6 January 2021

Forging our way forward in higher education post Covid-19

By Ida Fatimawati bt Adi Badiozaman & Augustus Raymond Segar

As we brace for another academic year post-Covid, it is important to reflect on the lessons learnt in 2020, in forging our way forward in 2021. As teachers, in 2020 – we were forced out of our comfort zones. The pivot to online learning shook education to its very core, with some thriving and some surviving and taking it a day at a time. In most educational institutions, students were either studying exclusively online, meeting in a hybrid structure with alternating in person and remote learning days, or some blend of the previous two environments.

In 2020, the coronavirus crisis significantly disrupted the higher education sector. The pandemic had a significant impact on education, with the closure of schools, the cancellation of exams, and the need for social distancing between students and educators. Though undoubtedly a challenging year, we reflect on how institutions overcame and adapted to the many challenges they faced, in hopes that these lessons learnt can further strengthen how we design meaningful learning opportunities for our students.

Supporting students and staff

Globally, we saw universities stepped up their mental health efforts to support students. The closure of university campuses would have a direct effect on the mental health of students and faculty. In particular, students experienced feelings of heightened anxiety about Covid-19 ranging from their ability to continue their studies, to managing online learning.

Many universities acknowledged the anxiety that staff and students would be experiencing as a result of the pandemic, and created mental health support that could be accessed remotely. This took the form of same-day virtual appointments for immediate mental health needs in many universities in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The pandemic undoubtedly brought about feelings of uncertainty and instability and adjusting to the work. And with uncertainty comes anxiety. Moving forward, such practices need to be continued –  to offer larger supportive services and resiliency webinars to better support both staff and students during challenging times.

Adapting to evolving situations

As we learned more about the pandemic and how it could spread easily among groups in close proximity, universities across the world had no choice but to close their campuses to staff and students. This had forced institutions to find alternative ways to continue educational delivery. Many universities chose to shift most of their classes, in order to continue providing their students with lectures, seminars, and tutorials.

As a result, the pandemic has exposed the inequalities in education and how unprepared the education sector is when faced with crisis. The pandemic has highlighted the need for continuous and sustained investment in online learning, across all education levels. In other words, the education sector needs to be digitised. In facts, experts predict that many features of online learning will remain in higher education as the pandemic subsides, with staff and students benefiting from the flexibility. 

Overall, despite the challenges and inequalities in education that has been exposed by the pandemic, especially in the complex educational landscape of Sarawak, the pandemic has also showcased, stories of adaptability and resilience. We know technology is no longer optional and that many sectors including education has changed indeterminately. We need to embrace this disruption and forge our way ahead with innovation and resilience. We need to do better. We can do better.

Associate Professor Ida Fatimawati bt Adi Badiozaman & Augustus Raymond Segar are from the School of Design and Arts, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. They can be reached via email at ifaBadiozaman@swinburne.edu.my/ asegar@swinburne.edu.my.