Bridging the online learning divide in higher education
Written by: Joseph Sekhampu, COO, Milpark Education
The advent of Covid-19 saw all higher educational institutions becoming reliant on distance education to continue teaching and learning. The rapid transition to online learning enforced existing socio-economic issues, with many historically under-resourced institutions facing a myriad of challenges in their attempt to maintain the momentum of their academic year. A large proportion of students in higher education continue to face significant barriers to learning online, including limited access to data and devices, as well as connectivity issues. With the industry-wide concession for the online delivery of contact learning in 2022, it is unclear how these students, who exist on the digital peripheries, are going to fare with another academic year of learning on platforms that do not accommodate their needs or consider the challenges they face.
Discussions around the future of higher education should include the required structural transformations so that instead of technology creating further inequality, it can be used to make higher education more accessible. In post-pandemic higher education in South Africa, a system needs to emerge that is appropriately funded to engender equity, access, affordability, transformation, and sustainability. Pivoting contact learning on distance learning was a necessary step for academia to survive in challenging times, but the next phase requires reimagining learning practices to ensure academic success for all learners in an inextricably changed learning environment. The goal is to use collaboration technologies, in concert with reframed pedagogical approaches, to build more inclusive, personalised learning experiences, using multiple delivery modes and technological resources for progressive, learner-centered education.
Digital technology allows the sector to bridge the divide of distance, space and time that comes with the synchronous delivery of contact learning. Resolving challenges relating to resources, capacity and skills will accelerate the country’s ability to navigate the rapidly evolving higher education landscape. Technology can become a catalyst for equitable access to education for all, regardless of their location, and their social and economic circumstances. Collaborative solutions to creating digital equality will result in a network of communities that can bridge the technological divide. In today’s world, access to technology has become a minimum requirement for participation in the formal economy. Higher education is the entry point for most individuals to engage in the economy, so the sector has a responsibility to assist in levelling the playing field. Ultimately, no one should be left behind as our nation embraces technology to maintain credibility in the global context. By collaborating with partners who share the vision of a more student-centric model, we can make learning more accessible for all students.
26 Oct 2021