As part of the Middle East Maritime Online Forum Webinar Series, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), delivered the keynote speech on 28 July on the topic “Maritime Distance Learning – Reality and Challenges”. Her remarks focused on WMU’s vision for the maritime industry in the e-learning era taking into account the digital revolution that is transforming the shipping industry.
President Doumbia-Henry noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, a dramatic impact on the entire world, including on the maritime industry. Over the past six months social distancing, wearing masks, constant use of hand sanitizers, quarantines and lockdowns have become the new normal. The impact of the pandemic has redefined mobility and transport, while technology has enabled us to stay connected and transfer many of our activities online.
WMU has been offering postgraduate diploma programmes online since 2005 when the Marine Insurance programme was first offered by distance learning. The programme has evolved over time both in terms of the curriculum and technology, and successive distance learning postgraduate programmes currently include Maritime Energy, Executive Maritime Management, and International Maritime Law that is also available online as an LLM. In addition, the Maritime Welfare (MARI-WEL) Professional Development Programme was established at WMU in partnership with the ITF Seafarers’ Trust. MARI-WEL is the first programme of its kind to deliver a comprehensive overview of the topics and issues that relate to seafarers’ welfare and wellbeing. It is an excellent instrument that can help address the challenges seafarers continue to face with respect to COVID-19.
President Doumbia-Henry highlighted the importance of aligning standards across distance learning programmes with standards for traditional resident programmes. She also emphasized the potential challenge of “perceived invisibility” of distance learning students, “despite their not being physically at WMU, they require, deserve and must receive the same attention as our resident students enjoy. For example, their access to library and student welfare services needs to be taken into consideration and made a priority so they too can make the most of their educational experience,” she said.
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 addressed the impact of COVID-19 on WMU’s educational programmes. As of March 2020, all WMU resident programmes as well as the Maritime English and Study Skills Programme were delivered using on-line technology. A contingency plan was adopted and is continually updated regarding the academic year 2020/2021. “It may be that the University will resort to a combination of physical lecturing with social distancing measures and distance learning modalities taking fully into account all relevant information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
In closing, 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.
WMU faculty, Associate Professor Aref Fakhry, and Assistant Professor Inga Bartuseviciene, took part in the panel discussion at the close of the event.
The webinar was organized by Robban Assafina Magazine on the themes: worldwide and regional maritime education, leaders and experts, new training models and methodologies, technologies and innovations serving the maritime sector, and compatibility with the health and hygienic requirements.