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Blended learning is an opportunity for maritime training
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Blended learning is an opportunity for maritime training

Maritime Industry Dialogue panelists discuss maritime education and training

SOUTH AFRICA: Following discussions held during last week’s Maritime Industry Dialogue session on maritime education and training, it is clear that the sector should seek to adopt a blended learning approach to delivering both short and long courses.

Concern, however, about the lack of regulation and accreditation processes that exist for e-learning or distance learning courses means that good intentions to develop and deliver a robust online training alternative have been curtailed.

Joining the panel discussion, Leon Mouton of Sea Safety Training Group (SSTG) acknowledged that it has been a slow process to try to get e-learning material approved. “We need clear guidelines from SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety Authority) of what can be approved and what will not,” he said adding that he was aware that the authority was working on a strategy in this regard.

“E-learning is long overdue. There are a lot of adults that cannot afford to leave work or travel to attend courses and digital courses are the best option for them,” he said. According to Mouton, SSTG has submitted a number of courses to SAMSA for approval and hopes to have an outcome soon.

Contributing from the chat room, David Wolfaardt of the South African Maritime Training Academy (SAMTRA) expressed agreement that SAMSA needs to weigh in on policy and industry guidelines on the issue of e-learning.  “A significant concern when it comes to distance/e-learning is the role and policy of the regulator.  SAMSA needs to formulate policy and industry guidelines on this issue,” he said.  

While private training providers such as SSTG and SAMTRA have already initiated strategies to ensure the availability of these options – the advent of COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of e-learning options at tertiary institutions such as Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Durban University of Technology and Nelson Mandela University.

Most of the attendees in the third session of the Maritime Industry Dialogue agreed that the way forward must necessarily include an emphasis on the digitally-based learning experience. “We need flexibility and to keep up with the times internationally,” noted Yvette de Klerk who is currently undertaking research in the maritime education and training space at the World Maritime University.

Participating in the webinar chat room, De Klerk highlighted a study by International Association of Maritime Universities (IAMU) which shows that 83 percent of their members indicate a shift to full time online/distance learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While only two African countries (Egypt and Ghana) currently have institutes that are members of the IAMU, it is interesting to note that nine percent of the respondents reported that all university operations had been completely suspended.

Locally institutions and training providers have been guided by the disaster measures put in place by government. Initially all educational facilities were forced to face total closure almost overnight as the lockdown was declared.

Representing the umbrella body, Maritime Academic Institutions of South Africa (MAISA) on the panel, Theresa Williams spoke about how tertiary institutions had had to work quickly to deliver content to their broad base of enrolled students. And even now, as only some 30 percent occupancy is permitted on campus, institutions are having to operate across a number of platforms to ensure the continuation of the syllabus.

“We have had to adopt a multi-modal approach. We are continuing with remote online platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp and Google Classroom, but have also found we need to courier printed material to more remote areas where connectivity is a major problem,” she explained.

Leave no one behind

While the practicality of migrating courses into the digital space is certainly achievable, the one concern that many have relating to online training relates to its accessibility to the broader population that may not have reliable internet connectivity, suitable devices or even a conducive environment to study in.

Adding valuable insight to the panel, Nwabisa Matoti of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), also highlighted the need to address the emotional and mental wellbeing of students who may not adjust to distance learning as well as others. She added that the need to supply data and devices to remote areas would take time. “Until everyone is onboard, we cannot kick off completely,” she warned.  

Malcolm Alexander of the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA) agreed. “I would be happy to move more into the digital space and include more people, but am worried it will create a smaller elite and leave a growing number behind,” he said while acknowledging the success of digital interventions in unlikely sectors such as the taxi industry.

A call for a zero-rating of all maritime-related education content resonated with those in attendance with many suggesting that SAIMI coordinate an initiative to advocate on behalf of maritime training providers on a national level.

While online learning can arguably increase accessibility to maritime studies, in a country like South Africa and on the African continent as a whole, it could also arguably limit access.

Summing up much of the conversation, Williams said that, although the STCW Convention makes provision for e-learning, not everything can be digitised and that the socio-economic implications need to be addressed toe ensure that every single student in the country can be accommodated. “E-learning is possible and is being adopted now because of COVID-19, but what happens after COVID? Does it mean that when we can go back into the classroom, that we don’t. Currently we can only cater for 70 percent of the student base online and this is a genuine concern,” she said.

Noting too that the maritime education and training space extends beyond seafarer training, Alexander emphasised the need to address the training requirements in the fishing sector where numeracy and literacy projects cannot be offered as e-learning options.

A blended opportunity

Although issues relating to accessibility need to be addressed, the future of a blended delivery of maritime training that caters for both classroom as well as digital delivery provides significant opportunities for both potential students as well as training providers.

Classroom-based delivery has always required the need to limit numbers based on the physical space offered, but pairing this with e-learning will mean that training providers can expand their numbers and actually seek to lower the cost of training per student. If this saving is passed onto the student, this creates an important opportunity for maritime training that needs to be explored.

 


Other topics explored in the webinar include simulator training, funding, seafarer certification and maritime awareness. You can watch the full webinar with Theresa Williams, Malcolm Alexander, Nwabisa Matoti and Leon Mouton here.

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