College of College of Graduate Studies

Sustainable continuity of learning beyond Covid-19

Prof Mpine Makoe, incumbent of the Commonwealth of Learning Chair: Open Education Practices/Resources (OER/OEP) in the College of Graduate Studies at Unisa

The Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) held its third virtual public dialogue webinar on 27 May 2020 on Educational access at higher education institutions in the age of Covid-19. In collaboration with Michigan State University’s (MSU) African Studies Centre and University World News (UWN), the dialogue was about university leaders from Africa and the United State (US) coming together to discuss how higher education institutions are adapting to ensure that education continues and students have access to high-quality learning opportunities, even during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The presenters were Prof Mpine Makoe, incumbent of the Commonwealth of Learning Chair: Open Education Practices/Resources (OER/OEP) in the College of Graduate Studies at Unisa; Dr Samuel Stanley, President of Michigan State University; and Prof Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pretoria (UP). The dialogue was moderated by Prof Paul Zeleza, Vice-Chancellor of the US International University-Africa. The leaders came together to share the strategies and approaches that their institutions have taken and how they address key challenges such as equity, infrastructure and quality. They also discussed the long-term impact of adaptations on students and systems of education.

"The growing use of technology was disrupted even before the current Covid-19 situation; however many universities did not consider online learning as a necessity until this pandemic changed the whole education landscape. It is the first time in the history of education that the system has been disrupted to this extent. What makes it worse is that we do not know how long this crisis will take. However, educational institutions need to urgently respond to the crisis to ensure that learning continues despite the lockdown," explained Makoe.

She adds that in this time of the pandemic where people are forced to stay at home, Unisa is the only African university that has systems and structures in place that can support distance and online learning at scale. She further reiterates that this is the time when universities that are not familiar with teaching at a distance or online seek technical assistance and support from communities and colleagues and other experts in the field of open, distance,and online learning so that they can provide appropriate help for their students.

Makoe elaborated that for many years Unisa has been using mediated forms of teaching to facilitate learning to marginalised communities, including people with disabilities, those living in rural areas, offenders and refugees. The institution’s delivery mode ensures that education continues even during lockdown. The late President Nelson Mandela studied through Unisa while incarcerated on Robben Island. "Unisa has been using this distance mode of delivery for more than 145 years; we are experienced and we know what works and what does not. As a university, Unisa is able to reach thousands of students across the African continent and globally."

In her presentation, Makoe emphasised that education is a fundamental human right and that without it many people are unable to reach their potential. The other guiding principle, she explained, was that education is a public good to which everyone needs access; it is not a commodity. Education further ensures equitable access to better life opportunities. Makoe briefly explained the history of Unisa and how it became the oldest dedicated distance teaching university on the African continent.

She advises institutions for higher education to respond to the immediate crisis presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. She says institutions need to start by developing responsive plans and address problems of capacity by training lecturers and teachers on taking their face-to-face teaching to the online environment.

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020-06-03 00:00:00.0