By April 13, 2020, a total of 192 countries had ordered their schools to close as part of the global effort to control the spread of COVID-19. This is the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.
According to figures from UNESCO, these school closures have affected more than 1.5 billionchildren and young people. (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/closing-schools-has-only-a-minor-role-in-suppressing-covid-19)
Around the world, schools are using existing platforms from the likes of Microsoft and Google as well as conferencing apps like Zoom to deliver lessons for their pupils. In Malaysia, those who were prepared for the switch did it quite seamlessly (namely the private and international schools) as compared to those who were caught totally unprepared (the public and independent schools).
“As systems massively move to e-learning, the digital divide in connectivity, access to devices and skill levels takes on more weight.”
What the pandemic has revealed about the way we school our young, is that most of our schools are still using the traditional chalkboard approach in teaching, which is not very different from the way it has been done for the past 100 years or so, despite the availability of new technologies! These are the schools that are most impacted by the disruption. Learning has come to a standstill for these students. This just reveals the great digital divide between those who can afford it and those who can’t. This shouldn’t be the case, especially when our country has been allocating large sums of money into education. But sadly it seems to be.
The reality and challenges of schooling at home:
1. The home is not normally set up for schooling – most students do not have proper desks to work on, or the proper environment. Most families do not give priority to learning at home because it is something that is entirely outsourced to schools and other learning institutions. So with the lockdown, students are forced to attend online classes in the dining area, or the living area, or even in their bedrooms. So, getting students to focus on what the teacher is teaching can be extremely challenging for some, with all the household distractions. And for those who do not have access to computers or even smartphones, this option is completely out for them. Talk about bridging the digital divide. 😬
2. Learning in a classroom setting – looking and listening to a teacher who is physically there is not the same as looking at a computer screen for hours on end, with unstable internet speed and pixelated or frozen images. These can be a tremendous strain on the eyes and the brain!
3. Learning has gone online but the teaching approach has not changed. Teachers who continue to use monotonous monologues to teach will not be able to hold the students’ attention as compared to those who utilise more audio visuals to carry the points across. collaborative learning by breaking them into groups works better to engage the students with one another. Teachers who are skilful in utilising technology for this purpose has the upper hand in making their lessons interesting and engaging for the students.
4. The duration of the online classes should be cut down by half with the teacher giving precise and condensed instructions for individual as well as group work and submissions. This way, more time can be spent on more fruitful discussions amongst the students and for completion of the assignments. Unfortunately, many traditional schools still treat online classes exactly the same as brick-and-mortar classes.
5. Emphasis should be on research, reflection and realisation – NOT regurgitation. Students should not be expected to give the same uniformed answers but to present their own interpretative understanding of a given topic.
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Parents need to learn to relax and go with the flow, rather than get all uptight and upset with their kids at home. As this is an unprecedented occurrence where schools and offices are closed for such a long period of time, family dynamics can get very stressful with working and schooling under the same roof!
In The Star today, there is an article published to help parents cope with the stress of helping their kids with schooling at home.
Parents are in an especially tough situation as schools stay closed due to the coronavirus. One expert suggests that parents implement a daily schedule – as well as considerably lower their expectations.
“Children with learning difficulties or disabilities, on the other hand, are often unable to focus on their work and study effectively alone. They require support and motivation from their parents, who can quickly feel overwhelmed by the task. Kaye’s advice to them is to stay calm and composed. The greatest help, she says, is to “provide emotional support, love and security, and to display confidence.” https://www.thestar.com.my/tech/tech-news/2020/05/03/do-what-you-can-accept-what-you-can039t-homeschooling-in-a-pandemic
The world has been waiting for a revolution in education ever since the industrial mode of educating our future generation has been getting more and more obsolete and irrelevant. It hadn’t happen in the last decade of the 20th century. It hadn’t happened in the first decade of the 21st century. And now at the start of the second decade in 2020, we are witnessing a sudden massive thrust onto the web of learning, hopefully and finally seeing the much-awaited take-off of our rocket ship – the rocket of 21st century learning!
The OECD is tracking how technology is replacing face-to-face teaching. “It is particularly inspiring to see entirely new ways of working emerging, ones that go beyond simply replacing physical schools with digital analogues,” says Tracey Burns, of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills.
She says it’s too early to say that bricks-and-mortar schools will be replaced by e-learning anytime soon. But Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, sees the crisis as an opportunity to rethink how we organize education.
“We can rapidly enhance digital learning opportunities for teachers and encourage teacher collaboration beyond borders. And we can use the momentum to reshape curricula and learning environments to the needs of the 21st century. Much of this is already happening. “
China was hit first by COVID-19, but reacted fast. Schools were given the highest priority even when financial resources nationwide were tightening, with a “green channel” ensuring quality and efficiency in rapid procurement during the emergency. On 17 February, a national cloud platform was launched, offering digital learning resources to students in schools free of charge across the country. With 7,000 servers and a 90 terabyte bandwidth, the platform already accommodates 50 million learners simultaneously. And it was not just the government which mobilised resources: a wide range of contributors were stepping forward to provide everything from free Wi-Fi and devices for students through innovative instructional systems to social support for teachers and schools. Importantly, teachers were ready and able to connect with their students remotely, both synchronously for lectures and individual support, as well as asynchronously, with teachers offering online resources for self-directed learning. And those without access to digital resources were not forgotten. In many places, parents could collect free textbooks from schools or ask schools to deliver them to their home.
But we would be wrong to think that 21st Century learning is all about learning on the digital platform, because it entails more than just that. For 21st Century Learning requires 21st Century Mindset, and we need to explore what kind of mind is needed to face this century that is the turning point for humanity’s continual co-existence with Mother Nature and her myriads of creatures on Earth.