The year 2020 is certainly a year of change – so much change in fact that we cannot ever go back to how things were. The ‘genie’ is well and truly out the bottle and every aspect of our lives is now different. One of these changes is the way people interact with their environment. We have been forced to engage online. The way we interact socially, the way we work or most importantly the way we learn has been changed and it seems it changed for good. It has become the ‘new normal’. However, some aspects of this are not mentioned or discussed, but it is essential and integral to the success of working and learning remotely. It has become the new elephant in the room, the need for discipline, integrity and trust. All of this is assumed, but these issues keep on surfacing in the most interesting of places.
This may sound a little over the top; however, it is not. We know discipline, integrity and trust is at the very basis of our society and culture – and this is especially true when it comes to ‘working from home’, e-learning and distance learning. Organisations were often already set up for telecommunicating but did not fully utilise the technical options. Whether it is already having all files accessible in the ‘Cloud’ or having a SharePoint available, or simply through Google Drive. The options are endless.
Ensuring that learners and students do not lag educationally, there are options like Google Classroom or using Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom where assignments can be facilitated and learning can continue.
The reason organisations were hesitant to allow remote working or schools were apprehensive to let pupils and student engage in e-learning is because of lack of oversight. It means giving employees and students personal responsibility or self-management, empowering them to such an extent that you leave them to work without having someone constantly overseeing them or checking if they are hard at work.
The same issue comes up when discussions about e-learning are held. Can we trust the students, will they not just cheat and use Google for their assignments or ask someone else to do the assignments for them? In the present climate of social distancing, exam halls full of students are out of the question. This means students have to take exams online, within a certain time frame, but without invigilators breathing down their necks. This is where trust and discipline come in from the student’s point of view, as well as the integrity of the systems and management thereof from an institutional point of view.
The supply and demand of online software and services that better facilitate online invigilation and assessment have swung sharply in favour of increased demand, and we are beginning to truly see the value of such applications as time and money-saving initiatives.
Luckily, most people are honest and if they are given the freedom to work from home or do their schoolwork when it suits them, they will take that opportunity. Instilling and empowering employees and students to fit their working or learning schedule into the day that suits them best can only lead to better results and even better self-discipline. Not everyone can work or is suited to work from 8 to 5 – what is more important is that the work, study and assignments are finished before the deadline. It brings a whole new level of convenience into one’s life.
Working from home and the future of e-learning and distance learning is bright in Africa, and the world’s present challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have brought it into even sharper focus. As long as there’s trust and every stakeholder acts with integrity and discipline, the way we work and learn can become a much less rigid and more pleasant and productive experience. The #newnormal is the catalyst for change, and we need to embrace it or be left behind. This is the new challenge for education systems across the world, producing learners and ultimately employees that can thrive in this new normal.
*Albin Jacobs is a director at the Southern Business School of Namibia