By Nitu Ahluwalia Arora
Dublin: The Covid-19 pandemic has toppled almost every attribute of education within a short timeframe. Schools have evolved from more than a physical building, trying to support students in every possible way. The pandemic has brought a migration of a different level, where there was a move from learning in a classroom to learning from devices. This pandemic has not only questioned the teaching methodologies, but it has also tested the role of technology, assignments, assessments, the role of teachers as counselors, and above all the human emotions and determination which held the changing aspects of education and educators together.
Teachers have had to adapt to unorthodox methods, which were never given consideration in the past. The world witnessed a boom in the digital learning platforms; educators and students adapted to the changing aspects of instruction; friendships, counseling, assignments, and assessments became digital; a corner in the house became school; break in between the lessons marked its prominence more than ever. The availability of computer screens and access to Wi-Fi turned out to be the hot discussion topic on news channels. The pandemic has raised questions on glaring inequities of income, and accessibility of technology. During these unprecedented times, a significant amount of learning was lost, and students throughout the world have been put at a disadvantage. It was a struggle to finish the syllabus on time. The amount of stress just kept piling up.
Teachers had to Re-think, Re-plan and Reassess the situation, in order to create the best learning experience for students. After more than a year since the beginning of the pandemic, it became conspicuous that the approach being taken had to be altered. Pandemic has forced learners and educators into the arena of digitalism and teachers are seen adapting to the fast pace of ever-evolving technology. Virtual learning has imposed several challenges on teachers and students. Look at the Venn diagram below:
Manjula Vaidyanathan, IT and Computer Science teacher at Candor International School, Bangalore on speaking with Dispatch News mentioned that ‘Virtual learning has certainly saved travel time but has increased working hours. One of the biggest challenges faced by the teachers is the requirement of being available all the time. It might be for meetings or for feedback sessions during asynchronous hours.
She further adds that the amount of screen time has affected both teacher's and students' mental and physical well-being. Teachers are also under the constant pressure of making virtual lessons more engaging and creative to suit the requirements of different learners. On the positive side, teachers around the globe have come together to help each other in these difficult times by creating blogs, sharing practices, free online workshops, etc. which enabled each and everyone to become a technology-driven educator.
Future of Learning
Students have mixed opinions about virtual learning. For some, it is a struggle as they live in a small apartment with all family members are working online. For some, it is tedious to concentrate at home because home is meant for relaxation and not for attending school, whereas others find online learning beneficial as they can learn at their own pace. Globally, all students have missed the school environment and the learning tools provided by a school like libraries, collaborative work, open space for group activities, etc.
The pandemic has utterly disrupted the traditional trajectory of teaching and learning and many educators have discovered the need for lifelong learning in order to stay relevant and safeguard the future of education. Jaspreet Sethi, founder of Math with a Smile, shares her outlook on online learning, “At the onset of online learning, I found myself struggling with tools and resources to make teaching effective apart from juggling home and work from home. Now, while the challenges of inequity, technology, making social connections, assessment, planning, and executing meaningful virtual learning experiences still exist, I also see a lot of opportunities. There are so many valuable additions- effective apps, tools on the web, communities and support groups, virtual manipulatives which has opened up the space for visualizing and delivering content better. Certainly, these resources will stay with us and will only become more enhanced long after we return to classrooms exclusively in-person.”
Schools in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland opened their gates in the summer-autumn of 2020 and closed again in the January of 2021amidst rise in the number of cases. Later in March 2021, schools were opened again.
European governments have leaned on studies that suggest schools do not play a major role in the transmission of Covid-19 in communities to justify keeping them open. Click here to read more on the guidelines. Children have typically been at lower risk of infection and of becoming severely ill from the virus.
But some of these dynamics may be changing. In the earlier stages of the pandemic, data showed significantly lower infection rates in children than adults. Now, in the UK, high school-aged children are the age group with the highest rate of infection. Child deaths, however, remain extremely rare. Government guidance recommends
English schools form ‘bubbles’ or groups, for their pupils to limit the number of contacts students have with one another. Scientists are studying whether school children may be more likely to spread the new Covid-19 variant than previous ones.
Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson in an interview told the BBC that there was no doubt in my mind that schools are safe. He added that children faced a ‘very, very low risk, compared to the benefit of attending a school that was so huge.
The case in Europe is very different from that of India. The major reason being the higher rate of infection, population density, and probably the efforts of the government alone in being behind the virus. Nevertheless, it is the determination and perseverance from students and teachers that online education could survive for more than a year and still exists.
There is a need of narrowing the gap between privileged and disadvantageous sections of society so as virtual teaching can be accessed by all. Affordable and effective digital platforms are on the rise and students and teachers are continuously adapting to the ever-changing demands of education.
Those glorious days are gone when a student required only pen and paper to study. The present situation demands a lot more than that. It
also requires the new and developed strategies of assessment should the world continues to learn online!