By the SPHEIR team

17 December 2020 - 15:55

Campus closures and digital demands... 2020 has been a tough year for higher education. In this blog, we look back at the challenges that Covid-19 has presented to SPHEIR higher education partners, and highlight some of the strategies that have been put in place to continue transforming the quality of higher education in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and governments imposed restrictions, higher education institutions faced unprecedented challenges: from moving entire courses for academics and students online, to training staff in using technology on a large scale, to engaging students with limited access to devices or the internet.

With many SPHEIR partnerships already focusing on introducing or strengthening online teaching as part of their aim to improve student learning and access to higher education prior to the pandemic, SPHEIR teams became crucial to the successful online transition of entire institutions.

We would like to take this opportunity to celebrate all the SPHEIR partners and teams and their hard work during this incredibly challenging year, and to share some examples of how the partnerships responded to the pandemic.

The Partnership for Enhanced and Blended Learning supported the universities in their network to shift teaching online. Academics who received PEBL training on blended module design and delivery were instrumental in building the capacity of other lecturers to deliver online courses.

The Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa partnership moved all training aimed at teaching staff onto the open-source, e-learning platform Moodle. They tailored courses to an online environment and shared lessons learned in this blog.

The Assuring Quality of Higher Education in Sierra Leone partnership helped lecturers incorporate critical thinking skills in the classroom via WhatsApp – the platform has low data requirements so allows students with limited internet access to engage more easily.

The Pedagogical Leadership in Africa partnership developed an online module in technology-enhanced learning aimed at staff, which was piloted to a closed group in summer 2020 and is now being rolled out more widely through PEDAL’s network of regional higher education institutions. 

The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access continued to provide higher education opportunities for Syrian refugee students and those from disadvantaged host communities in Jordan and Lebanon throughout the pandemic. All blended courses were moved to a fully online model with students receiving internet bundles and tablets to ensure no gaps in learning. A new online mentoring programme helping students applying for scholarships was also launched in September 2020.

The Lending for Education in Africa Partnership is providing student loans to over 800 Fellows in Kenya, of which close to a third were able to continue their degree programmes online. Student support services are now also available to all Fellows via virtual platforms. LEAP financial literacy training is now mobile-based, and the partnership recently rolled out virtual career readiness training in collaboration with the African Management Institute, adapting a planned blended model to fully virtual delivery.

The Prepared for Practice partnership moved all the capacity building courses for academic and administrative faculty staff in Somaliland to online delivery through the MedicineAfrica platform. Partner universities in Somaliland received support around online teaching, assessment and delivery of Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs).

The Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education partnership has supported the move online for staff and students at TIDE partner universities through the development of seven online courses, which provide a gateway for staff and students to transition to online learning and teaching. TIDE has also been working closely with the Myanmar Ministry of Education, supporting the higher education elements of a new Myanmar Digital Education Platform, and Myanmar’s commitment to transition to a digital education mode.