by Ntokozo Mahlangu, Alumnus/Vice-Chairperson of Council
Together with the shift to working from home, delivery modes for higher education have also shifted, embracing technology. Such changes are roundly embraced as the “new normal”. In many respects, this may not be a bad situation depending on how you envisage both the workplace and higher education structures of the future.
In terms of higher education, I believe a trend toward partaking in shorter programmes has emerged and may arguably be a very concerning trend when considering long-Covid victims. Long-Covid patients are experiencing significant, and possibly, permanent cognitive loss.
It also appears that these effects have been somehow under reported and not thoroughly on public discourse and seem to have slipped under the radar of higher education institutions. Cognitive ability (mental agility) in my opinion, is the heart of teaching and learning. Consider for a moment, a colleague or researcher who has had a bout with Covid and appears to be recovered completely, but without their best mental capacity. Arguably, and as an addition, they may have lost their brilliance somewhere in the middle of their career.
Now, what if some of our most talented students suddenly lost their creative and problem-solving edge? Even worse, what about colleagues and students who do not have the same level of cognitive ability as their peers? Will they be forced to leave their field as a result of this?
Such losses, if not identified and addressed, will most likely remain hidden until deficiencies in performance of expected activities are discovered. We, in the workplace and in higher education institutions, may be confronted by compromises of an essential tool of our trade, our mental state and ability, silently without other symptoms.
A question as I conclude. Will individuals afflicted with long Covid gradually drop out of higher education, and those in the workplace, keep underperforming in their jobs without any help or support if they do not get a diagnosis? Lastly, will the pandemic’s impact especially on higher education be a permanent “new normal”?