How Higher Education Teams Can Cope With COVID-19 Lockdown

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Covid-19 outbreak has risen anxieties of many sectors of the economy. Like many other industry verticals, education sector too is trying to navigate itself through the uncharted territory diligently.

As per Wikipedia, “Approximately 1.725 billion learners have been affected due to school closures in response to the pandemic, as of 18 April 2020.”

Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNESCO reports that “these nationwide closures are impacting over 91% of the world’s student population. Several other countries have implemented localized closures impacting millions of additional learners.”

Closure of schools and colleges have far reaching impact on not only students, teachers, and families, but hampers socio-economic progress as a whole.

How higher education teams can cope with COVID-19 lockdown is a big challenge. In response to the nationwide closure amid Covid-19, educational institutions are being advised frequently about suitable actions from government agencies and regulatory bodies. These recommendations suggest that all higher education actors must prepare as soon as possible for taking necessary measures to ensure continued student learning during this crisis.

Agencies have recommended the use of distance learning programmes and explore applications and platforms that schools, colleges and teachers can use to reach learners remotely and limit the disruption of education. In light of the lockdown, educational actors and other stakeholders are trying to ensure that the right to higher education of all continues uninterrupted. This involves attending to the pedagogical needs of the students with a more empathetic approach towards the community during these challenging times.

HEIs can cope with the current situation of clampdown by creating mechanisms that allow progress to generate greater resilience in course delivery. This also requires governments: to provide the necessary stimulus plans for fostering recovery and innovation for operating in a digital environment. A long-term scenario planning needs to be done by colleges and universities to combat Covid-19.

Some of the questions to be addressed by the academic fraternity could be on matters concerning implementation of efficient governance, developing online monitoring and support mechanisms; designing pedagogical measures to evaluate progress and generate mechanisms to support learning during this lockdown period.

While planning the above measures, it is also important to see that scaling-up of digitization in pedagogy should not affect students learning outcomes. The impact of this new learning model should therefore be continuously monitored for its effectiveness.

Everyone is going through a very unprecedented phase. Overnight, things have changed due to the aftermath of Covid-19 outbreak. It has changed our perspective of working, shutting business operations overnight. Everything is in a lockdown condition and there’s nothing we can do about it else wait an watch for normalcy to get restored.

Apart from students, education leaders are also concerned about the safety and health of their faculty and staff as we are moving ahead. There is a sense of boredom starting to creep in. In order to arrest it timely, institutes can organize regular sessions for faculty and staff. Get things going online when the going is getting tougher.

Education sector is in a high-contact business like hotels, so it might take a while before the lockdown conditions are relaxed for such sectors of the economy. The toughest challenge in dealing with the current situation for academic institutions is broadly on three fronts – firstly how to continue with the ongoing admission process, secondly how to manage internships of students and thirdly how to deliver courses.

How our institutions prepare themselves for the above mentioned challenge, will be key to their success. Thanks to the digital technology available, all these challenges can be addressed. Classes can be conducted through distance learning mode online. For admission acquisition, more emphasis should be given now on planning digital interventions. Summer internships can be substituted with online projects or can even be deferred if fits the academic calendar.

To what extent coronavirus outbreak or lockdown will impact education cycle, difficulty to predict. But a lot of the obstacles can be tackled using technology that has come handy. Perhaps this is the best time for universities to prepare a blue print for upgrading technology usage and infrastructure once it all gets over. Based on their current experience, institutes can think of what technology they need to develop to deal with such issues. At the same time keep advising their stakeholders to pay heed to government advisory to follow strict compliance of social distancing.

Impact of Covid-19 is big not just on economy but also on mental and physical health of everyone. Institutes should keep sharing articles or videos on how can one come out strong though these tough times and stay healthy both mentally and physically.

This is also the best time to upgrade skills and qualification. Institutes can share details of online courses available during lockdown to grow skill set of their faculty, staff and students. The post corona world is going to be skill heavy. Therefore in order to stand out better against competition you have to upgrade your qualification.

Universities should think of deriving positive outflow for education sector from this pandemic. Think how it can drive innovation in education industry. Adjust with the changing demands by driving rapid adoption of technology in higher education delivery and acquisition. For e.g. conduction of admission test and subsequent PI process can be done online in a protected environment.

Forward looking institutional leadership should plan to mitigate impact of lockdown and forge online collaborations with edu-tech companies to keep things going.

Maximum use of digital platforms should be encouraged in academic institutions. Train faculty and staff members to use the digital tools for effective work management during the crisis. Media consumption of youth is largely on social media. So, in student acquisition space it will go up in present times of lockdown. Therefore, higher education institutions must find out more digital ways to engage potential students.

Post corona world, students and their parents will prefer those universities which have invested in technology and training of teachers for imparting digital skills. Such institutions that can quickly restart classes through collaborative classes will be seen differently now.

Academic leaders have great responsibility now. They should speak continuously with their audience through social media handles. Students can easily fall prey to the present situation of lockdown. So it is necessary for academic leaders to speak to them regularly through visual mediums for motivating them.

Universities must assess the digital services they require at the moment to keep functioning. More emphasis on social media can be given to increase share of voice. Need of the hour is to move away from conventional mediums of offline engagement. Institutes can think of differentiated engagement models, lot of interaction on digital space is happening presently.

On delivery side, identify the missing link in teaching-pedagogy. Now more appreciation for online learning is to be given Later, hybrid blended learning as a concept out of the window should be thought of by universities to tackle such situation in future. Appreciation on these online modules from faculty and students will be now more fruitful in dealing with the situation.

In post corona world how will admission cycle look like – get skewed, more money spent on performance marketing, on social media consumption etc. are some of the areas that needs proactive action. Admission acquisition will largely happen through digital now. Secondary target like parents will also need to be engaged through digital mediums.

In terms of delivery – expenditure of academic institutes on will go up significantly on MOOCs components such as Coursera courses or any other such platforms. How technologically are you ahead of competition as an institution, will decide your audience preference post Covid-19 since admission season in several reputed institutes is still going on.

The importance will be now on relevant content and credible information portal will continue to play an imp role, universities need to promote relevant content through their own channels beyond portals

To deal with the challenges of Covid-19, higher education teams can possibly create their own digital assets like Chatbots etc. and make their content more discoverable online through increased SEO activities. Outreach programmes with prospective students should not get hampered. So, focus on having diverse digital presence across spectrum, greater presence on popular social media platforms, analyse data for effective data management insights and rebranding of data management.

Quality of learning is important for an educational institute. Ensure that in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic this does not get affected. At the policy level, several issues post coronavirus crisis will have to be deliberated like internet access, electricity access etc. etc. Universities and other academic centres must collectively help government formulate necessary policy interventions for long term planning.

Till then stay prepared to stay at home and stay healthy to keep fighting the unseen menace that has shaken our life and livelihood alike.

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