The Impact of Covid-19 on Higher Education
By Bulelani Ndindwa
The South African and global education system has followed a certain trend for decades. In the South African Apartheid context, the trend included traditional types of education which focused primarily on educating the population for employment while pursuing racial segregation policies. Black Africans were barred from pursuing certain professions in comparison to the democratic dispensation, where the educational doors were opened for all to pursue professions of their choice, irrespective of race, colour, creed or gender.
Unbeknown to us all, the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March, forcing many countries across the globe to go into lockdown in an effort to combat the spread of the virus and to save lives. Many higher learning institutes and schools were forced to shut their doors during this period, while those privileged enough continued with their academic programmes through online platforms.
In his address to the nation, the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande stated the need to explore online learning and the challenges that this presents to higher educational institutes. There are a few exceptions to this, one example being Cornerstone Institute. Having been in existence for 50 years they are not shy of adapting to external crises and have been able to continue their academic year uninterrupted, without having to change a single date on their calendar. This is due to the fact that eighty percent of their students are registered to online courses giving them the chance to seamlessly convert their contact students in the same direction.
There are a myriad of reasons for this conversion but the most significant worth mentioning is that the institution values the safety of its staff and students and have the understanding that its students cannot afford to defer the attainment of their qualifications, as this would have significant and dire consequences for those relying on their attainment in order to access the job market and subsequently liberate themselves, their families and their communities. It’s worth noting that Cornerstone understands that a better life is largely dependent on gaining a qualification. That’s not to say this conversion did not have its’ challenges, including a lack of data and devices for students in need and those not financially prepared for online learning. Remarkably Cornerstone undertook to supply data and devices to students who indicated that need through various initiatives and partnerships.
Being a Not-For-Profit Organisation, they are ineligible for government funding and subsidies, therefore the burden of providing data and devices for its students falls squarely on the institution and the generosity of individuals.
Having been on the forefront of the educational evolution, even through the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequently changing to the ‘new normal’, Cornerstone was able to adapt accordingly. But, what does this mean for those who are declared high risk to contracting the virus and want to further their studies? What does it mean for those who work long hours and are unable to attend contact classes? Cornerstone is well positioned and is vastly experienced in the world of online education. As South Africa enters into the new normal of 2021, they are currently introducing a bouquet of new courses, showing just how effective their adaptability is, these include: BCom’s in Arts and Sports Management and Software Development; A PGCE Senior/FET Phase, as well as a BA Honours, Masters and PHD in Education. This helps broaden their reach and creates far more avenues for students and those entering into the job market.
For more information on Cornerstone Institute please visit www.cornerstone.ac.za