Thoughts on the impact of closures and a return to campus
In education, September is a traditional hallmark month for the beginning of a new academic year at all levels. The school year started for much of the northern hemisphere like it ended. Whether you are in North America, Europe, parts of Africa, or South America, your institution has changed and many of you in higher education are facing continuous changes in your roles. In less than six months, you have experienced a shift that would have usually taken years to consider or even implement.
Change in higher education has been a humming sound for a few years, and it might have been needed, but some locations in the world weather the storm better than others. Countries or even regions with a reliable technological infrastructure or capacity scale rapidly are managing. It is the institutions that do not or did not have the capabilities that are of concern. These schools closed amidst the spread of the virus, and it is uncertain when they will reopen. Some campuses temporarily closed to retool their operation for reopening, while the closing was permanent for others. These closures have left many students with no viable options for continuing their education.
The landscape of colleges or universities is often the most resistant to the very philosophy they teach. However, a virus came, and change came with it. Yes, there is still some resistance within the walls of higher learning; it did not disappear as one might have expected. From students to faculty, and everyone in between that makes institutions function, they have had to adapt in ways they had not expected.
“As of mid-April, 1.5 billion children and youth were affected by school closures in 195 countries, from pre-primary to higher education.” (UNESCO)
These numbers are decreasing and slowing various countries are reopening their educational facilities. However, the battle is on-going as some have reopened and reclosed while others are still developing a manageable plan.
Our instilled principle is that education is the equalizer for societal imbalance. But when schools close, this short circuits the process. Educating our youth creates future generations who will not be impoverished and allow a nation to increase development. In the absence of education, the forward-moving motion of growth and prosperity of a country is slowed. This dynamic is more likely to occur in nations that were once colonized and are still creating their infrastructure. Hence, the youth may resort to other activities that might be less productive in enhancing their environment. The more fortunate ones may leave their town or country for education elsewhere. Sometimes, those who opt for elsewhere do not return, and the cycle of ‘brain drain’ (which did slow down) is now increasing or restarted.
Thus, it is understandable that ministers of education for 13 countries in an online meeting on 29 April would promote building a path and program for returning to the classroom. They deemed a return to classroom learning as an "essential to prevent the widening of inequalities, to ensure the quality of education and to protect the psychosocial welfare of students.” (UNESCO)
In some ways, the statement is a fair and accurate one. Matters of equity and psychosocial well-being are critical to the continued development of students at all levels. However, how will that be balanced with fear, anxiety, or hesitations again from students and their parents, even though university students are adult learners. Granted, some students’ home circumstances might warrant a return to the campus, a return to the classroom requires a realignment of the home and work affairs in many families. College students may be a bit more resilient, but they still have concerns about their return to campus, coursework, and the overall student experience.
As governments, higher education governing boards, and the leadership in individual institutions ponder, plan and implement a plan for the start of new academic terms or years; we already know the learning experience has changed along with the daily operations. We also know that the changes will not cease as on-going adjustments will be needed. Students, faculty, administrators, and staff should all get comfortable with the familiar saying of the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, “Change is the only constant in life." Changes of this magnitude might be the norm for the foreseeable 12-18 months.
I know you are actively converting your academics online. If you would like to learn about transitioning your student-facing services and student life programs, please connect with me to explore your needs.
Quotes retrieved from 29 April 2020 Press Release – 1.3 billion learners are still affected by school or university closures, as educational institutions start reopening around the world.
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-- Karla A. Fraser, International Higher Education: Reflections on Reopening, Roseapple Global, LLC
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