Christabel Ligami The Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) policy for co-operation on education and training lacks the necessary force to inform transformation in the region’s higher education, says Dr Pilisano Masake, the associate dean of research and innovation in the faculty of human sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology.
Dr Masake was presenting his views on the topic ‘Convergence of ICT and the education sector: A need for legal reform to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ during the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) virtual colloquium series. The latest in the series, hosted on 2 June, focused on higher education’s digital transformation in the region.
The purpose of the colloquium was to consider the dimensions or aspects of a comprehensive approach to higher education digital transformation, the enabling conditions of higher education including policy, regulatory, resources and infrastructure issues in a digital context, to learn from experiences of higher education digital transformation and to consider the role of institutional leadership in digital transformation processes.
The question of enabling frameworks to assist digital transformation was also on the agenda.
Dr Masake linked the right to education to the uneven digital access in the SADC.
“SADC’s policy on information and communications technology and artificial intelligence is not effective and fails to efficiently respond to the demands of the 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) and pandemics,” said Dr Masake.
“The lack of an effective enabling environment and a regulatory framework hinders effective digital transformation,” he added.
SADC member states should demonstrate the political will that recognises the right to tertiary education as a civil and political right (that should be included in the Bill of Rights).
“For SADC to optimally realise its potential to enhance the right to tertiary education complemented by ICT and AI, there is a need to … go beyond the state-based (silo) approach to ICT policies as well as the regional infrastructure development master plan as key implementation instrument,” noted Dr Masake.
He added that it is realistic to expect SADC member states to fully implement a right to trans-SADC tertiary education through regional integration and interconnectedness or trans-SADC ICT policies.
“The focus should now switch to e-learning, to enable distance learning, to enable access to teaching materials like e-libraries, (to) ensure (that even) persons from the village can refer to the latest research, to quality education,” he said.
But, according to him, the current policies are unable to embrace the implementation challenges necessary for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Dr Annah Mandeya, the child protection officer at Arrupe Jesuit University, Zimbabwe, said institutions should strive to overcome challenges and provide better quality education in a scenario of digital transformation, disruptive technological innovations and accelerated change.
She highlighted the human dimension of digital transformation.
“Most leaders of public and private higher education institutions need to be applauded for having put in place alternative methods for both students and lecturers to make effective learning take place in the era of COVID-19,” said Dr Mandeya.
“Experience has shown that not all teachers and students are comfortable and knowledgeable in the online setting. Hence, there is a need for ongoing empowering of both the teachers and learners with knowledge and skills on teaching and learning online.
“Possibly, one could say it is a reality, especially in Africa, that many students from higher education institutions do not possess a laptop and are currently supposed to be taking (part in) online learning on smartphones, including (the completion of) exams.”
She added: “Universities need to work in collaboration with the government and other stakeholders to ensure that students from poor family backgrounds are not disadvantaged. They all have the right to enjoy the opportunities of transformational digital learning.”
Dr Mandeya recommended that higher education institutions ensure that resources are allocated to faculties, departments or individual teachers so that they have the knowledge and skills for online learning and programme outcomes.
She said the digital transformation era should see student affairs offices develop orientation programmes for students to cope with the new patterns of learning and COVID-19 pandemic regulations demands.
Some higher education institutions, she said, have addressed the challenges by increasing the potential access to the internet. But, in many instances, moving online has still been a huge and difficult culture shift for faculty members.
“Lack of physical touch, at times lack of eye contact, result in giving less life to the lesson or lecture,” said Dr Mandeya.
Also, the successful transformation of higher education institutions requires personal, family, community and faculty development and specific policies to improve crisis management. It is through this that readiness and increased institutional resilience would easily address new challenges in the near future, she said. – University World News