Academic entities at the City of Knowledge tell us how the sector has adapted to the pandemic
It really did take us by surprise: overnight it was impossible to prevent classrooms from moving to screens. The pandemic changed forever the life of universities: more than 1.5 billion students in 165 countries stopped attending these institutions (UNESCO, 2020), forcing the academic community to unlearn its structures and create new ones – in record time.
Despite the great challenges, the balance has been positive: universities have remained a social vertebra that resists the headwinds.
The Isthmus School of Architecture, for example, has taken advantage of this experience, “accelerating the migration of its programs to the digital world and generating collaborative networks among students to make it possible”, as expressed by Carlos Morales Hendry, its Executive Director.
On the other hand, the possibility of strengthening multiculturalism in classrooms has been opened, offering more enriching and diverse environments, according to José Ramón Padilla, professor, and researcher at the IESA Business School: “We have adapted our face-to-face academic programs into online programs; the most significant example is the Advanced Management Program in which students from different countries now participate. We have even created new products with the support of strategic allies. For example, with the Ciudad del Saber Foundation and Stratego we developed cycles of free webinars that allowed us [and continue to allow us] to be close to people ”.
This is also validated by Professor Ricaurte Martínez, Rector of the Universidad Arte Ganexa: “We have discovered enormous opportunities: students can complement their training by investigating in real time and many others seem to feel freer by being able to study from the comfort of their home.”
Attending a 7 a.m. class and finding an expert on the screen giving a lecture all the way from Paris is a memorable experience. The Ganexa University of Art, for example, has found in virtuality a great opportunity to make its teaching staff more robust by incorporating professionals from different corners of the world, who, through digital platforms, share their experience with students from Panama: “The team is enriched by the participation of teachers in France, Argentina, Colombia, and Spain” states Martínez.
These three institutions operate from the City of Knowledge, offering here all or a number of their academic programs. The campus, as a platform that promotes knowledge, has supported the different educational centers that operate in the space to promote their initiatives in this time of transition: “in these months we have helped them to connect with other key actors that boost your initiatives. In addition, we have become a channel of dissemination and visibility for our universities, enabling and co-creating virtual training spaces from the Foundation’s platforms in order to promote jointly developed initiatives “says David Aguilar, Business Manager at the City of Knowledge Foundation.
Overcoming the challenges of virtuality
Along with all its advantages, virtuality also reveals great gaps, especially in what weaves the fabric and society: human interaction. “What is most missed is social contact,” says Martínez, who also adds that by working remotely, certain essential elements are lost, such as the possibility of applying knowledge and connecting emotionally with students: “in certain professions the use of equipment and practical tools that students do not have at home… Furthermore, it is undeniable that personal contact is key to converting knowledge into realities that mobilize student, ” he adds.
Meanwhile, the efforts of the academic sector to adapt quickly revealed many challenges that today should be a priority on the managers’ agenda: “from Isthmus ,we take some time to do all the preparations, adjustments and training to do it correctly and avoid improvisations. Today we know that in these situations we must stop analyzing and focus not only on solving them but in capitalizing on the experience, exploring new possibilities, and taking advantage of them, ” says Morales.
For his part, Aguilar notes that on the City of Knowledge campus there are “Universities and higher education entities with very robust virtual teaching infrastructures, even before the pandemic, with advanced functionalities and personalized access to university systems and tools that operate on campuses in other latitudes. Such is the case of Florida State University (FSU), an American university with a presence in Panama since 1957 and with a campus based in the City of Knowledge; its academic programs are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
The road ahead
Technology has been the anchor that has given continuity to the educational process at this time, and it will undoubtedly continue to be so. Even before the pandemic, the education sector had been slowly mutating towards digitization, however, 2020 was, for sure, a shortcut to what was already seen coming. “What we experienced was a catalyst for something that was already going to happen. The digital transformation had taken a long time to reach the academic world, unlike the media or the financial world… We have reacted, hardly responding to the emergency” comments Padilla, who also puts on the table the importance of exploring the potential of virtuality, as a method that has yielded satisfactory results.
Like him, other academic directors have determined a new north for the educational modalities of their institutions. Morales, for example, says that “the use of remote technologies will be included as an integral part of the programs. Once you return to the face-to-face courses, the objective will be to create a combination that merges the best of both worlds and is convinced this, without a doubt, will enrich what we have.”
Although it seems almost impossible to transform the ways of learning and teaching in such a short space of time, the pandemic has shown us that educational institutions – or at least some of them – are more resilient than they might seem and that, despite the uncertainty and haste, they have known how to adapt to continue offering the necessary educational opportunities that will allow Panama to continue moving forward.