During a Maritime Distance Learning: Reality and Challenges webinar hosted by the Robban Assafina Magazine, president Doumbia-Henry highlighted the importance of aligning standards across distance learning programmes with standards for traditional resident programmes. She also emphasised on the potential challenge of “perceived invisibility” of distance learning students, “despite they’re not being physically at WMU, they require, deserve and must receive the same attention as our resident students enjoy.
President Doumbia-Henry identified three main issues - learners, instructors, and curriculum - that have been addressed by scholars in recent years regarding distance learning. For a successful distance learning delivery, the students need to regulate their own activities, instructors need to efficiently use the technology available, and the curriculum needs to align with teaching modes and valid assessments. She noted these areas are of particular importance in relation to Maritime Education and Training and in respect of the Certification requirements for safety, security and environmental protection.
“There is a continuing need to improve the educational standards of seafarers and to expand access to educational programmes at all levels—including postgraduate and doctoral studies, professional development courses, as well as taking into account the legal requirements of the IMO STCW Convention and other relevant instruments,” said president Doumbia-Henry. In addition, she suggested that the educational system of maritime institutions may need to be reshaped to meet the challenges of the information society, technological changes in the industry, and the increasing number of part-time students combining study with work.
Regarding provisions of the STCW Convention, she referred to Section B-I/6 of the Convention which relates to distance learning and e-learning. She added that the ability to deliver certificates of competency electronically may in the near future be fully recognised under the STCW Convention pursuant to amendments that were tabled at IMO in February 2020, but not yet discussed due to COVID-19. A set of Draft Guidelines on the Use of Electronic Certificates and Documents for Seafarers have also been put forward for discussion and adoption.
President Doumbia-Henry stressed that distance learning is a useful modality and has an important role to play in helping to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, Goal 4 focused on quality education for all, Goal 5 focused on gender equality, Goal 13 focused on climate action and Goal 14 focused on the Life Below Water. Covid-19 should not be an impediment to slow down progress on the implementation of these goals.
Ahmed Youssef, PhD, associate dean for Sharjah Branch, Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport said that Covid-19 has accelerated the use of distance and online learning.
“I think that after this Covid-19 era, much will change significantly and it will align with this shift in the maritime industry.” Dr. Youssef talked about the fourth wave of the maritime industry, an IT based one, which will be perfectly aligned with the maritime distance learning, pointing out that this pandemic has pushed things forward in this matter to be more deep and automated,” he said.
Professor Mahad Baawain, dean of the International Maritime College of Oman (IMCO) said that the, “sudden shift to online techniques gave no time for improving IT infrastructure, as there was not enough time for training of both instructors and students to use the available tools.”
During his presentation, Professor Baawain ensured the importance of the blended learning process, as the online learning is for theoretical parts of the courses, and on campus training is for practical sessions.
Dr. Iliana Christodoulou-Varotsi, Course Leader, Consultant & Industry Trainer at Lloyd’s Maritime Academy UK, believes that the role of humans is crucial in this shift towards distance learning, discussing seafarers’ readiness to accommodate the new environment of learning, and the importance of awareness to develop their potentials to accept the new techniques.