education. Pandemics, natural disasters and social/political unrest are realities that countries will continue to face in the future. As Member States are coming out of lockdowns and are slowly reopening their institutions, they can start thinking about ways to build education systems that can permanently withstand these shocks.
To help Member States draw lessons from the COVID-19 experience and identify factors that will make education more resilient in the future, COL has produced the Report to Commonwealth Education Ministers: From Response to Resilience.
It is available on OAsis, COL’s institutional repository, at http://hdl.handle.net/11599/3592
Online consultations with COL Focal Points
COL held regional online consultations with its Focal Points (FPs) to engage these key stakeholders in the development of its new strategic plan (2021−2027) and ensure its initiatives continue to match regional and national priorities. Representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific discussed ways in which COL can help build the resilience of educational systems in the face of pandemics and climate change.
Capacity building for teachers at all levels emerged as a key priority, with participants noting the need for new blended learning approaches and expanded use of online learning resources. Developing 21st-century skills for employability and entrepreneurship, using blended learning approaches in TVET, and increasing learning delivery through standard communication channels, such as radio and television, were identified as other key priorities. Participants in the consultations stressed the need for increased focus on vulnerable populations and youths and welcomed the idea of peer learning exchange among FPs from various regions.
International Partnership of Distance and Online Learning for COVID-19
Considering the strengths of distance and online learning to provide workable solutions, and recognising the need for collaboration to serve these demands, COL has brought together institutions and organisations committed to supporting learning at this time of crisis. Through this new initiative, over 55 institutions and organisations across the world are enjoying access to pooled resources and online training, sharing expertise and facilitating collaborative projects. Find out more at: https://opendoor.col.org/
CEMCA webinars in response to COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 lockdowns in most countries in the Asia region, CEMCA organised webinars on Cybersecurity in Online Learning and Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Jobs. They were led by well-known experts Dr Pavan Duggal, Honorary Chancellor, Cyberlaw University, and Dr Manish Gupta, Head of Research, Google, India, and brought together some 260 participants.
OER for online learning
COL has developed a four-week course on Using Open Educational Resources for Online Learning as a response to the needs of teachers forced to move their classes online. With an overview of useful resources, applications and guidelines, which can be freely accessed online, the course provides a foundation for further engagement with online and blended learning. It has already been offered to teachers in the Pacific and the Caribbean.
Design and development of MOOCs
A face-to-face workshop on designing and developing MOOCs initially planned for the Universiti Malaysia Sabah was converted into a series of 12 webinars for global audiences. The online sessions were facilitated by experts from Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the USA.
New mentoring programme for women leaders
A new mentoring programme will help build the future generation of leaders among women and girls from underserved communities across the Commonwealth. Through CommonwealthWiseWomen, COL is leveraging tools and resources to support women’s empowerment and lay the foundations for their success. For a period of six months, mentees will be paired with successful and influential women to map their future paths. Each mentee has also received a free licence to master new skills via Coursera. For more information about this new initiative, please visit:
Women in rural PNG gain livelihood skills
GIRLS Inspire: changing lives one at a time
GIRLS Inspire has shone a light on the plight of vulnerable women and girls, many of whom are victims of child and forced marriage. These young women now have agency to stand up for themselves and are empowered to follow their dreams.
Beenish (Pakistan) was married at 16 and endured years of physical and psychological abuse. This left her isolated from her family and friends and disillusioned about her future. A life-changing break came when she enrolled in the free vocational and life-skills training supported by COL through its partner, SPARC. Now, Beenish has a job as a beautician and plans to open her own salon.
Mahana (Bangladesh) is 17 years old and had dreamed of being a tailor. Due to poverty, she dropped out of secondary school, and her parents wanted to marry her off. With COL’s support, she was able to get a new start and complete skills training through the boat school programme run by Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha. Mahana has now purchased a sewing machine and started making clothes for women and children. She is supporting her family and has returned to school.
Ruwanthi (Sri Lanka) was at her lowest point when she was referred to COL’s partner, the Women’s Development Centre. Divorced and with a young daughter in her care, this 26-year-old was financially destitute. Through counselling assistance and self-employment training, she was able to regain her confidence and jumpstart her career. Having learned new skills in design, sewing and product upcycling, she has now become an instructor in bag-making.
Sandhya (India) comes from a poor household and got married at the age of 14. Fleeing her abusive husband, she returned to her parents’ house and was looking for ways to make a living. Having completed skill-development and financial-literacy courses run by COL’s partner, Mann Deshi Foundation, she now receives many orders to install water pumps and repair solar lamps in her native village.
Canada’s Athabasca University to host PCF10
COL and Athabasca University, Canada’s online university, will be hosting the 10th Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF10) in Calgary in September 2022, marking the first time the international event will be held in Canada. The Forum, which is held every three years, is one of the world’s leading international forums in open, distance and technology-enabled learning, attracting hundreds of delegates from across the Commonwealth and beyond. Since 1999, the Forum has been held in Brunei Darussalam, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa and the UK.
Q&A with AU President
How does online education contribute to building a more resilient education system?
Online technology can be a huge tool for democratising education and creating a more resilient, accessible system. I have heard it said that human potential is equally distributed around the globe, but access to the education needed to harness and fulfill that potential is not.
Online education is an incredible tool to do that. How does Athabasca University put that into practice?
As Canada’s online university (with more than 43,000 learners across our own vast country and around the world), AU is dedicated to removing barriers. We are open to all, regardless of age, educational experience, geographic location, work and life circumstances and commitments. The flexibility to provide learners what they need, when they need it, in the way that works best for them, is key to maximising accessibility and meeting the needs of learners now and in the future.
How has the global pandemic affected the future of education?
It has certainly focused more attention on online education, both for better and for worse. It has highlighted the value and potential of online technology to deliver and democratise education to a broader audience. But the rush to deliver emergency remote education online by so many institutions has given some learners a less-than-optimal experience, potentially undermining our message that online education, when well designed and executed,
Building the capacity of TVET educators in Zambia
In response to a request from Zambia’s Ministry of Higher Education, COL is working with the Technical and Vocational Teachers College (TVTC) to build the capacity of Zambian TVET educators in online learning. TVTC and ministry staff trained by COL are now working with facilitators from the country’s 27 public institutions using COL’s OER. Through a train-the-trainers model, the facilitators will then train over 800 TVET teachers across Zambia in flexible skills development. Zambia is now able to quickly scale up online learning by using OER-based courses, which COL has successfully offered across the Commonwealth.
Boosting Nauru’s food security
COL is helping Nauru achieve its aspiration to have more than 70% of the average person’s diet sourced locally. In partnership with the local education and agriculture departments and the Taiwanese Technical Mission, it is supporting the development of a mobile app to help communities grow kitchen gardens as one of the strategies to assist in decreasing the country’s reliance on air-freighted fresh produce. A series of recent in-country workshops explored the design, technology options and functionalities of the app, which will share information on how to grow plants effectively, offer cooking tips and recipes, and enable local extension officers to answer questions from the community of backyard farmers.
Skills at scale
COL has partnered with Coursera to make a difference to the lives of 50,000 Commonwealth citizens whose immediate need is to acquire skills for regaining employment lost due to COVID-19. Commonwealth Member States can enrol their unemployed citizens in any of the 4,000 Coursera courses through to 30 September 2020, and learners can complete courses and obtain certifications by 31 December 2020.
A helpdesk staffed by experts around the world will advise learners on the choice of courses, and provide administrative and academic support, as well as mentorship and counselling. Over 13,000 learners from 44 countries have joined the programme, and 1,300 certificates of completion have been issued to them. For more information, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Combatting COVID-19 with UNESCO
COL has joined UNESCO and its partners across the globe to provide governments, teachers, students, as well as education and technology specialists with solutions and resources for distance learning during the pandemic. The Global Education Coalition was launched by UNESCO-Paris, while the “Combat COVID-19: Keep Learning. Together We Are on the Move!” initiative is spearheaded by IITE-Moscow. Partner resources can be accessed here: https://iite.unesco.org/combating-covid-19-togetherwe-are-on-the-move/updates/
Blue Economy driving innovative thinking
Rapidly growing interest in the environmental and economic benefits of a successful Blue Economy had close to 1,500 learners participating in a free MOOC delivered by VUSSC in partnership with the University of Seychelles (UniSey).
The course was launched on World Oceans Day and incorporates discussion forums and quizzes, along with videos and readings. It illustrates how and why the Blue Economy concept is driving innovative thinking, and is designed as an introduction for persons from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Participants from over 70 countries joined the MOOC, with the largest representation from India and countries of the Pacific and Caribbean regions. The course serves as the foundation for three further Blue Economy MOOCs that COL and UniSey will be offering later this year.
COL Chairs webinar series
The COL Chairs webinar series, Responding to COVID-19 and Beyond, featured Professors Mohamed Ally (Athabasca University, Canada), Mpine Makoe (University of South Africa), George Veletsianos (Royal Roads University, Canada) and Martin Weller (Open University, UK) as keynote speakers. The focus was on their respective projects and recent publications, collectively aligned to technology-enabled learning.
Interview with CNBC-Africa
For the full version of the interview, visit: https://tinyurl.com/ybvsc5fq
Launch of Teacher Futures – The Gambia
A webinar on Pedagogies for the Post COVID-19 Era marked the launch of Teacher Futures – The Gambia, a school-based teacher development programme enabled by digital technologies and supported by COL. The webinar, which focused on teacher professional development and learner-centred teaching, brought together education leaders, teacher educators and teachers from The Gambia.
Panelists presented some “minimum criteria” for learner-centred education, while exploring different ways in which these would be met in light of the current restrictions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other discussions addressed technologies for learning, school-based teacher development, and teacher communities for collaborative learning outside of the school environment.
Supporting blended learning at KAFUCO, Kenya
COL has been working with Kaimosi Friends University College (KAFUCO) to improve teacher capacity in blended learning. A workshop on blended course design in Kisumu, Kenya focused on using the Moodle learning management system to design and develop blended courses. The event followed a baseline study of TEL at KAFUCO, which revealed the need for institutional and systemic scaling up of TEL policy, resources and infrastructure to help boost the digital readiness of its learners and academics. COL has also assisted KAFUCO to develop a TEL policy. The study can be accessed here: hdl.handle.net/11599/3496
TIPS FOR BUILDING EDUCATION RESILIENCE
COVID-19 has forced educators across the Commonwealth and beyond to transition to online teaching practically overnight. For many, this was an entirely new experience and uncharted territory, presenting a formidable challenge but also an opportunity to embark on the road to building resilient education systems. Thinking beyond the current crisis, how can we integrate distance and online learning into all education systems for better resilience?
- Ensure access to ICT - Ensure access to ICT tools, and build the capacity of teachers and learners to use ICT effectively, while also
including low-tech solutions and options for those without ready access to devices or in locations where connectivity and bandwidth are unreliable.
- Look for innovations to reach the unreached - Look for innovations to cater to the needs of marginalised communities and groups. Develop special initiatives for women and girls.
- Develop targeted approaches for persons with disabilities - Persons with disabilities require special supports and targeted technological solutions so they are not left behind in a crisis.
- Embed resilience in teacher training - Teacher training and professional development should include scenarios for coping with crises.
- Use open educational resource - The importance of access to learning materials cannot be overemphasised. OER can assist in making these accessible to all learners.
Inspiring examples of how COL changes lives across the Commonwealth
L3F sets Ugandan widow up for success
Betty Wule is a 40-year-old widow from a village in Uganda, who has to provide for her five children while also taking care of five orphans from her late relatives. COL’s L3F initiative, which integrates social, financial and human capital development, has allowed her to overcome barriers to sustainable and improved livelihood. Following an initial training in income-generating activities, she began selling baked goods. She also learned how to grow good varieties of cassava and started selling cuttings to other farmers in the area.
Betty then brought together a group of widows to share her newly acquired knowledge and skills. The group was introduced to an L3F learning platform that facilitates farmer capacity building in local languages, free of charge. Betty has now opened a store, where she sells different types of seeds, and has built a house with rooms for rent.
Fiji teacher’s learning journey during COVID-19
Mrs Nazmeen Raju is the acting Head of the Social Science Department at Sabeto College in Fiji. According to her, completing COL’s course on Using Open Educational Resources: An Introduction has been “the best decision” taken so far in 2020.
Most of her students come from families actively involved in farming in a semiurban area in Fiji, which is a well-known tourist destination. Many of them have been greatly affected by COVID-19.
Mrs Raju credits the course with enhancing her teaching through tools and knowledge that will greatly benefit her learners. She is now using SMS to contact her students and is ready to launch Google Classroom when they have access to email. “If you want to say that this COVID-19 era was not a waste, you can only do this by taking up this course. I feel like telling all the teachers to take this opportunity to learn and pass on the best to our students,” she says.
Unstable, expensive Internet no obstacle to young Ghanaian
As a manager at Ghana’s National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Hassan Hamadu monitors and evaluates ICT projects across his region. He is also involved in building the capacity of the NHIA staff and stakeholders and is always looking for professional development opportunities.
He has recently benefited from free online courses in the framework of a joint initiative between COL and the Read2Skill Ghana programme of the Ghana Library Authority. Hassan has built his hard and soft skills, from cloud computing to cyber security to public speaking and leadership. Due to an unstable and expensive Internet connection, he would download the course content at night, when the bandwidth was cheaper, and watch the lectures offline in his free time during the day. Hassan says his new skills have helped boost his confidence to impart knowledge to his trainees.
Through this partnership with COL, some 5,000 young Ghanaians are expected to obtain new employability skills by December 2020.
Helping a Mauritian student follow her dreams
Preety Daby is a secondary-school student from Mauritius whose academic pursuits have been hampered by accessibility issues. She cannot travel on her own and requires assistance from her family. She also has had difficulty obtaining the Braille version of her textbooks.
COL’s partner, the Global Rainbow Foundation, has ensured that she has learning resources and assistive devices. Along with other students with disabilities, Preety will also benefit from a series of online courses being developed as part of the project Technology-Enabled Learning for Persons with Disabilities (PWD) and Practitioners Who Support Them.
Preety, who is now getting ready to sit for the Grade 9 national examinations and feels optimistic about the future, has the following message for other persons who are visually impaired: “Never give up, despite your difficulties, and follow your dreams.”
New mother from Bangladesh gains skills for changing market
Nahid Sultana from Dhaka, Bangladesh had to leave her software development job at a private company to take care of her newborn baby two years ago. As a new mother, she had to spend most of her time at home, taking care of her child, and feared that she might never be able to restart her career, which had been her only source of income. Nahid’s dream was to continue to learn the latest software development skills while staying at home, but she was reluctant to enrol in expensive courses.
Through a joint initiative of COL and Better Future for Women, in Bangladesh, Nahid obtained an eLearning scholarship opportunity and learned new skills to stay relevant in the changing software development market.
“I have received certificates and now look forward to reaching out to my old employer and also to applying for new job opportunities,” she said. “I have regained my lost confidence to resume my career afresh.”
Quality assurance champion in Trinidad and Tobago
With traditional face-to-face learning brought to a halt by COVID-19, the number of tertiary institutions moving to an online or blended environment has soared. Given the unexpected and hasty transition to teaching, learning and assessing in new ways, quality assurance for distance education has become a priority. In response to these needs, COL’s Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth has launched an eight-week course for those who have responsibility for internal and external quality assurance.
Jeremy Williams, Manager, Academic Standards, at the University of Trinidad and Tobago was one of the first to complete the course. “Quality is everyone’s business,” notes Mr Williams. “The course created fertile ground for the growth and expansion of quality blended learning delivery in the Caribbean context.” As the university seeks to build a total quality culture, Mr Williams plans to use the course’s learnings to inform the training and development exercises for quality champions like himself and to sensitise them on issues impacting blended learning delivery and development.
University of South Africa (Unisa)
Contributed by Professor Mpine Makoe, COL Chair The Institute for Open and Distance Learning, Unisa, and Professor Luvuyo Lumkile Lalendle Executive Director: Department of Planning and Quality Assurance, Unisa
“Some of Unisa’s famous alumni received their qualifications while incarcerated, and it has produced two
Nobel Peace Prize winners."
With a history dating back to 1873, the University of South Africa (Unisa) is a grandmother of distance teaching universities. Having started as an examination agency for the University of London, Unisa has become the first public university in the world to teach exclusively by distance modes, and one of the world’s mega providers of quality education.
Even during the apartheid years, it continued to be the only university catering to the needs of students from different racial groups. Some of Unisa’s famous alumni received their qualifications while incarcerated, and it has produced two Nobel Peace Prize winners.1
Unisa has made immense contributions to the development of the country and continent, and it has been instrumental in the establishment of many universities in South Africa, as well as open and distance universities across Africa. With an enrolment of close to 400,000, it currently caters to a third of all higher education students in South Africa.
Throughout its existence, Unisa has forged many relationships with institutions and associations that were concerned with increasing access to education through the open and distance learning (ODL) modes. COL is one of the early organisations with which Unisa forged relations
immediately after South Africa was welcomed as a member of the Commonwealth. In the mid-1990s, COL was instrumental in providing development training for ODL practitioners in distance education skills and practices, which was subsequently incorporated into Unisa’s Certificate for Distance Education Practitioners programme.
Following the success of this valuable training for ODL practitioners throughout the African continent, Unisa partnered with 16 higher education institutions throughout the Commonwealth to develop and implement the Youth in Development programme.
COL has also cooperated with Unisa’s Department of Planning and Quality Assurance and its various colleges to develop an employability readiness model, which was presented in Pretoria in 2019.
Another important milestone in this partnership was COL’s support to Unisa’s institutional quality assurance for the review by South Africa’s Council of Higher Education. A trial audit conducted by COL in December 2019 not only focused on quality assurance but also identified recommendations to facilitate a culture of continuous improvement at Unisa.
The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has forced many students to stay at home to curb the spread of the disease. This has created problems for educational institutions, which had to adopt distance and online learning approaches to ensure that learning occurs even during the pandemic. While many teachers in schools and universities were expected to move their courses to online environments, problems arose when teachers who were forced to teach online were not equipped with the necessary skills to use this mode of delivery. To address this problem, Unisa joined hands with COL in the International Partnership of Distance and Online Learning for COVID-19 to harness free open educational resources, with a view to training and upskilling South African teachers in online learning.
The vibrant partnership with COL is mirrored in a relationship that began with developing capacity for ODL practitioners in the 1990s and continues today with training teachers to teach online during the pandemic lockdown and beyond.
1 Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, won the prize in 1993, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984.
Ensuring learning continuity in Bangladesh
Few training options are available to those who live in the remote, flood-prone villages of Bangladesh, and the pandemic has made the situation worse. With COL’s support, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha (SSS) has developed a new strategy to ensure learning continuity. The trainer now travels by boat from one community to another, offering livelihoods training to learners who are practising social distancing in open-air classrooms. COL has been working with SSS to leverage the power of open and distance learning to improve the economic, social and environmental outcomes for hard-to-reach populations, especially vulnerable women and girls.
Reskilling for livelihoods
Some 140 million labourers in India are reported to have lost jobs and their livelihoods due to COVID-19. At the same time, the pandemic has sensitised institutions and individuals about the need to ensure cleanliness at all levels to avoid infection, creating a demand for deep-cleaning and disinfection services for personal and commercial vehicles, as well as public places.
In response to these needs, COL recently partnered with Sambhav Foundation, a LabourNet initiative in India, in a pilot project to reskill some 2,100 auto-technicians, tailors and beauticians into sanitation hygiene entrepreneurs. The programme will equip them with the skills needed to provide deep-cleaning and disinfection services to vehicles as well as in places where many people congregate.
Training TVET teachers in Jamaica
Some 300 TVET instructors in Jamaica will gain new competencies in online teaching through a collaboration between COL and two local organisations — the HEART/NSTA Trust and the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica (CCCJ). Repurposing programmes and courses for online delivery while ensuring continuous engagement with students have been some of the immediate needs of both organisations in the face of COVID-19. COL’s model trains a smaller number of facilitators as they cascade the training to hundreds of instructors. It thereby ensures future sustainability, with each organisation then having its own capacity and the use of COL’s OER. HEART/NSTA and CCCJ look beyond the current challenges and are striving to become thresholds of quality learning to prepare their students for the digital age.
AgMOOCs reach the last mile
With fewer opportunities for online learning available for students of agriculture during COVID-19 lockdowns, COL’s innovative solutions provide a bridge to continuing education. In partnership with IIT, Kanpur, three AgMOOCs covering topics related to pest management, improved practices in extension, as well as agricultural and rural entrepreneurship were offered to learners.
Close to 31,000 participants from 30 countries had signed up for the MOOCs, with the majority hailing from Ghana, India, Kenya and Nigeria. They came from a variety of backgrounds and included students, faculty, extension workers and researchers in the agriculture sector and beyond. COL is also offering these MOOCs to farmers via basic cell phones, with the current enrolment at 7,500.
COL in Dominica
With support from COL, Dominica’s Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development is promoting climate change resilience through a series of public education messages. A local multimedia piece developed by the ministry under the theme Update, Upgrade for a More Resilient Dominica describes how individual and community action can contribute to a viable solution and offers advisories on best practices for implementation before, during and after emergencies. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFdevLdv4HY
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, COL and the OER Foundation in New Zealand have established an Open Educational Resources for COVID (OER4COVID) community. The initiative has brought together over 1,100 participants from 79 countries and is supported by the International Council for Open and Distance Education, the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, the World Bank Group Open Learning Campus and Open Education Global.
Led by volunteer coordinators at the institutional, regional and national levels, the community is developing OER in areas that include curriculum and learning design, technology, online facilitation, resource curation, research, and educator health and well-being. A series of webinars provided support in smoothing the transition to online learning during the pandemic by using OER. To learn more, please visit: https://oer4covid.oeru.org/
Skills courses in The Bahamas
COL is helping The Bahamas meet the demand for technically skilled employees. During the recent lockdown, 22 instructors from The Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI), along with a staff member from the education ministry, developed five blended courses for dual enrolment purposes. These easily accessible courses will be offered in September and include Maths, Literacy, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship. According to BTVI, they have synergies with other subject areas and are especially relevant at a time when many students are facing an uncertain future.
Employability strategy for University
With COL’s support, the University of Rwanda (UR) successfully adapted the key phases in the development of an employability strategy to online delivery. Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, workshops on assessing UR’s employability attributes and drafting an employability strategy, as well as stakeholder consultations at the School of ICT, were successfully finalised, and the resulting strategy has been submitted to university management for review.
eLIO: Contributing to learners' success
For nearly two decades, COL’s eLearning for International Organisations (eLIO) has supported staff of humanitarian organisations to pursue careeradvancing certification programmes. The Operational Data Management Programme offered to the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is one of eLIO’s many successes. Two of the many beneficiaries described how the course has contributed to their professional and personal development.
“When you are based in a remote area, at times with safety and security threats, having a social life out of work is challenging and sometimes non-existent,” says Elham Baghdadi, UNHCR Field Officer in Uganda. “COL’s course was not just virtual coaching but a real human-to-human connection, bringing other dimensions to my life as an eLearner.”
“The different modules [of the course] were oriented to meet the real needs of my operation, as we were in the middle of receiving new refugees and settling them in the camps,” notes Bobo Kitoko, UNHCR Data Management Associate in DR Congo. “Thanks to this training, appropriate and adequate solutions have been found to enhance the operation.”
COVID-19 and online learning: lessons for the futures greater inequality inevitable?
Contributed by Tony Bates Senior Advisor, Chang School of Continuing Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto, and Research Associate, Contact North, Ontario
"Institutions need to be better prepared for future emergencies, and providing good-quality online learning is one valuable strategy for such emergencies."
The onset of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 has caused chaos in higher education systems worldwide. In most developed countries, universities and colleges shut down their campuses and made a rapid move to emergency remote learning, literally moving their lectures online through video systems such as Zoom. I blame no one for doing this, because in many cases, instructors had no other options, but it would be a mistake to think that this is what online learning was before the COVID-19 crisis, and it is certainly not what it should be afterwards.
The short-term response
Most institutions teaching online before the onset of the coronavirus had a tried and trusted method of developing and delivering online courses, as part of degree or diploma programmes, that resulted in learning outcomes matching or surpassing those of regular face-to-face teaching. There simply were neither the resources nor the time to apply these methods to the cancelled on-campus programmes, although institutions with an already well-developed online programme were able to provide more support to instructors moving online for the first time. It also became clear that even in economically advanced countries, online learning was not the answer for everyone. The minimum requirement is broadband access at a reasonable cost to the student. There are ways to design online learning for those with low bandwidth, but these do not include downloading
Institutions are likely to be either closed completely or operating in a severely restricted way on campus for at least another nine to 12 months, until there is a vaccine for the virus (or herd immunity is achieved). But before the onset of the coronavirus, online learning was already steadily growing in North America, for a number of reasons. First, it provides the access and flexibility that many students need in a gig economy, where many are working part-time or even full-time to pay their way through college. Second, online learning enables the development of many of the skills needed in a digital society. Third, the move to blended learning — a mix of on-campus and online learning — will rapidly increase as instructors realise that much can be taught well online. So online learning is not going to go away; indeed, it will become even more important. At the same time, it is
not a panacea. It needs to be used wisely, where it is most appropriate and in ways that are known to be effective. Also, this will not be the last crisis that forces campuses to close. Institutions need to be better prepared for future emergencies, and providing good-quality online learning is one valuable strategy for such emergencies.
The need for new methods of teaching
However, for online and blended learning to be used successfully, teaching methods will need to change. Courses will need to be redesigned to lever the unique advantages of both online and face-to-face teaching. This, though, will require all instructors to be better informed about the strengths and weaknesses of online learning: which students it suits most; which subject areas require different mixes of online and classroom activities; what choice of media to use; how to support students when they are not in class. Most faculty members are not well prepared for this. They are mainly subject experts. Subject expertise will still be important, but instructors will also need training and preparation for teaching effectively online or in a blended manner.
Resources for instructors teaching online
For this reason, the Commonwealth of Learning has commissioned 12 short videos based on my book Teaching in a Digital Age. The videos offer theoretical as well as practical tips to improve the quality of teaching in campus-based, blended or fully online learning environments. Topics range from the choice of teaching methods to ideas on how to implement online learning, to understanding different learner needs and providing targeted supports, to the use of emerging technologies, and much more. The videos are available for free on YouTube and will be the basis of a micro-learning course offered by the Commonwealth of Learning, with a certification. The book on which the videos are based is an online, open textbook for instructors and faculty. It has been translated into ten languages and has been downloaded over 500,000 times.
The need for a plan
It is not enough, though, for individual instructors to find their own way to learn how to teach. Not only do institutions need to provide professional development for their instructors; they also need a plan for how to move into what I prefer to call “digital learning.” Online, and particularly blended, learning will continue to grow rapidly, as will broadband access, and the costs will come down in time. Institutions need to prepare their instructors for this reality, and now is the time to start.
Thank you to outgoing Chair:
DR LINDA SISSONS, CNZM stepped down after 13 years on the Board, including six years as Chair. Dr Sissons is a former CEO of New Zealand’s Primary Industry Training Organisation.
COL welcomes new Chair:
PROFESSOR NAREND BAIJNATH, CEO, Council on Higher Education, South Africa has been named Chair of the Board of Governors. Previously, he represented South Africa on the Board.
MS FRANCES FERREIRA
Ms Ferreira was appointed Education Specialist: Gender. Previously, she served COL as Education Specialist: Basic Education and Open Schooling and Senior Adviser: Women and Girls. Prior to joining COL, she was Director of the state-owned Namibian College of Open Learning. Ms Ferreira also served the Namibian community as a teacher and school principal and was the first female Mayor of Grootfontein.
DR DAVID PORTER
Dr David Porter joined COL as Senior Adviser: Higher Education in June 2020. Dr Porter has been working in the higher education sector for many years, providing leadership direction in support of academic planning, quality assurance, teaching and learning and is a strong advocate for adopting new technologies. Dr Porter holds an EdD in Educational Leadership and an MEd from Simon Fraser University, and a BA from the University of Toronto.
PROFESSOR ROMEELA MOHEE
COL acknowledges Professor Romeela Mohee for her contribution to COL. Professor Mohee joined COL as Education Specialist: Higher Education in 2017 from Mauritius, where she had served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius. Professor Mohee completed her tenure at COL in March 2020.
MR RAY LEE
Congratulations to Mr Ray Lee, Accounting and Payroll Manager, who completed 25 years of service to COL in May 2020. His commitment and dedication to the work of COL is greatly appreciated.
The publication provides practical directions for the use of distance education tools and practices to support teaching and learning and offers tips on the use of appropriate technology to address the social and pedagogical issues of learning in a crisis. Specific recommendations are offered to governments, educational institutions, academic and support staff, quality assurance/accreditation and academic recognition bodies, as well as students and parents. hdl.handle.net/11599/3576
The 12-part video series features insights from Dr Tony Bates, renowned leader in the field of online and distance education, and aims to become a significant resource for educators facing the forced transition to online teaching caused by COVID-19. Based on the key ideas discussed in his seminal book Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Designing Teaching and Learning, the videos offer theoretical as well as practical tips to improve the quality of teaching in campus-based, blended or fully online learning environments. https://www.col.org/resources/teachingdigital-age
What lessons can be to drawn from the COVID-19 experience to make education systems more resilient in future? This policy brief provides examples of how governments and institutions made it possible for people to continue their education during the pandemic and identifies factors that contributed to success. The responses required are reviewed from social, pedagogical, technological and psychological perspectives. hdl.handle.net/11599/3592
When campuses close, for whatever reason, alternative ways need to be found to ensure continuity of learning. This publication explores how distance and online learning approaches have been used to support continuity of learning and how these approaches might continue to be used even after school campuses have reopened after COVID-19. It identifies useful key questions that might help education officials with their planning and decision making. hdl.handle.net/11599/3612
This toolkit outlines the importance of developing key employability indicators (KEIs) through which higher education institutions (HEIs) as well as national quality assurance agencies (NQAAs) will be able to monitor employability as a quality concept in higher education. This self-evaluative instrument will enable HEIs and NQAAs to review performance for each KEI, based on their specific context. hdl.handle.net/11599/3599
What will education look like after COVID-19?
"Best practices suited to each particular circumstance will emerge, and a new era in the history of education will begin."
One thing is certain: the impact of the coronavirus is here to stay. What this implies for all levels of education provision is that “business as usual” will no longer be possible. A massive reinvention effort will be required. Given that our traditional methods for imparting education, from schools to universities, are many centuries old, this reinvention will be no easy task, and it will take a long time for new best practices to emerge and be adopted the world over.
As an emergent response, educational institutions were shut down around the globe. While many informal, supportive actions were launched, very few attempts were made to continue the delivery of education in a way that could be formally assessed and that would allow the granting of credentials. Only well-established online institutions could have continued working normally, but even in these cases, staff were required to work from home. Operations were severely disrupted and summative assessments postponed. Many conventional institutions, usually with government support or direction, attempted to continue educational activities online but with varying degrees of success.
For younger students, schools handed out assignments electronically, and teachers came online to review student attempts, but the actual task of teaching was left to parents, usually without any instructions or training. At the high school and university levels, while regulators suggested that activities be moved online, very few institutions or teachers were able to do so. In countries where access to adequate bandwidth was a challenge, other approaches to education provision were adopted. Broadcast radio and television were possible contenders, but the lack of suitable content, combined with the inflexible nature of broadcast media, hampered these efforts, to put it mildly.
So what will happen when the world emerges from lockdown and attempts are made to go back to the business of living? Top-tier institutions are already experimenting with advanced approaches such as augmented and virtual reality as substitutes for face-to-face interaction. Policies are being drafted that would regulate the use of and behaviour in laboratories, which are an essential component of the research and tertiary education landscapes. Online use of advanced laboratories, which some institutions have already tried, may become mainstream, thereby reducing foot traffic while increasing the utilisation of these expensive facilities. The use of online simulations as a substitute for laboratory experiments is expected to grow exponentially, especially at the school level. The alternatives available to advanced countries are many, and a large number of innovative solutions are expected to emerge very quickly.
Real and seemingly daunting challenges face the less-developed countries. Schools have been experimenting with smaller and staggered classes, but all such approaches further reduce the capacity of an already underprovisioned sector. The use of dedicated broadcast media is re-emerging, especially for large populations, but the real challenge here is achieving the widespread availability of devices to receive the broadcasts. In any case, these are unidirectional methods that will still require supplementation with other means to ensure interaction between teachers and students.
An earlier concept that could really come into its own is the flipped classroom. Any combination of online or broadcast content to provide primary delivery combined with synchronous discussion sessions could be a game changer. Where infrastructure is not a limitation, the discussions could be done online using the lockdown experience as a guide. The endemic nature of the coronavirus dictates that large classes and discussion sessions be minimised. In faceto- face situations, the flipped classroom approach would enable a reduction in the number of sessions and would simultaneously benefit the sector by enhancing the capacity of schools and colleges. Chatbots as substitute teachers could also be deployed using inexpensive technology such as feature phones, which would extend outreach even further. One thing is certain: best practices suited to each particular circumstance will emerge, and a new era in the history of education will begin.