COVID Crisis: Why Educational Challenges Need Strong Leadership

Here is how academic leaders, students and the community at large prepared overnight to shift to online learning.

4 min read
 Several educational institutions have taken to online teaching due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Image used for representation.

In probing the ‘mysteries’ surrounding leadership in Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs), the challenges posed by COVID-19 is an opportunity to delve into the role of academic leaders in mitigating challenges. A true leader rises in difficult times, tough decisions are made, and action is taken to convert a challenge into an opportunity — and evolve amidst crisis.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on society at large, and teaching and research were part of the onslaught. The public health crisis forced an immediate shift from in-class teaching to the online mode, and switched the vibrant campus life to deserted lanes.

Further, the personal, social and financial sufferings of the families of students and other members of society hit the psychological ecosystem, and thus, had serious repercussions on learning outcomes.

The Burden of the Academic Leader

The HEIs, along with their stakeholders, namely, teachers, students and society, were forced to prepare themselves to adapt to the new dynamics within a short time span. A resource-crunch, resistance from the implementers were among the major impediments.

The disruptions that ensued impeded the student-teacher-community engagement. An immediate shift to telecommuting and online learning demanded the availability of prerequisites, skills and a support system, which has had a great bearing on educational outcomes.

Adequate and appropriate availability of required hardware, software, faculty training, students’ access to the internet, and the security of data played a significant role in the teaching-learning process.

Moreover, dialogue and interaction in distance-learning among students of diverse income groups also has had an impact on learning effectiveness and reach. Academic research was affected due to the closure of labs and archives, stalled mobility ceased field work and collaboration. Such an emergency encountered by institutes of higher education called for the academic leadership to salvage the education system.

The stakeholders’ interest is the onus of the academic leader, and calls for investment in building a conducive environment and relationships with students, teachers, staff, the society/community, and government — to emerge from these challenging times by designing a sustainable system that delivers on the ‘triple bottom line’ and creates value for stakeholders.


What a ‘Transformational Leader’ Does to Achieve Teaching-Learning Goals

Leadership is conceived and defined in the premises of individual perspectives and the aspects of the phenomena, in terms of traits, behaviour, influence, interaction, roles, and occupation of the leader. It is viewed as a process of influence within a social system and is shared among its members. Further, leadership effectiveness is evaluated in terms of the consequences of the leader’s actions on other organisational stakeholders. In pursuit of evolving the HEIs from the status quo due to the pandemic, the leader can mobilise the institutional energies to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges faced in the teaching-learning process.

Such leaders — often referred to as transformational leaders — build on empowering behaviours by delegating responsibilities to the team members, enhancing their capacity to think and come up with new and creative ideas.

In other words, the transformational leaders in the higher educational institutions practices innovation to address the limitations in the learning process.

HEIs engaged in knowledge creation, and dissemination cannot survive without innovative practices adapted expeditiously in an efficient and effective way to minimise loss of stakeholders in the pandemic. Thence to overcome the obstacles encountered during transition to online teaching and related concerns, various measures can be taken by the system to facilitate the teaching-learning process, well-being of the students, along with servicing community. For continuity in learning process during disruption, Learning Management System equipped with features like teaching, recording, uploading, assignment and tests can be performed. Teachers could bee trained in the system.


Optimum Utilisation of Resources Required

The quality of learning for less privileged students could be supported through e-content placed on the website in open access format. Remote access to the e-content of the library should be made available. The participation, interaction and communication among students in the distance-learning mode also should be complemented with newsletters, virtual cultural magazines, webinars, e-seminars, and various competitions managed online. Teachers should also be engaged constructively in the design and development of products and processes befitting the situation.

In the words of Steve Jobs, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”.

The innovative practices designed and implemented by the academic leader is reflective of their ability to communicate their vision to the subordinates, generate an awareness of problems from a newer perspective, equip and encourage the team towards the attainment of the stakeholders’ interest.

Such leaders contribute to transformation through changes in process. The pandemic being an unforeseen event, the strategies to handle the disruption should be to manage with rapid changes and optimum utilisation of resources.

The vision is shared by the leader and is to be implemented by managing the behaviour and attitude of the team. Moreover, the critical approach of the leaders in handling resistance, shortage of funds, ambiguity, and uncertainty during transformation through innovative ideas is imperative for managing change during the pandemic.

(The author is Vice Chancellor, Lucknow University. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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