Education during a pandemic

Johannesburg, 12 Feb 2021
Renée Botha, Registrar, CTU Training Solutions.
Renée Botha, Registrar, CTU Training Solutions.

Education institutions have had to adapt the manner in which they present educational material during the pandemic. Renée Botha, Registrar at CTU Training Solutions, discusses some of the challenges faced during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Clients and prospective students alike have had concerns about their studies over the past year,” she says. “All of these need to be addressed so that learning can continue uninterrupted despite external factors such as those imposed by the lockdown.”

The first concern that requires addressing is the difference between online teaching and face-to-face teaching. “There can be confusion about the different types of online learning and why it costs the same as face-to-face learning.”

Botha says it’s important to differentiate between distance learning and blended learning. Distance learning entails minimal interaction between lecturer and student, whereas blended learning includes virtual, lecturer-led interactive teaching. She advises that before choosing a training provider, one should find out whether they’re accredited for distance learning or blended learning.

With the latter, theory sessions are taught online, but it’s a fully interactive session in which students can ask the facilitator questions and have discussions with fellow students there and then, during the session. In contrast, distance learning is a one-way transfer of knowledge to the student with no opportunity to ask questions as the session progresses.

Another concern is affordability, says Botha, especially at a time when some people have lost their jobs or had their income reduced. “Education providers should offer payment options or discounted packages. They can also use this period to implement innovative concepts, such as nano programmes.”

A nano programme gives students the opportunity to register for part of a qualification based on their budget. This enables them to complete one module, then save up and return to register for the next module. They can continue in this vein until they’ve completed all of the requirements for a qualification and be awarded the full qualification.

“The student can plan and study according to their budget – and they can start their qualification in the month that works for them. They aren’t forced to fit into a predetermined academic year.”

With the economy being what it is, it can be difficult for students, their parents or sponsors to afford fees. Education providers can assist here by approaching corporates and sourcing bursaries for higher education students and learnerships for FET students. “Students should always enquire about these opportunities,” advises Botha.

The third challenge encountered is around students’ need for interaction with their facilitators and peers over and above the sessions held via online platforms. To accommodate this, education providers can schedule practical sessions on campus that will give students the opportunity to clarify any difficulties that they might be having with their classes face-to-face. These group activities will obviously have to be COVID-19 compliant.

“Under level three regulations, education providers can have 33% of students on campus at any given time, and this gives students the opportunity to meet up with their peers in a safe environment and discuss the assignments they’ve been given. This contributes to the soft skills teamwork that students need to develop to prepare them for the workplace.”

The other challenge faced by students and educators alike was the late release of the Grade 12 results. “A workaround for CTU Training Solutions was to start the academic year for two and three year students on 1 February and allow first years to start in March. Reducing the length of holiday breaks during the year will ensure they’ll still be able to complete their academic year.”

However, with challenges come opportunities, says Botha. For instance, using virtual learning interactive technology (VLIT) teaching methods means a lecturer can be based anywhere in the country, which gives students access to the most qualified and specialised experts in their field, regardless of their location.

It also means that all learning material, assessments and student support are available online so students can access whatever they need whenever they need it. “With students having been exposed to VLIT for a while now, they are comfortable with this method of teaching and have taken it on board. The group activities help those who miss peer interaction.”

The final challenge cited by Botha – and possibly the one that’s the most difficult to overcome – is that of creating some semblance of student life while complying with level three restrictions. “A big part of student life is socialising. This can to some extent be overcome by arranging online gaming sessions or quiz nights. Unfortunately, campus-based activities are just not feasible under the current lockdown regulations, but smaller groups are still able to get together and interact.”

To see which programmes are available, click here.