ALLOWING students to return to campus lifts some weight off the long-term implications to academic outcomes and student experience amid Covid-19.
It provides a welcomed roadmap for Malaysian educators on how to plan for the remaining months of the year, including strengthening online lessons, curating alternative assessments, and managing student concerns.
It also provides greater clarity for families on how best to support their children’s learning arrangements moving forward.
Institutions of higher learning, however, must be vigilant in their preparation to re-open their doors.
Close collaboration and planning between faculty and administrators will be crucial in managing social distancing needs, especially for institutions with limited physical classrooms and labs.
The movement of students before, between and after classes will also need to be carefully managed to avoid overcrowding in eateries, libraries or resource centres, and common spaces.
Considerations should also be made to stagger the number of students on campus at any given time, as well as the frequency of students returning to campus throughout the week.
This not only minimises potential exposure from the use of public transportation, it also creates a more manageable teaching environment for lecturers whose safety is equally important.
Contact tracing, temperature monitoring and visitor control will also need to be implemented as baseline security measures.
Handling larger groups who will re-enter campuses after a three-month hiatus and providing emergency responses will require operations leaders and security personnel to re-evaluate their internal measures to effectively and calmly respond to issues.
Increased scheduled cleaning efforts must be ongoing even before students are allowed back on campus, and administrators should put in place a means to monitor these efforts especially if using third party vendors.
This is to ensure the highest levels of hygiene possible in classrooms, restrooms and public spaces within the campus.
Stocking up and making hand sanitisers readily available throughout the campus will also be a part of standard operating procedures (SOPs) prior to students returning.
Ensuring that foreign support staff including security personnel and cleaning crews have undergone the necessary medical screening and given clearance by the government will also help put minds at ease, and minimise concerns among students each time they re-enter the campus.
Beyond these physical efforts, gearing up to welcome students back to campus will also require administrators to ensure emotional and mental well-being is prioritised as there will be anxiety at all levels.
Universities must maintain regular communications, offer clear guidance before students return to campus, plan and ensure clearly defined SOPs are put in place ahead of time.
Ambiguity must be taken out of all operations and now more than ever, leaders at all levels and departments must have a clear and aligned view of how to manage day-to-day functions and the emotional well-being of their teams.
Lecturers’ welfare and support will be crucial as they continue to serve at the frontlines of student development and security.
As we reopen our doors, the journey to improve capabilities
in online teaching and learning will still serve in ensuring learning continuity.
In spite of the challenges and mad dash towards having fully online lessons in March, educators have begun to hone their skills about what works in this space and continue to innovate how best to engage and support students through technology and remote learning.
With the decision for online learning to be the main medium of education for the next seven months – and possibly to remain a strategic priority in the longer term – the experiences of these last two months should serve as a catalyst to continue innovating and reinventing how we deliver a holistic education experience.
TAN LIN NAH
Chief Executive Officer
INTI International University & Colleges
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