Johannesburg, September 2020 – Grade 12 is the most critical year of any learner’s academic life; the bridge between secondary and higher education, as it were. For the more than 700 000 students enrolled in matric, this final year has become far more than a challenge. With Covid-19 stalking the corridors, their futures are looking decidedly dubious.
Ten million. That’s how many African students have been scrambling for a solution to an academic year gone haywire, according to UNESCO.
Add to this the classrooms full of Grade 12 learners who were expecting to join older students on campus next year, and it’s clear that faculties around the country will be facing an enormous challenge during 2021 – but no more so than the learners who, eager to start on the path to their vocations, are left wondering how their year will proceed.
Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister, Blade Nzimande, has provided an answer of sorts, indicating that the academic year will start later than usual during 2021, giving schools time to complete their curricula.
Those institutions that have prepared students will find the disruptions take far less of a toll, on marks and emotional wellbeing alike. Going forward, the internet will play a more significant role in our learning than ever before. This isn’t, in fact, something new: according to Weforum.org, the trend was already in evidence well before the onset of the pandemic, with investment in ed-tech reaching $18.66 billion last year. These funds have helped to develop a variety of platforms, from apps to video conferencing tools, and from virtual tutoring to online learning software. Naturally, the use of these tools has grown exponentially since students were forced to stay out of their classrooms.
Students take around 40% to 60% less time to learn new concepts online, because they are able to customise their learning process to a time and pace that suits them. What’s more, Weforum.org cites research which reveals that retention of information learned online is 25-60% higher than the material which has been taught in a classroom – where retention stands at only 8-10%.
Those who were able to lay some groundwork ahead of time have successfully kept disruptions to a minimum. Students at the IMM Graduate School, for example, had a gradual learning curve consistent with skills development over the past number of years. This can be attributed to collective experience across areas of online learning that are likely to cause anxiety and understanding how to address them. For instance, a variety of communication channels between the institution and the students ensures that queries are tackled quickly, thereby helping to reduce stress. We were also able to adjust timelines very slightly so that the semester has not been disrupted.
From now on, it’s very likely that online learning will continue to be incorporated as part of a standard curriculum. The downside? Institutions which have had to adapt to online learning suddenly and abruptly may battle with the change – although, as digital natives, their students will most likely embrace it. The plus side? The next time there is a similar disruption – and there will most certainly be a next time – the education sector will be far better placed to face it.