Editorials

Digital disruption in higher education

student

In moving towards digital learning, there are universal challenges that must be considered such as: higher education governance, digital skills training, and equitable access. PHOTO | POOL

bitangendemo-ima

Summary

  • The GLC report acknowledges the fact that Covid-19 has accelerated change and indeed provided a clearer picture of areas where urgent action is needed.
  • The report declares that, challenges and solutions around digital learning must take place at all levels —individual, institutional, policy, and industry.
  • Whilst we understood these to be “universal challenges to digital learning”, solutions need to be contextually adaptive, depending on different educational cultures around the world.

When Covid-19 broke out in Kenya in March 2020, one key area that experienced tremendous disruption was the higher education institutions (HEIs).

Many were forced to close, stop face-to-face teaching and look for alternatives to address the disruption.

A majority moved to remote teaching. This move forced most HEIs to undergo some radical transformations driven by the need to digitalise education.

To help us better understand the online higher education, the Global Learning Council (GLC), a global higher education learning think tank where I am a member, recently conducted a research study on the impact of rapid digitalisation of education in the context of the pandemic.

The report comes at a time when most African HEIs are grappling with the problems of increased taxation of critical digital infrastructure, arbitrary reforms (non-evidence-based decisions from the International Monetary Fund), massification of higher education and the challenges of financing the exploding number of youths joining HEIs.

The objective of the study, which was a collaboration between the GLC, the German Academic Exchange Service and Times Higher Education, was to find out if the rapid digital push of 2020 evoked positive and sustainable development for digital teaching and learning. And what opportunities and challenges the higher education leaderships have experienced during the rapid digital turn.

In its attempt to bring forward the voices of educators and higher education leaders, the GLC report also brought out some of the solutions at the leadership level that are globally relevant but are regionally and culturally adaptive.

The report acknowledges the fact that Covid-19 has accelerated change and indeed provided a clearer picture of areas where urgent action is needed.

Whilst we understood these to be “universal challenges to digital learning”, solutions need to be contextually adaptive, depending on different educational cultures around the world.

It reveals that there is no one-fits-all solution, and that solutions for digital learning must fit the HEI’s needs and context.

Going by what we have already seen in many parts of Africa, inequalities are now running deeper and wider than previously thought. And all HEIs in some degrees are already struggling with this.

The report declares that, challenges and solutions around digital learning must take place at all levels —individual, institutional, policy, and industry.

Therefore, in moving towards digital learning, there are universal challenges that must be considered such as: higher education governance, digital skills training, and equitable access.

The findings also show that collaboration is key to success in the competitive global higher education system.

The four key areas of actions highlighted by the report are: equitable access for learners and instructors, institutional digital transformation in HEIs, digital literacy for learners and instructors, and virtual collaboration that must be fostered within and across HEIs.

Since digital transformation in higher learning institutions relies not only on technology and skills but also on infrastructure, my experience with remote teaching has been rather disheartening.

I see students trying to connect from areas without stable connectivity, while others hardly have a quiet place to learn or even take notes.

These dire inequalities are exacerbated by government’s thirst for higher connectivity taxes.

The study has clearly identified the challenges of digital transformation and recommended solutions for transforming digital learning in HEIs.

If these critical interventions are to be realised, all higher education stakeholders—education institution leaders, industry leaders, and policymakers— must recognise the global momentum and embrace these action points provided.

Bitange Ndemo is a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi's Faculty of Business.