Saturday, June 20, 2020

Adapting Our Teaching Methods to the 'New Normal'

The current Covid-19 pandemic has led to closure of schools and universities in most but few countries. As a consequence, there is a temporary loss of education for 70% of the learners globally, accordingly to recent a UNESCO report. The WHO also warned its member states that the pandemic is going to be here for sometimes, and that countries need to learn to live with it. Thus, by implication, universities are required to adapt their teaching methods to allow distance and online learning to take place, if they are to remain viable in the age of lockdowns and social distancing imposed by the pandemic. Hence, this ‘new normal’ does place an enormous pressure on the University of Juba’s staff to rise up to the challenge. Our academic year was scheduled to start in May 2020, but was suspended indefinitely due to Coivd-19 lockdown that came into effect in March 2020.

After much waiting without a clear direction from the government’s High Level Taskforce on Covid-19, the Deans’Board at the University of Juba met on Friday 29th May 2020 for consultations, and agreed a road map and options for providing alternative education to our students through a variety of strategies and approaches. These include but not limited to smaller group face-to-face teaching, halving instructor-students contact time, provision of distance learning through a variety of online learning digital platforms such as MOOCs (massive open online courses), and distribution of learning materials electronically. Furthermore, we need to consider broadcasting of our lectures through radio and television, and the use of internet video conferencing and communication technologies such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Zoom as substitutes to face-to-face teacher-and-student interaction. A technical working group has been established to assess our institutional readiness, identify opportunities and challenges, survey different digital learning platforms available and to make their recommendations to advise the University on technological solutions that can be adapted that can work in the South Sudan context.

And there is no question that our academic and administrative staff are going to be obliged to fuly embrace communication technologies in their teaching and day-today-work in order to keep their jobs. It will be a do-or-die situation for those who have not until now embraced the digital technologies as part of their professional productivity toolkit. The University of Juba Administration will do whatever possible to assist those facing challenges in integrating communication technology into their teaching by providing some training. However, individual efforts to climb the digital ladder will be inevitable if one wants to succeed.

Furthermore, we would like the public to know that our short and medium term strategy for reopening the University will be to reduce the physical contact hours significantly in order to reduce the risk of spread of coronavirus. For example, a 2-hour lecture will be halved to 1 hour during which students are given handouts or instructor prepared notes, and are then quickly taken through by the instructor through the main points, and given opportunity to ask questions. The students then go away to study and explore the subject on their own at home, and communicate any further questions to the instructor by email or WhatsApp or any agreed electronic communication channel.

Finally, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of delivering education in the era of Covid-19, my colleagues and I at the University of Juba are thinking that it is an opportunity for universities and the country to embrace digital technologies in teaching and at work. And so, the way forward is to improve the digital infrastructure at our institutions by devoting more resources and budgets for that purpose, and by reaching partnerships with relevant bodies in the public, private, and NGO sectors.

Education is the light into a better future for the millions of our children and young people. And hence, it cannot wait. The ‘new normal’ is to learn to thrive despite the hazards posed by the pandemic to our world. All that is required of us is to shift gears and up the game.

I am pretty certain that we will manage just fine.


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