Educators discuss ‘complex’ effects of pandemic on education in schools
January 22 2021 07:06 PM
Nargis Raza Otho and Darlene Sullivan
Nargis Raza Otho and Darlene Sullivan

* International Day of Education will be observed on Sunday (January 24) with the theme of ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the Covid-19 Generation’

 

Education has been adversely impacted by the spread of Covid-19. Schools across the globe have been temporarily closed, leaving teachers, administrators and most importantly, parents looking for ways to administer remote learning to keep students engaged in education while adhering to community safety protocols.

Today, there are millions of additional students, who are not in school because they are confined to their homes in an effort to control the spread of Covid-19. Though situation is improving in some countries, there are still extraordinary number of students either out of schools or learning through blended education.

International Day of Education is observed by the United Nations every year on January 24 (Sunday) to highlight the significance of education and its need for every individual. The theme for the day in 2021 proclaimed by the Unesco is ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the Covid-19 Generation.’

As the pandemic has affect the learning process and methods all around the world, the educators and learners have been trying to adapt to the new norm and digital platforms to continue the teaching and learning process. On this occasion, Gulf Times spoke to some educators about how much Covid-19 has changed teaching and learning and what are some of the long term effects on education as a whole?

Darlene Sullivan is head of school at Blyth Academy, Canadian school in Qatar. She said: “Covid-19 has certainly impacted education as we knew it in multiple ways. Initially, educators were required to switch to fulltime on-line teaching and learning with very short notice and little training. They are to be commended for how they adapted and embraced the many challenges so quickly. The technology required for online learning proved being more challenging for younger students, and teachers relied on parents to support the daily distance learning requirements for their children. This was a challenge for many parents who were also working from home. Older students, on the other hand, adapted much more quickly.”

As the blended learning model progressed through various stages, schools were permitted to open their doors again, albeit under significant restrictions. “Solid plans, technology infrastructure, significant training, and ongoing targeted professional development for teachers have been paramount in the successful delivery of curriculum to students both at home and on campus. Teachers have discovered innovative and creative ways to use various platforms to teach the prescribed curriculum. Preserving academic integrity has also been challenging, not to mention developing effective and authentic ways to assess and evaluate student’s progress.”

Regarding the innovative teaching style, the head of school said: “We have learned that innovation in curriculum delivery has a valuable place in education. Teachers and students have been surprised by the new and exciting possibilities that technology integration has to offer.”

For her, the long-term effects of the pandemic on education in schools are complex. “Many students are already showing gaps in their learning related to a distance learning approach. Without the daily in class support, guidance, monitoring and effective formative assessment practices to truly track authentic and independent student progress, students may lack some of the essential learnings. It will be crucial for teachers to know their students’ abilities and academic levels in order to provide individual and collective programming to meet their needs and fill the gaps. Effective and sound teaching practices will be key in accomplishing this.”

About the increased use of digital technology in education, she said: “Differentiated instructional and assessment practices will enable learners to learn and progress at their own levels and rates so as to scaffold the required learning outcomes. Technology has proven to be a valuable tool for learning and continuing to incorporate effective techniques going forward will be critical. As well, social skills, emotional stability, mental health and increased overall physical health issues will require attention and focus more than ever before. Strong support systems will be required for students as education systems eventually return to normal. The impacts of significantly increased screen time, lack of physical activity, isolation from friends and peer groups, required distancing, and sitting for longer periods of time when attending class (under the current restrictions), without the regular contact and engagement in school activities are affecting students.”

Nargis Raza Otho, principal of Pakistan International School Qatar, said: “The ongoing pandemic crisis has created a large gap in the academic sector, as far as student engagement and teacher-pupil interaction are concerned. Education, as we know, has been transformed completely; the concept of remote learning has always been there, but never did it become the norm. However, it has resulted in intensive working hours for teachers (spending hours in preparing video lessons and planning online sessions) and a modified concept of ‘classroom’ environment.”

The principal further said: “Online learning has increased what we call ‘Digital Divide’. Not all students have access to latest digital technology and internet, an aspect which has extended the chasm of educational inequality, increasing the number of out-of-school students, especially those who belong to poor families and are unable to bear the added cost of online learning. The condition is particularly drastic in underdeveloped countries where the ‘funding gap’ has widened further due to crisis in the economic sector. What is more, cheating has become quite prevalent as students are well aware of the absence of strict monitoring and physical classroom supervision, leading them to be less passionate about studies and work, resulting in copied work from classmates, half-completed assignments, or in many cases, no assignments turned in at all.”

Discussing the effects further, she said: “Chronic absenteeism, lack of discipline and reduced learning time are other consequences with far-reaching effects. However, if assignments are given due weightage in the final assessment plan and students are graded for discipline, attendance and punctuality, these problems can be countered to a great extent. Provision of necessary resources to deserving students can also have remedial effects.”

The principal also highlights little positive effects of the pandemic on education. “Even though online teaching has increased the pressure on teachers due to lack of training, there is another perspective to it: this new mode of learning has encouraged creativity and innovation in teachers and students alike besides promoting in them essential life skills such as adaptability and resilience towards crisis and sudden change. If these skills are integrated into the education system worldwide, the whole concept of modern education will be revolutionised.”

 



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