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Saturday May 18th, 2024

Will the future of schooling be hybrid?

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)

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Sri Lanka suffers over $138mn foreign outflow from govt bonds in 2024 after rate cuts

ECONOMYNEXT – Foreign investors have dumped 41.6 billion-rupee ($138.6 million) worth of Sri Lanka government securities in the first 20 weeks of 2024, the central bank data showed, after reduction in the key policy interest rates.

The foreign holding in Sri Lanka’s treasury bills and treasury bonds fell to 75.9 billion rupees on the week ended on Friday (17), May 2024, from 117.4 billion rupees on the week ended on December 29.

The central bank rate has reduced the key policy rates by 50 basis points so far in 2024, extending the rates cut by 700 basis points since June last year.

The rupee appreciated 9.1 percent in the first four months, but the gain failed to attract foreign investors amid a dragged debt restructuring negotiation with external private creditors.

Currency dealers said lackluster demand for dollars due to dampened imports with heavy controls, boom in both tourism revenue and remittances have helped to increase the dollar liquidity in the market, leading to the appreciation of the local currency.

The dealers said foreign investors can earn capital gain if they had bought government securities before the appreciation and now the offshore investors might be selling their bonds.

“They are also discouraged by policy rate cut because that will reduce their returns from the rupee bond investments,” a currency dealer said.

The yield in 12-month T-bills has fallen 336 basis points in the first four months of this year, the central bank data showed.

The central bank also reduced the Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) of commercial banks by 200 basis points in August last year to boost liquidity in the market with an aim to reduce market interest rates.

Under tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions for its $3 billion loan program, the central bank raised key monetary policy rates in 2022 and last year to bring down inflation which hit over 70 percent in 2022. The inflation has fallen to the lower single digit now.

The rupee has appreciated to around 300 against the US dollar this week from around 330 level early in November. The local currency was at 365 rupees against the US dollar in early 2022. Depreciation causes capital loss for foreign investors. (Colombo/May 18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourist fair seeks to involve universities

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourism fair kicked off this week to promote interaction between industry stakeholders and relevant Government bodies, including the Tourist Police, and also universities.

“Several universities, including Colombo, Uva Wellasa, Kelaniya, Sabaragamuwa and Rajarata were given free stalls to facilitate student interaction with industry professionals,” Chairman of the Sancharaka Udawa Organising Committee, Charith De De Alwis said in a statement.

The event takes place today (18) at the BMICH and houses stalls for hoteliers, tour and transport services, with a goal of attracting 10,000 visitors.

Organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the 11th edition of Sancharaka Udawa offers a platform for both B2B and B2C sectors.

“Sancharaka Udawa houses over 170 exhibitors and a footfall of more than 10,000 visitors,” De Alwis said.

This year’s edition will include participants from outbound tourism sectors to facilitate capacity building. The event provides networking opportunities for industry newcomers and veterans.

“The networking platform offers opportunity for small and medium-sized service providers integrating them into the broader tourism landscape. The anticipated outcome is a substantial increase in bookings particularly for regional small-scale tourism service providers.” (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s CEB sells LTL shares to West Coast IPP for Rs26bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board has sold shares of an affiliate to West Coast Power Company Limited, an independent power producer giving profits of 25.9 billion rupees in the March 2024 quarter, interim accounts showed.

The sale has been carried out as a transfer.

“Twenty-eight percent (28-pct) of share ownership of CEB within LTL Holding’s equity capital has been transferred to West Coast Power Company Ltd for a total consideration of Rs 26 billion as part of a partial settlement of outstanding dues…” the March interim accounts said.

“This transaction resulted in a net gain of Rs25.9 billion rupees which has been recognized and reflected in the ‘Gain from Share Disposal’ in the individual financial statement in CEB.”

LTL Holdings is a former transformer making unit of the CEB set up with ABB where the foreign holding was sold to its management.

The firm has since set up several IPPs.

West Coast Power operates a 300MW combined cycle IPP in Kerawalapitiya promoted by LTL group liked firms in which both the Treasury and Employees Provident Fund also have shares.

Its operational and maintenance contract is with Lakdhanavi, another private IPP. The firm has been paying dividends.

The capital gain from the transfer of shares helped the CEB post profits to 84 billion rupees for the March 2024 quarter.

CEB reported gross profits of 62.7 billion rupees from energy sales and 30.6 billion rupees in other income and gains in the March 2024 quarter. Other income was only 3.1 billion rupees in last year. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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