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Access and success in the post-pandemic world

Inclusive and accessible education essential to recovery and growth
Category:From the Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic
November 13, 2020
A student working on his laptop in front of a window

Ryerson remains committed to supporting and improving access to a quality education for all students.

As the world continues to navigate the many uncertainties of COVID-19, the academic sector is still finding its footing amidst all the change. Educators and students have been challenged with months of rapid and unanticipated evolution, and these growing pains have underscored the need to protect and adapt our approach to accessible learning.

Ryerson University has been a supporter of the World Access to Higher Education Day, external link global movement since its inaugural launch in 2018, and this year, on Tuesday, November 17, academics around the globe are examining Access and Success in the Post-Pandemic World.

As reflected in our 2020-25 Academic Plan, improving access to education is one of Ryerson’s core values. Though this year has been unlike any other in recent memory, we continue to identify and create opportunities for our diverse student population to learn and grow.

Of course, when the pandemic thrust remote learning, teaching and work upon us in March, we pushed ourselves to rise to the challenge. However, having to pivot suddenly to new methods of course delivery was jarring. Faculty and administrators worked tirelessly to reexamine how best to instruct and evaluate our students, while students grappled with an academic experience unlike anything they envisioned. Everyone struggled with technology use on some level, whether it was learning new essential skills, contending with privacy issues, accessing the tools needed to succeed or simply growing tired of it. For many of us, mental exhaustion became – and continues to be – the norm.

Though the last several months have presented their share of obstacles, I am incredibly proud of how quickly the entire Ryerson community came together to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles and sought innovative ways forward. In this new environment, the issue we now face is how to ensure continued access to education for our students and how best to support those providing it.

“Education is the tool that fights oppression, that levels the playing field, that creates possibilities. Promoting access to education is, therefore, not an option, but an obligation. We owe it to the next generation of thinkers to create space for their learning and growth. We owe it to ourselves to ensure that our work continues to evolve to meet the needs of our changing world.” These words from Ryerson’s former provost, Michael Benarroch, have never rung more true.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the existing inequalities within our society, and marginalized people are bearing the brunt of it. As a university, it is our job to help correct the course. Without a doubt, inclusive and accessible education is essential to our civilization’s recovery and growth.

To ensure this, we have been developing new approaches to pedagogy that can better meet the needs of our students in Canada and abroad, have implemented measures so that scholarly, research and creative activities can continue during the pandemic, and are increasing our scholarship offerings to create better opportunities for those who need them most. Though student life has been completely uprooted this year, we are deeply committed to creating a sense of community that will facilitate learning.

Innovation and perspective have been central to Ryerson’s most recent successes. We are not strangers to thinking boldly, but we are doing it in ways that were completely unforeseen mere months ago. We are recognizing just how vital it is to keep our planning and operations nimble so that we can make changes whenever and however we may need to along the way. While our academic priorities remain the same, we are reexamining how we action them within our COVID-19 recovery strategy; and recover, we most certainly will.

To this end, and without question, the wellbeing of our community has never been more important. To safeguard it, we have taken great strides to increase everyone’s access to mental health and wellbeing resources, and are improving our support systems university wide. Naturally, patience, empathy and compassion go a very long way, so we are listening more, and being more flexible with how we approach both school and work.

As we look ahead, one thing remains abundantly clear: it takes a village to face and overcome big challenges. Change on any scale is never easy, but we would not be where we are today if we did not come together so quickly as an institution. We have proven that we are more than capable of achieving success when we work together and show up for one another.

No matter the circumstances, Ryerson remains committed to supporting and improving access to a quality education for all students; an education that uplifts equity-seeking groups, that nurtures the whole person and that evolves with the needs and issues of our society. Now, as we continue to move forward with intention, we have a refreshed view of what is possible.

 

Saeed Zolfaghari
Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic

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