Reimagining Universities, Post-Covid

The traditional model of front-loading education at a young age is no longer relevant and will be seeing disruption, said panellists at The Straits Times Education Forum 2021. Instead, individuals and institutions would be embracing lifelong learning and seeing multiple entry points for learning along the age distribution. The Covid-19 pandemic has also forced universities to adapt and adjust the way in which they deliver their programmes, with classes, examinations and yearly admission exercises being conducted online.

Hosted in a virtual format from the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) studio on 5 February, the Forum was on the theme of “Reimagining Universities, Post-Covid” and was moderated by Ms Lydia Lim, Head, SPH Schools and Education. Panellists included Mr Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s Minister for Education, SMU President Professor Lily Kong and ST Senior Correspondent Ms Sandra Davie.

The webinar discussion saw panellists delving into the effects of the pandemic on higher education, including the accelerated adoption of virtual learning and the mental health needs of students.

“We want students to be able to navigate different cultures, see things from different perspectives, learn to be independent, resourceful, resilient and empathetic,” said Prof Kong.  “Under normal circumstances, this means sending students out into the community, and overseas, for exchange programmes, community projects, internships, and so on. But when circumstances do not allow, do we fold over and capitulate and give up on these learning experiences? Of course we don’t. We find creative ways of approximating the experiences, knowing that they won’t be the same.”

The full story published in The Straits Times (6 February 2021) is enclosed below: 


Tech should be a learning enabler and enhance outcomes: SMU president

Technology should be an enabler for learning, rather than pushed for its own sake, said Singapore Management University (SMU) president Lily Kong.

Instead of focusing on how the Covid-19 pandemic is going to disrupt education through the increasing importance of technology, Professor Kong said that the focus should be on learning outcomes.

"The much more important question is what are the outcomes of higher education that we hope to see and what is the best way of delivering those outcomes. And for me, technology is a part of it," she said.

Professor Kong was speaking at The Straits Times Education Forum 2021 on Reimagining Universities, Post-Covid yesterday.

Given the work and study from home situation due to the pandemic, certain learning experiences cannot be carried out in the ways preferred. "Then we use technology to make the best of the situation, and we deliver the best experiences that we can until such time that we can pivot offline," she said.

ST senior education correspondent Sandra Davie added that despite these questions, the current generation of students may be best placed to benefit from the current situation.

"Look at the limitations, as well as the advantages to be accrued from doing things online. SMU, for example, was forced to do admissions interviews and submissions online. But in the process of doing that, they realised that we are dealing with Generation Z who are very comfortable online," she said.

"They were actually better at interacting through the Internet than the people running the interviews, so it also made the admissions officers think - should we do more of this online?" she added.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong said the increased use of technology in universities has, however, created questions about the fundamental worth of university education, especially in Western countries.

"Even before Covid-19, there have been predictions that the university sector would be completely disrupted by technology. You see this particularly in countries like America and the UK because tuition fees have been rising, costs have escalated, universities become more bloated, the student debts rise," he said.

Questions have been raised about the value of university education - exacerbated by the pandemic because students are unable to attend classes face-to-face.

This has prompted more questions about whether universities need to do more to reform themselves, Mr Wong added.

"In fact, there are now predictions in some of these countries that there would be so much disruption that some universities may have to close, and we may well see the demise of more universities because they are unable to cope with the pressures," he said.

Prof Kong also pointed out that several predictions on technology's effect on education have failed to come true, despite the pandemic. "In 2008, a group of Harvard professors wrote a book called Disrupting Class. And they predicted that by 2019, about half of all middle and high school courses would be delivered online by 2019... And we all know that that hasn't happened," she said.

The book she was referring to was Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns, by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson.

"Some people believe that it will still happen, aided by Covid-19, but the jury is out," she added.