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09.04.2020 Article

Transforming Higher Education Amid COVID-19

By Dr. Linda Deigh
Transforming Higher Education Amid COVID-19
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Three months into a new decade, no one could have foretold that we'd be in the midst of a crisis and such unprecedented times. An unknown virus that has created a macro-shock to the global environment, disrupting all industries to their core, creating fear and panic, world-wide economic downturn and its associated social impact with a sense of uncertainty on the African continent and across the world.

The higher education sector has been one of the sectors most visibly impacted by the domino effect of this crisis; with schools and universities closures and cancellations of major examinations, it leaves a huge question of progression of students to the next level, especially those in the final year looking to attend university in the next academic year.

It is in this state of uncertainty that a number of universities in Ghana, including Academic City made a strategic decision to transition our core business of teaching and learning online.

In times like these, the resolve and agility of educational institutions are pushed to the boundaries in recognising the new ecosystem presented to us and how the related challenges are supported. The action of innovation, creativity and nimbleness quickly become key to “business as usual”. The art of leadership which requires one to motivate, influence and maximize the efforts of others to achieve a common goal, as defined by Forbes, comes out to the test. Additionally, the notion of “employees make the organisation” becomes a reality. Flexible organisations with responsive and engaging teams are the ones most likely to adapt quickly to limit the disruption in order to survive.

At Academic City, the nebulous situation we found ourselves in during the second week of March 2020 required the right attitude from all faculty, staff, students and parents.

The attitude to be cooperative, to collaborate and to trust. This mindset is what supported the transition of operations from the physical classroom to the online classroom in just 7 seven days after the closure of the university, and took the team through a rigorous process of researching, shortlisting, testing, selecting and procuring the relevant online tools to deploy.

All stakeholders received immediate training on the online tools deployed, putting into consideration creative ways of delivering a subject to make it relevant. A seemingly linear process but in reality an organized chaotic period. Access to much-needed equipment and online connectivity was addressed by providing stakeholders with what was required. After a week of complete shut-down, Academic City was fully operational online with students attending classes according to their timetables, notwithstanding a few glitches which were resolved.

The future rise in popularity of online learning platforms cannot be overemphasized, as this experience has led educational institutions reconsidering what the future in the sector could look like. Thus, it is worth examining lessons learnt from this crisis and ensuring that we translate these experiences to co-create value that catapults our future operations.

We should be able to cross-pollinate to our advantage – cultural expectations; new collaborations and partnerships; smarter working environment and value for time; become and remain agile; communicate effectively with stakeholders; document processes better; consider logistics and access solutions; recruit the right people with the right mindset and cultivate and nurture clear institutional values.

No doubt, the impact of COVID-19 is devastating, but in the long-term, there is hope for higher education institutions who position themselves for longevity and sustainability to ultimately present a positive social impact to communities.

Whilst we navigate the current challenges to limit the immediate damage of this crisis, a post-COVID-19 recession could potentially be a growth opportunity for the higher education sector in Ghana and on the African continent, in terms of giving our youth the platform to be future-proof with relevant skills for careers during a time of underemployment and unemployment which is inevitably ahead of us.

Are we ready?

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