Unsurprisingly the year started with the impact of the second wave of Covid-19 in South Africa. Managing the ever-increasing complexity in supporting student returns and movement across South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region has been one of the most arduous activities to date this year.
The closure of most land ports on South Africa’s borders placed an immense financial burden on most of our students, who had to pay for flights to enter the country. Due to the Covid-19 ‘hotspots’ around South Africa, most of our students were placed in mandatory seven-day self-isolation in their residences. The impact of this experience on our students could not have been easy. However, our students truly stood firm. Many of us were involved in delivering food packs, water and cool drinks to them daily and got to introduce ourselves.
The impact of Covid-19 on higher education cannot be overestimated. The disruption of contact lectures, practical training, and social learning fell away rapidly in 2020. This accelerated the work that the Wildlife College was doing in blended-learning, a type of learning that includes contact and online learning. We had to rapidly scale our blended-learning offerings in 2020 to ensure we did not leave students behind.
On reflection of where we were at this time last year, we have moved in leaps and bounds. The implementation of our Google Suite for Education for modules, assignments, tests and exams has been adopted by our business units, such as Natural Resource Management (NRM) and the Community Youth Development (CYD). The Wildlife College team also reflected critically on the feedback that we received from our students last year. Specifically, how Covid-19 protocols impacted them personally, their challenges and more. It became abundantly clear that psychological health and enhanced student support needed improvement from the Wildlife College and its team.
The student support team continues to do student induction and support sessions weekly, to evaluate their holistic learning experience. This practice has been adopted as policy, in which our student-first approach gains the proper attention that it deserves. The Wildlife College has always placed students at the centre of its value system. However, the social and psychological impacts from Covid-19 have required all of us to challenge ourselves to improve and do more for our student body.