Special Dialogue: Online Education in the COVID-19 Response and Beyond-Tsinghua University News

Special Dialogue: Online Education in the COVID-19 Response and Beyond

Special Dialogue: Online Education in the COVID-19 Response and Beyond

Tsinghua University and UNESCO join hands in exploring solutions


On the evening of April 24th, Beijing time, a Special Dialogue was held online. Co-convened by Tsinghua University and UNESCO, the Special Dialogue explored the extraordinary challenges to ensure higher learning continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Themed “Online Education in the COVID-19 Response and Beyond”, the dialogue shared university case studies, best practice, and experience in online education.

Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, thanked Tsinghua University for initiating this Special Dialogue in her welcoming remarks. “Tsinghua University was one of the first in the world to move all courses online, so it’s fitting that you are leading this conversation today. Learning never stops, and learning does not stop and must not stop,” she said.

She mentioned three challenges facing online education in her remarks. The students affected by the closures don’t have access to computers and more or less 40% don’t have access to the internet at all; the readiness of teachers and faculty; and the ethical challenge, how online contest quality is assured.

In the remarks, Giannini also called for global collaboration during this pandemic, “Global cooperation is the only answer to this crisis, and especially to support countries that don't have the capacity to know how or have the resources to deploy distance learning,” she emphasized.

“The more we discover, the more we can really join forces and work together. I hope and am sure that this discussion will pave the way for a new cooperation between universities to ensure that the world counts for this crisis. more prepared and more committed to shaping a secure and sustainable common destiny,” said Giannini.

In his welcoming remarks, President Qiu extended his thanks and appreciation to Assistant Director General Giannini and UNESCO colleagues for co-organizing this Special Dialogue, and commended UNESCO for its work in supporting inclusive distance learning, and in mobilizing countries to reinforce cooperation in the face of COVID-19.

“We share a common belief that education should not be interrupted under any circumstances. It is our compelling obligation to ensure the continuation of education. According to our practice at Tsinghua over the past three months, we concluded that we must bear in mind three key words in order to achieve effective implementation of online education: access, quality and equity,” said President Qiu.

President Qiu announced the official release of an interim report by Tsinghua’s Institute of Education on the theme of Integrity, Resilience and Reform: Evaluation and implications of Tsinghua University’s emergency online education in his remarks. “The year of 2020 may well mark a historical watershed of human society. The year of 2020 also witnesses the rise of online education at an unprecedented scale. It is foreseeable that the form of campus-based education will be profoundly reshaped after the pandemic,” he noted.

“Universities are the lighthouse of human civilization. Facing such a grave challenge that concerns the future of mankind, universities must shoulder our due responsibilities. While the end of the pandemic remains out of sight, it is our unwavering belief that we will overcome it eventually. Tsinghua values the partnerships with UNESCO and the distinguished institutions represented in this dialogue,” President Qiu said.

Peter Salovey, President of Yale University, thanked Tsinghua University for taking the lead in bringing all the participants together for such an important and timely discussion on educational continuity during this crisis in his opening remarks.

“We're encouraged by facts and expertise. And yet we are humbled by the questions that remain unanswered. The pandemic has shown the world how much we need ideas and solutions. And it has reminded me and many of us why their research and scholarship being conducted on college and University campuses in China and the United States and other nations throughout the world are so vital to society,” he said.

Stephen Toope, Vice Chancellor of University of Cambridge expressed his appreciation to Tsinghua and UNESCO for initiating the dialogue and sharing best practices. “We will only learn enough to make progress on the immense challenges of online education through collaboration at a global level,” he said.

Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London; Ferruccio Resta, Rector of Politecnico di Milano; Meric Gertler, President of the University of Toronto; Aiji Tanaka, President of Waseda University, and Andrew Martin, Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis also delivered opening remarks.

In the featured case study-sharing session, Borhene Chakroun, UNESCO Director of Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems; Brian Schmidt, Vice-chancellor of The Australian National University; Alberto Barbieri, Rector of the University of Buenos Aires; Ennio Vivaldi, Rector of the University of Chile; Sir Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter; Sung-Chul Shin, President of KAIST; Datuk Abdul Rahim Hashim, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya; Stephen Kiama, Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi; and Andrey Rudskoi, Rector of the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, shared their experiences, featured cases and observations from their respective regions and working experience respectively.

Following the case study-sharing, a panel discussion with the theme of “Online Education: Practice, Research, Cooperation and Partnerships” was held. Topics including online training programmes on digital policies and education, education policies and planning, and online education partnerships, as well as the resilience, reform-evaluation and implications of online education were discussed. The session also showcased a new partnership between Tsinghua and universities in Mongolia which covers the sharing of online educational resources and technical assistance, with broad objectives that support pedagogical adaptation and capacity development.

The event summary and closing remarks were delivered by Edward Crawley, Ford Professor of Engineering of MIT, Founding Interim Provost of Tsinghua Southeast Asia Centre; and Getachew Engida, Co-President of China-Africa Leadership Development Institute (CALDI), Tsinghua University,Former Deputy DG, UNESCO. They evaluated this online meeting and put forward suggestions for the next steps going forward.

About 30 panellists including university presidents, vice presidents and professors from 21 universities in 15 countries, as well as UNESCO international higher education experts and representatives, attended the Special Dialogue. Education policy advisors and executors, faculty, students and relevant education stakeholders also joined this event online. The event was moderated by Yang Bin, Vice President and Provost of Tsinghua University and Marielza Oliveira, Director of the UNESCO Beijing Cluster Office.

(By Guo Lily, John Paul Grima)