By Georges-Philippe Gadoury-Sansfaçon, Maple League Student Fellow, Bishop’s University
For the past few weeks, higher education, much like the rest of the world, has been facing unprecedented challenges that are testing our resilience and creative problem-solving skills. There is no doubt that we’ll be faced with new barriers in the upcoming months; from moving the spring and summer courses online to making difficult decisions about the fall semester, we’re navigating unknown troubled waters that may take a toll on our ability to deliver quality education. But how do we stand up against a global pandemic as Maple League students, faculty members and institutional leaders?
Although this problem demands global solidarity, several countries are turning their back against each other on the quest for medical equipment. This feeds into rising ideals that are polarizing populations – and contrary to popular belief, this is something we see across age categories. We must also remember that choosing global solidarity doesn’t exclusively lead to beneficial outcomes – it may be a statement of unity, but it doesn’t point towards the right decisions. Some of the choices presented to us in these uncertain times lie in the hands of our political leaders. In any case, either they will work towards positive global solidarity or they will make decisions in the opposite direction, thereby putting humanity at risk of witnessing a giant leap towards disunity and intolerance.
Either way, the Maple League of Universities will have the duty to step up as a leader that can not only foster positive change within its community, but that can also pave the way towards an increase in similar collaboration initiatives across the globe. For this to happen, it will need to lead by example through sharing why, and most importantly how, it will manage to foster this change. Much like with Tesla making their electric motor patents open-source, the goal is to share our capacity to innovate in order to work alongside others towards a common goal. One way the Maple League can aim to do so is by helping each of its students to make the most out of their potential and of their individuality to foster change in their communities during and after these challenging times. We never know who is looking at us and waiting to see how we respond to adversity and failure – and students are the best carriers of our goals.
The argument for a liberal model will be made through this leadership – while most institutions will struggle to keep their heads above water, we need to allow ours to use their uniqueness to strive for more. We need to show that it is possible to care for students while allowing them to create wonders out of chaos. We know that interdisciplinarity and personal growth play a key role in fostering not only resilience but also perspective, critical thinking and creative problem-solving. These are the abilities that allow us to aim for the truth instead of polarization; what is left is to show the world that we are the best at delivering this kind of education.
We need to make sure students grow in an environment that encourages them to be part of the change; this will prove to be one of the main challenges that higher education will face in the next few months, but also in every decision we’ll make after this significantly uncertain period. The Maple League universities already have many students feeling that their voice matters – we will need to extend this feeling to online education and allow others to witness and recreate our actions their way. We cannot strive for solidarity and collaboration if we are not willing to share the solutions we will be using, no matter how hard we work to obtain them.
There’s a tremendous amount of work ahead, but I’m confident we have what it takes to get through it together. This is an opportunity to explore ways to make education more humane and meaningful in the way it measures success. We must allow and encourage students to fail forward as opposed to being afraid to make mistakes – and this cannot come from being satisfied with the status quo in the debate about grading schemes. More than ever, students will be concerned about sustainability, social justice and social purpose; they’ll want to make a difference. It’s imperative that we look for the change-makers – especially amongst first years – that are often overlooked while they could play a crucial role in approaching problems differently and more efficiently. We cannot hope to develop a meaningful educational strategy without involving students in its design.
Georges-Philippe Gadoury-Sansfaçon is a second-year student at Bishop’s University. He is also the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Research Fellow and Vice-President, Academic Affairs for the Bishop’s University Students’ Representative Council for 2020-21.