COVID-19 impact painful for educators; but change is a must

Friday, 4 September 2020 00:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

According to the UN the COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara 

Globally over 1.2 billion children are out of school due to COVID-19, the pandemic has over the last six months dramatically changed the face of education worldwide. This change in the delivery of education is sine quo non to do things differently from now on. 

However, do we precisely know what educators and policy makers need to do to make remote schooling/online learning work? Are teachers equipped with the whole arsenal of technologies required to unleash students’ full potential? Are teachers confident in using technologies to teach? 

According to the UN the COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94% of the world’s student population, up to 99% in low and lower-middle income countries. Therefore are we able to address these issues as teachers and policy makers? 

Additionally, as educators and policy makers, how do we tailor curricula to accommodate the needs of pre/in-service teachers to effectively integrate technologies in their practice and teaching? It is however practically difficult to accommodate every aspect of teaching, learning and assessment in distant education/e-learning/online teaching-learning.

Therefore a hybrid of the traditional teaching-learning and online teaching-learning would be an option to ensure minimum disruption to education delivery. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has taken a keen interest to get education moving has stressed this point. He has stressed several times the need for promoting online education for higher education and has also instructed the relevant Ministry to make online arrangements to fill the existing teacher vacancies in English, Mathematics and Science.

Disruption is an opportunity

The coronavirus-related disruption now gives the educators time to rethink content and delivery. Universities are rightly proud of their centuries-old traditions, but their tradition and history has too often been used as an excuse not to change. 

There is today a huge scope for using digital technology to improve education and to create access to more people. For example poor in-person lectures could be replaced by online courses from best in the world, thereby freeing up time for the small group teaching for the best of the best. This could also give students the option of studying from home. However the downside of this could be the university experience they will miss while studying from home.

For a while, educators around the world have been talking about the need to rethink how we educate future generations. This might just be the disruption that the sector needed to get for it  to rethink how we educate our future generations, and question what we need to teach and what we are preparing our students for. So, as educators grapple with the new ways of communicating with students away from the classrooms and lecture theatres, it is a good time to reflect on how this disruptive crisis can help us define what learning should look like for Generations Z, Alpha and the rest to come.

Rethink private tuition

Private tuition has prospered in Sri Lanka as a parallel stream to schools. They deliver homework help, doubt clearing, advanced learning and test preparation. A lot of these supplemental efforts got stalled during COVID-19. Parents have realised that because of the personalisation power that technology can bring into play, students can revise, clarify doubts and do advanced learning from the comfort of their home. So, tuition will largely now be forced to move online. 

The analogue world of tuition and schools, physically existing in parallel worlds and delivering mass education will be gone and be replaced with more technology led integrated solutions. Some of these interventions can be channelled through the schools to improve their teaching.

Way forward

Going forward, teachers will be forced to embrace technology to not only learn themselves but also to learn from them how to use it effectively and to engage with their students virtually. Teacher training will move to a hybrid model that combines the power of online and on-demand learning with a few in-person practice sessions. This will be a significant departure from the current on-schedule, annual training calendars that most schools follow and that no one is missing out during the COVID-19 era. 

Teachers have also been utilising the lockdown period to coach their students, provide lesson plans and homework, and solve difficulties through smartphones, text messages, emails and WhatsApp. This trend will continue into the future. The top universities that resisted putting undergraduate courses online will now be forced to do so. Change will be forced upon them by students, parents and governments. In the final analysis, if the COVID-19 can shake the educators out of their complacency. Some good may come out of this pandemic.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has directed that the National Education Policy which is being formulated at present to be put up for a public debate, prior to the finalisation of the report.