ECONOMYNEXT – When the corona virus pandemic hit educational institutions across the globe ended up scrambling to deliver course content to students digitally.
Now, with little assurance that a return to regular school on a full time basis would be possible in the near future, policy makers and educationists are busy setting the framework for at the least a hybrid system of learning.
Yet, how beneficial would moving towards a digital delivery mode be for students? Can they thrive in an environment where socialising with their peers and participating in extra- curricular activities are limited at best? How viable is it for students living in rural areas with little or no access to the internet>
That is the stark reality of rural students and those of lower income families, who lack the necessary facilities to keep up with their more affluent peers, a fact that has been more apparent during this pandemic.
Two student panelists who participated in a webinar ‘Experiencing the Education Transformation’ in the Restart Education in South Asia series were very clear on how they perceive online education. The webinar, the last of the series organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) South Asia was held on November 18.
Both Zubayer Hossain a student from Bangladesh and Tashi Chophel who studies at the Royal Thimpu College of Bhutan agreed that their preference is to attend regular school prompting the Moderator, Roshan Gandhi, the CEO of City Montessori Schools, India to say their candid opinion was useful, as his own students, deferring to his position may not be as forthcoming.
Says Hossain that he and his peers prefer being able to attend school for several reasons. He points out that isolated learning which is the norm of the digital delivery mode robs students of the ability of interacting with each other. Acknowledging that they could still speak to each other on the phone or via the internet, he says it is not the same as meeting face to face.
Attending school helps students to have closer interaction with their teachers, discuss their studies with their own classmates or seek assistance from their seniors in school.Online learning also takes away the fun element of physically attending school, and the ability for students to seek assistance from teachers outside class hours, he adds.
There is also the possibility of students “being present” at an online class but not actually participating, by shutting off the mike, he adds. Apart from that, there are many who are unable to afford data, computers or even a suitable environment at home to concentrate on their studies, he explains.
It’s more about ‘students staring at the screen,’ Hossain adds, explaining that self-learning is a challenge, and conducting practical exercises virtually are difficult owing to unavailability of required equipment.
Echoing Hossain’s sentiments, Chophel explained that face-to-face teaching allows students have better access to their instructors, and that students tend to become complacent when following online classes.
As well, students who struggle with a subject are frustrated owing to limited interactions with teachers and peers. Studying online is also stressful for students coping with disabilities, he adds. ‘The companionship and helping each other, which takes place in a face-to-face situation,can never be replicated online.’
He also points out thatthose students who have difficulty in understanding how IT tools work will be shortchanged. ‘It must be equal to all, and you need the right type of education to understand how to use those tools.’
Such situations affect mental well-being of students they point out. Even those who are good at their studies fall behind, and in some instances there is little support for girls to continue with their education.
Rajeela Mahjabeen Kausar, a teacher at The Learning School, Pakistan told the webinar that the new mode of learning for both student and teacher had been difficult at the start, but has since, gradually become better.
Teachers, she explains have adjusted to new ways of delivering content and they put in more effort to prepare the lessons into PDF format to be shared on WhatsApp groups.
Despite all that, it has been noted when students returned to regular school that learning loss had occurred. Teachers have to help students to relearn some subjects and have resorted to doing so in group settings.
There is also psychological issues students are dealing with she adds, even though teachers made an effort to ensure students did not feel they were on their own, during online studies.
In Pakistan too, parents prefer educating the boys and are less supportive of teaching the girls, she says. As well, more supports such as Tabs for all students including the economically challenged, and familiarisation workshops are necessary to help with the transition towards online education.
Online learning is less teacher-centric says Director of the Arya Global Group of Institutions, India, Krishank Malik. The element of trust must increase in an era when emphasis is moving towards online learning, and one way of doing that is open-book tests, he says.
The challenge of ensuring students master writing skills when typing is becoming the trend is to upload worksheets for children to print and fill out.
Moving towards hybrid is inevitable despite initial resistance, Malik says. However, it is time for educational institutions to be aware of tech companies that would try to step in to fill the void and profit from it.
In the past schools had to deal with private tuition taking over the teaching element, later there were companies persuading parents to invest in energy and memory boosters to help children perform better. This time around it would be the tech companies, he cautions.
But that can be prevented Malik says, as schools already have the infrastructure and are invested in imparting education without a profit. Educational institutions already have many resources and trained teachers, and should share these, and also build social networks between students to this end. The installation of more screens to deliver lessons means reaching more students, he adds.
It will also mean requiring less school space and reduce the need for school buses to transport students. Parents need to see the value of investing in the tools required for online study rather than paying for tuition classes.
The hybrid method will allow parents to spend more time with their children, and even school admissions could be moved online bringing an end to queues.Achieving all that is the responsibility of schools, he adds, before tech companies reach parents to promote their brands.
But most importantly, Malik says, feedback from students is essential, so schools could introduce the changes keeping in mind the needs and preferences of the student body. (Colombo/Nov26/2021)