“The advice for prospective students has stayed relatively constant throughout the years – to make sure they thoroughly investigate their options, as well as the ability of an institution and qualification to align to the real-world demands in the marketplace at the time that the graduate qualifies,” says Wonga Ntshinga, the senior head of programme at the Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education provider.
However, a very important question that didn’t arise in previous years has now become an essential part of deciding on future studies, Ntshinga says.
“Keeping in mind that you have to make the best of each day of in-person learning, and need to be certain that your institution will be able to continue to deliver the highest quality of academic excellence, even should there be future mitigating measures required to handle external challenges, students now must ask the following: How is the institution ensuring that students get the absolute most from their contact lectures?
“This may seem like too detailed a question, and possibly the last of a prospective student’s worries, but it is, in fact, the one question that can make the difference between successful studies or not,” Ntshinga says.
He points out that last year, as many institutions just tried to get by and make the best of a bad situation, few were able to successfully strategise how they could optimise learning for students. However, given the lessons of past year, any good institution, whether public university or private, must now be able to provide a more coherent strategy and be able to convey their approach to future students, he says.
“A good place to start is to ask not just student counsellors, but also current students, what they get from lectures.
“Lectures are a very important part of your studies, which is why you have to make sure you’ll be getting the most of them even if actual in-person learning time is limited. So if an institution’s lecturers are just continuing in a same-old, same-old fashion by standing up and speaking at the class for 45 minutes, that is a missed opportunity and not the best use of this precious time.”
Ntshinga points out that our new way of learning requires new models.
“Essentially, students today are in class half the time that they used to be. That contact time matters and prospective students must make an effort to understand how that time is used, and how the approach of an institution has changed in the wake of last year’s lockdowns. If an institution can’t answer the question about how they have adjusted their approach, this is a clear indicator that they are not agile and resilient, nor attuned to the needs of their students and optimal outcomes,” he says.
Ntshinga says that while uncertainty continues, as it will for some time to come, best practice for institutions of learning at all levels is to use contact time for cementing core concepts.
“There must be a deliberate strategy about the use of time. It’s not just a case of cramming the same amount of information into less time. Instead, institutions must focus on restructuring in-person teaching to ensure students grasp core concepts and then build upon these when students are online.”
It is also important for prospective students to determine what kind of and how much support they will receive from institutions should they require it,” says Ntshinga.
“As seen last year, many students suffered or even dropped out because of isolation, and the lack of connection to their peers and lecturers. While good institutions always have support services available, excellent institutions would have ensured they put in place further assistance, specifically in response to the unique needs arising from the pandemic and lockdowns.
“When determining where you are going to study, ensure that your institution has a wide range of support services available for specific challenges and needs. Studies are challenging even under the best of circumstances. When the environment is even more challenging than usual, as is currently the case, institutions must pull out all the stops to ensure their students get the best support possible across a wide range of issues. Make sure that you sign up with one that has proven its commitment and ability to support their students and ensure successful academic outcomes no matter what,” he says.