Partnership targets interventions aimed at quality education

As the world begins to witness a dramatic reduction in COVID-19 infections and deaths, higher education in Africa will need to have robust collaborative research systems and networks across and outside the continent to help find working solutions to the biggest challenges facing teaching and learning in university education, experts say.

The experts, drawn from academia, government and the private sector, were speaking in Nairobi during a ceremony on 28 March at which a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Nairobi-based Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and Education Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA).

“Having partners in the region and out of the region will help Africa to advance research in higher education,” said Dr Anthony Mveyange, executive director of PASGR, expounding that those collaborations will enable partners to break barriers that individual organisations are unable to do, in order to advance and increase evidence-uptake in decision-making across various sectors.

Lucy Heady, the chief executive officer of the Africa-United Kingdom-based ESSA, said the partnership targets interventions that will improve the quality of higher education in Africa with the end goal of helping young people realise their ambitions.

“We need to get to, not just having the research, but moving to the real change [resulting from] the research outcomes,” said Heady, adding that the partnership will work with change-makers to ensure research evidence makes a difference in Africa.

An assessment conducted by ESSA last year of the impact of COVID-19 on higher education, using case studies from Université Félix Houphouet-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana’s University of Cape Coast found that the pandemic worsened the scarcity and inequality in resource distribution, led to cuts in financial aid to research institutions and weakened existing collaborations among West African universities due to restrictions to national and international mobility.

The assessment, said ESSA’s director of research, Pauline Essah, implies that there is a need to revamp collaborations across universities for shared learning and for finding solutions to the challenges facing institutions of higher education through collaborative research and the sharing of resources.

“We need to co-develop solutions that connect to policymakers and funders so as to address the challenges facing the continent and also improve teaching and learning,” said Essah.

Strengthening systemic resilience

Joseph Obosi, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, agreed that partnerships have the power to make universities remain resilient post COVID-19 through the sharing of resources and knowledge.

However, he said, academics need to do more research to find solutions that will make Africa’s higher education systems more resilient as they pursue the journey to revitalise teaching and learning in universities post the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mveyange urged African governments to create an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive through public-private sector partnerships as this could help reduce inequalities to access to higher education in Africa.

Heady, in turn, called on universities to scale up best experiences such as innovations, as many were still grappling with a shift to digital space.

Standardised policies for online learning

The lack of standardised policies to guide transition to online teaching and learning, the experts said, is also a factor that many universities in Africa are still grappling with.

According to Paul Mungai, a senior assistant director from Kenya’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the lack of standards and policies thwarted the country’s efforts to transition to online teaching and learning.

He revealed that Kenya is keen on blended teaching and learning and this will also be a key pillar of the competency-based curriculum that the country has introduced.

However, he called for more research, especially on the science subjects, that require practical teaching in educational spaces like laboratories, in particular, as the transition to online teaching intensifies.

The experts also underpinned the need for digital transformation in African universities as the pandemic exposed weaknesses in the institutions’ digital preparedness characterised by a lack of infrastructure to support online teaching and learning.

“The role of technology cannot be overemphasised. We need to get accustomed to digitalised research proposals and management of research grants,” said Loise Ochanda, the programme management officer at Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

Ochanda urged African universities to adapt to the changes triggered by COVID-19, remain agile and learn to deal with risks that may face the higher education sector from time to time.