Internet-based education wont work now for Sri Lankan children – EFSL

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan children need to receive “leaner, smarter education” where students are guided to be self-directed if distance education is to succeed, a recent study has revealed.

The Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) in response to the sudden closure of the schools due to the COVID 19 crisis is proposing that it is critical that the country comes up “with short term fixes as well as long-term solutions to the distance education of school children in the time of calamities.”

EFSL says that it is possible that in case of a fresh outbreak of a pandemic there may be fresh school closures.

The proposals are contained in a note sent out by the Coordinators of the forum Dr. Sujata Gamage and Dr. Tara De Mel.

The elephant in the room is that sixty percent of households in Sri Lanka which have school-going children do not have internet access.

EFSL quotes a survey of mobile use in Sri Lanka by LIRNEasia in 2018 which found that only 40% of households in Sri Lanka with children aged 5-18 had an Internet connection. More than 90% of these connections are accessed through mobile networks using a Smartphone, it said.

“Of these households with Internet access, an Online Realtime Classroom experience is enjoyed only by students attending a few select schools. This experience would be for about 1-2 hours per day, with a variety of self-learning educational materials supplementing the online experience. The percent of children receiving such an online classroom experience seems negligible given that even some of the popular schools in Colombo have not been able to provide that kind of experience to their students,” EFSL said.

The organisation found that the primary mode of distance education for the families with internet access was to receive large quantities of notes and assignments on social media platforms. When the only device connected to the internet is a Smartphone managing the assignments and notes is difficult, it said.

And of course the other sixty percent without internet remain unreached, therefore EFSL does not advocate internet-based learning.

It proposes that the school system use the existing tools, such as the Postal System and some use of state TV channels and radio.

“If the content is less and students are guided to be self-directed, some of these non-Internet solutions can be used for distance education to better effect. Although the lockdown may be eased, schools may not start for some time, and the necessity of communicating a leaner and smarter education to children without Internet access may benefit the education of all children irrespective of their level of access to technology.”

They add that they would be holding a discussion on these proposals this Saturday. (Colombo May 12, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana