Eighty-eight days after lockdown, TSIBA Business School students on 22 June 2020, sat for their first online examinations! This remarkable achievement, in contrast to many institutions still struggling with data and learning devices, resulted from many robust discussions, endless 'muting' and 'unmuting' online meetings, navigating complex issues of data, learning devices and selecting appropriate epistemology. All this was underpinned by passionate and committed teaching and academic support staff determined to deliver the academic programme and turn what was potentially a winter of despair, into a season of hope!
With memories of the sombre President Ramaphosa announcing the lockdown on the 24 March 2020 still vivid; the panic buying, fear and uncertainty that gripped the nation, that moment was a particularly anxious one for the TSIBA students. For many of them, a better future hinged on a quality education that could take them out of dire socio-economic conditions.
So, with safety and health care of paramount concern, TSIBA Business School moved speedily and decisively from a classroom pedagogy towards online teaching. This process was about more than the curriculum. It was also guided by TSIBA’s human-centered business education purpose; engaging meaningfully with students, creating online communities of support and learning and showing that some of the best transformative insights arise from reflection and learning during times of adversity.
Someone once wrote, ‘Success follows Vision!’ TSIBA’s vision of providing value-adding education despite the fear narrative that prevailed attracted incredible acts of generosity and support. Donations of laptops from a local Rotary Club and generous financial support from local and international donors resulted in the establishment of the Chairperson’s Fund (initiated by TSIBA’s Board Chairperson). This fund, to date, has ensured that over 90% of students were provisioned with a learning device and sufficient data to attend online classes and attempt the online examinations.
The pivot towards an online delivery platform presented significant challenges, not only because of South Africa’s poor IT infrastructure in townships and informal settlements and expensive data costs, but also that the novelty of online teaching relied on more independent learning from students. Hence intensive orientation sessions, backed up by counselling and academic support, were provided on a regular basis. Staff were also supported with professional development webinars, data and encouraged to test new ideas, fail and fail forward. This resulted in continuous, incremental improvements in the online pedagogy.
Fear of infection from the Covid-19 pandemic might mean that online teaching will be the norm for the foreseeable future. And although it is not the ‘silver bullet’ that will address South Africa’s educational challenges during the lockdown, it did, however, provide a moment where TSIBA Business School’s ‘Batho Pele’(people first) education model came into its own. It was a way to respond and bring immediate relief to the angst of learners and at the same time provide inspiration through the powerful and meaningful acts of learning, reflection and problem-solving.Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is Chief Executive Officer at TSIBA Business School. He writes in his personal capacity.