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Author's profile photo De Wet Naude

The African Academic Community goes Virtual

2020 was extremely disruptive for many universities in Sub-Saharan Africa, as in the rest of the world. Most of SAP University Alliances (SAP UA) member institutions experienced campus closures and/or restriction of on-campus activities due to lockdowns. Overall, institutions managed to cope with the new circumstances, but the year was, to say the least, challenging.

Some universities were fortunate that the hard lockdown somewhat coincided with semester breaks (June/July) and they were impacted less severely. However, in some cases, such as in South Africa, campuses remained closed for the rest of the year. Schools were re-opened on a limited basis, with pupils attending on alternate days or weeks.

Universities and schools had to radically and quickly change their mode of delivery in order to save the academic year. Due to the dedication and perseverance of lecturers and teachers, most managed to cope – the efforts of all role players in the education space need to be saluted. They rapidly deployed online teaching and “home schooling-type” of methods and tools to facilitate remote teaching & learning. Then there were also the associated administration tasks. Primary tools used were e-mail, Google suite, WhatsApp, Teams and Zoom. For academics, these online tools were found to be only partially effective. Students also did not enjoy extended campus closures – they longed for the on-campus life and the social interaction.

In Africa, like other developing regions, there were some specific challenges. Many students do not have access to smart devices or broadband at home. In many areas Internet connections are quite unreliable. This was especially challenging, for example, for doing online assessments.

A few universities managed to support some students with devices and data packages. In other cases, governments stepped in to assist with devices and data, but financial resources were limited and only a small portion of students could benefit from this support.

In some cases, end-of-term exams had to be cancelled or pushed forward towards the next semester. Some universities reported that they effectively lost four months’ worth of progress due to the pandemic. Many universities extended their academic years to make up for lost time.

On a more positive note, the pandemic forced the SAP Academic community to also change the format of our annual regional academic conference in June. This normally takes placed in Cape Town, South Africa. Many faculty members attended the virtual event. The conference was spread over 4 days, with daily two-hour sessions. At any given point in time +- 50 participants were online, discussing specific topics such as digital transformation in business and the implications for academia, preparing for the S/4HANA migration, process mining.

This first virtual conference was a huge success and the responses from delegates were overwhelmingly positive. A hybrid format for the annual conference will certainly be part of the way forward.

Yes, 2020 was indeed a challenging year, and many will be glad that it is nearing the end. Universities and schools should be lauded for their response to the pandemic and the way that they managed to face a myriad of challenges.

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