Dr. Clifford Madondo (HOD & Lecturer in the Department of Development Studies)
2020/2021 academic period: Challenges and Resilience
The Department of Development Studies (DDS)
I am the HOD and lecturer in the Department of Development Studies (DDS). During the 2020/2021 academic period, aka COVID-19 acandemic era, my role was to ensure academic leadership and smooth curriculum management in line with the Institute’s vision and mission. As part of the teaching team, I taught a number of modules. Our Bachelor of Arts degree programme was accredited in November 2019, and we began to teach it in February 2020. We managed to start the year and teaching this new programme with minimum systems and resources in place and with 17 students- 6 of whom were pipeline students coming through the previous Higher and Advanced certificate programmes. 11 were new students of the programme. We started off 2020 with 1 fulltime staff member and by mid-year 2 other fulltime staff members were added to the team. As a Department 2020 was our moment to unlock the new terrain and full potential in students who had a dream and vision for change-making leadership in society and the Church. We pride ourselves with small student numbers and the contribution the Department is making towards educating women and women empowerment. Small numbers allow our teaching team members to pay attention to the learning needs of individual students.
COVID-19 reached our shores by mid-March 2020. SJTI, like all other higher education institutions in South Africa, had to close and immediately think about remote teaching and learning to save the academic year and the dream of our students. The 2020/2021 academic period had many challenges from this pandemic for the Department’s staff and students. The sudden shift from contact to remote teaching enforced sudden and new forms of self-discipline for our teaching team and our students. Working from home and digital pedagogies were new to our academics. This demanded some degree of discipline and mind-set change. For instance, attending online Department meetings, facilitating teaching and learning, and remote management of students and individual student support all used digital technologies. It was a completely new learning and teaching environment. Many of us had to self-teach digital pedagogies and learning on the go. Our students were concerned about attendance to online lectures. Lectures were constantly hindered by network connectivity issues and some students lacked digital technology resources suitable for this new environment. Nevertheless, our students were able to adapt and follow instructions about online learning modalities using digitally motivated communication methods. Another challenge the Department experienced is the inability to drive marketing plans for presence in the South African higher education market and improve our student enrolment as planned. For example, in the 2021 academic year the Department managed to enrol 5 first year students from the anticipated target of 25 students. For a new degree programme with new undergraduate students and new digitally assisted pedagogies, the Department managed to sail through the 2020/2021 acandemic period successfully though with lower student numbers.
Pliable like a reed
For many organisations, and certainly institutions of higher learning, 2020/2021 academic period may have demanded patience. At SJTI, and in particular, our Department of Development Studies the period demanded open-mindedness, ability to adapt fast and resilience. We managed to build some form of resilience through constant Department management and regular staff meetings where we regularly discussed changes in our learning and teaching environment. This facilitated rapid adoption by our teaching team. We also learnt to put in place effective learning and teaching tools aligned to the digitally assisted pedagogies. We intentionally and proactively engaged our students to allow them a voice and to help us recognise some blind spots that may have been created by this new COVID-19 environment. Thus, the challenges were overcome through collaborative processes between the SJTI academic management teams and the student body. The experience of 2020/2021 academic period, as I now call it COVID-19 acandemic era, in the Department of Development Studies (DDS) can be summed in words of Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar (2nd century C.E.), “be pliable like a reed, not rigid like a cedar”. Given all the COVID-19 pandemic constraints, the Department managed to adapt and remain resilient. We look forward to the 2022 academic Year.