Jon Foster-Pedley. Picture: Martin Rhodes
Jon Foster-Pedley. Picture: Martin Rhodes

Good educators will make a difference in any teaching format, says Henley Africa dean Jon Foster-Pedley. The move to online learning may have changed the way staff engage with students, but that shouldn’t lessen the educational impact.

The best teachers are artists who create magic,” Foster-Pedley says. “The worst are automatons. That doesn’t change just because there’s a screen between them and their students. You can still engage with people and get reactions. Good face-to-face educators will be able to play with their new tools,” he says.

Indeed, he thinks the online format has the potential to create better teachers. It demands a better prepared, more dynamic approach. Droning away at students in a school classroom is no longer enough (not that it ever was). “We are moving away from rote teaching to dynamic education,” says Foster-Pedley. That will have benefits when teaching returns – partly or fully – to the classroom, as educators make use of their new skills.

You will never get the death of face-to-face teaching. Some things are very powerful in that environment.  What will go is the belief that face-to-face is the only way of doing it.”

Though it may go against the grain for lifelong teachers used to direct classroom interaction, there is also value in asynchronous, recorded lectures that students can watch in their own time, Foster-Pedley says. “By working interactively with video, and particularly if you have access to virtual reality, you can create an amazing experience for the student.”

Foster-Pedley believes the online method is particularly suited to Africa. “It will make education pervasively available.”

Henley is keen to expand its influence across the continent. It was one of the first schools to seek accreditation from the African Association of Business Schools. The exercise, Foster-Pedley says, has forced the school to “pause, reflect and consider where we are, how far we have come and what we want to be. Who are we?”.

The association, he says, can help African business schools cement their own identity. For too long they have judged themselves – and have asked to be judged – by the standards of Western business schools, many of which are irrelevant to Africa.

The situation is changing. “We are starting to see African universities and business schools less concerned with copying the West and more focused on doing what helps their own people.“ African students are creating a reputation for academic excellence. Henley Africa students are among the best performers in the UK parent’s international education network.

People in the rest of the world are starting to believe in African education,” Foster-Pedley says.

That doesn’t alter the fact that SA needs to revisit its higher education system. Many people in the workforce are equipped with training and knowledge no longer relevant in a rapidly evolving world. Over 40% of SA employees already lack the skills for the modern economy. That proportion will rise in coming years.

Learning institutions need to prepare students for the future, not the past and the present. “We have to rethink how we approach education,” says Foster-Pedley. That includes SA’s attitude to lifelong learning; he says more support should be offered to entrepreneurs in their 40s and 50s. History shows their ventures are more likely to thrive, and provide sustainable jobs, than those of younger people. “There are so many issues we haven’t considered,” he says.

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