A CHANGED WORLD: UNIVERSITY 2020

It’s been 10 weeks since I started teaching online. While the world is learning to deal with this colossal change in approaches to teaching and learning, being an international school teacher in China I am already feeling the fatigue and anxiety that comes with teaching remotely.

My peers will agree that not a single training or a professional development was ever put in place or completed to deal with a crisis of this scale and magnitude.

Apart from teachers, this crisis has also impacted the students who are persevering to learn through online classes. Since February, when the schools in China closed down indefinitely, my senior students have been living life on tenterhooks. This is primarily due to the uncertainties they had to deal with all throughout this crisis: how to learn online; how to prepare for exams; how exams will take place; how this will impact the final grades; how it will impact the university admissions… High school graduating students have suddenly woken up to a changed world!

In this changed world, the university admission decision has been the most excruciating dilemma students are facing, right now, as you read this blog. Whilst there is a general relief that exams have been cancelled, there is also rising anxiety as to what the future holds for them. High school seniors have realized that once this pandemic is over they will have to deal with a changed world–especially with university admissions and studies.
In my capacity as a university counsellor, here are a few scenarios I have been discussing with my graduating class and my students worldwide who are facing the same crisis.

Surprisingly, the most asked question is: “Will there be a graduation ceremony this year?”

Most schools may remain closed through the summer, this means the actual graduation ceremony may not take place, but the class of 2020 has exceptions! In case the schools worldwide reopen in June, this is still a possibility.

My school has decided to host the graduation ceremony virtually in case we cannot do it on campus! In China, preparations are on to reopen schools but public gatherings will still be restricted so more or less we are looking at relying heavily on technology to host a virtual graduation ceremony. In spite of challenges, the answer to this question should be a ‘Yes’ as the high school graduation ceremony is a once in a lifetime event!

Second most asked question: “Will the university accept the new adjusted grades?”
Most international students around the world will have to accept the grades generated by the educational jurisdictions as the exams have been cancelled. Students no longer have control over their final grades, hence they are anxious whether their final grades will meet the university requirements. The good news is most universities around the world are willing to be more flexible considering the current challenges students and schools are facing this year. Many universities have released COVID-19 updates on their websites to explain that they will accept the adjusted grades and honour alternative assessments completed in school or by the examination board. Again the answer to this question should be a “Yes,” unless there is a marginal difference between predicted and actual grades.

“What do we expect in September 2020?”
Every year, September is the time the world witnesses a massive migration of students who travel to join universities abroad, revving up the economy by adding to tuition fees, airlines tickets, accommodation, phone bills, and the list goes on… The first hurdle this year is the travel restrictions. If the travel restrictions remain, most students will not be able to reach their dream destination universities, hence some universities are looking into possible arrangements like online teaching to begin the studies in September 2020. The next challenge to join the university in September 2020 is getting the visa on time. Since visas need to be obtained a few months prior to September, I am advising all students to start the application process early this year.

“What if I do not meet the university predicted grade?”
It is a changed world–mostly everyone on this planet has realized it. Most universities that I have interacted with have confirmed that the predicted grades will be used to ascertain a student’s ability and will not be used as a benchmark, but there are exceptions to this rule for courses like engineering. Universities will also take into consideration teacher references and evidence provided by schools to support student applications.

“How do I prepare for my first semester studies at university?”
Students have been out of regular school for some time now, they are nervous about the academic rigour and expectations in the first semester of university studies. They feel underprepared for this massive academic transition. Hence my sincere advice to students has been to keep up with the online teaching and learning facilitated by their schools worldwide, this will bridge the gap of knowledge and also develop self-management and organization skills required for life in university.

Another way of preparing for transition is to start communicating with the university right now, find out about housing, induction programmes, student support programmes and join the social media page of the university.

“Will I still get transfer credits from my current programme of study?”
This is a question only the university will be able to answer; hence it is very crucial to be communicating with the university to avoid any last-minute surprises. Usually, each university has its own system of transferring credits and it will remain the same if students meet the admission requirements.

“What if I cannot complete the English language requirement as I cannot take the test?”
There are a few universities that have waived off the English language test requirement but most universities in the UK still need the IELTS to be completed due to visa requirements. They are monitoring the situation closely and will make a decision if the language tests cannot be administered from now till September. The best advise one can give to students is to communicate directly with their university and ask for clarification.

“And finally a silent question that is not asked but begs an answer: “Am I the only one feeling stressed, nervous and anxious?”
In these challenging and changing times, the topmost priority of teachers, school administrators, parents, and international education institutes around the world should be student well-being. COVID-19 has altered the way we think and approach life in future. As such, our students need to be supported to overcome this crisis without a permanent scar on their psyche.

Hence, even before I start answering students’ questions related to their uncertain future, I always take time to help them voice their anxieties and fears related to life after COVID-19. By just being able to voice their feelings, students realise they are not alone in this “changed world.” There are many others in this precarious situation wanting answers to questions and sometimes just reaching out to find another person with similar challenges.
Students globally should know that they are not alone in this fight! In this new world, it may not matter if you do not make it to a university but it will matter if you make it out of this pandemic!

One big realisation that I share with all my students is that the pursuit of knowledge will continue despite all challenges. Education will evolve and it has evolved after this pandemic, in fact the change in education has made the world a changed place, and hopefully a better place.

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