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Post-Covid learning

Opinion

June 23, 2020

Investment in K-12 education allows societies to bridge economic resource gaps, permeate new ideas and innovations, and make optimal use of technological processes, which are the basis of the new ‘industrial revolution’.

In fact, anyone who has been associated with teaching in an underprivileged (we use this term to describe disparities in resource allocation and access) environment, will be aware that education is considered to be the primary avenue for transiting across socio-economic barriers. In fact, public education was viewed as the great leveller: everyone was equal in the classroom and all had access to the same resources institutionally, regardless of socio-economic disparities in their everyday lives. For example, something as simple as a school uniform was designed to create a feeling of equality, especially when major socio-economic differences existed.

There are variations across regions and social groups and across countries and continents. The Global Competitiveness Report 2019 (WEF) shows that South Asia’s absorption of technology is only higher than Sub-Saharan Africa and well below Europe, North America, and other regions. The penetration of smartphones is low and broadband and internet connectivity remains a challenge, especially in rural areas and small towns which host the vast majority of the population in South Asia. This has become a greater problem due to the Covid-19 pandemic as internet connectivity has now become a human right. Learning and knowledge cannot be made accessible without it. This is an area that governments, in collaboration with the private sector, must address otherwise the inequity gap will continue to increase.

This context is critical in looking at how societies with inherent inequalities in the distribution of resources and opportunities have suffered more in terms of their provision of education services as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Technology, an essential component in the new educational environment, allowing e-learning in different forms, is neither homogeneous nor uniformly available to all.

‘Online’ is for the privileged because a large part of the population across the world does not have access to devices. In the coming months, perhaps years (if governments and private sectors do not come on board) the gap between the have and have-nots and can and can-nots, is going to grow considerably. While schools across the globe will be required to adopt hybrid models of learning opposed to the traditional brick and mortar models, this adoption will be limited by inherent constraints.

Since it is a given that technology and its applications are here to stay, the important thing to recognize is that technology per se is not a substitute for human interaction in the classroom. Rather the key will be the application of technology to enhance or enrich the learning experience. As teachers, we both recognize the sanctity of the interactive classroom experience, especially when it is planned, designed, and implemented with sagacity and thoroughness. But we also recognize that having demonstrated its usefulness and application during the current crisis, the situation in the future will be permanently changed. Technology will be a major driver in pedagogy.

However, as we engage in new initiatives in education which are specifically using digital interfaces to complement traditional face-to-face learning pedagogies, we must ensure that our attempts enhance equality rather than falter due to technological and other resource gaps. As a result of these gaps, millions of children are already out of school. Those countries which were affected most adversely by the pandemic will be hurt even more adversely in the post-pandemic era. This is exacerbated by the critical technological gap.

The per capita ownership of smart devices, lack of internet accessibility, and absence of appropriate e-learning platforms, can lead to the unenviable situation that Covid-19 will enhance gaps in education. Additionally, if these issues are not addressed, and the lack of suitably qualified teachers is also factored in, then we have a new crisis facing us, more endemic than Covid-19.

It is apparent from the current crisis that students of all ages feel a sense of insecurity. This is the result of uncertainty about the future of schooling, adjustment problems with e-learning. Given these concerns, the traditional role of the teacher as an impersonal instructor must be modified to the teacher as role model, healeer, therapist and instructor. We believe, as many others do, that this change in the role or status will not be a temporary response to the pandemic but will have to become an integral part of all future education.

Stakeholder recognition that the role of schools will change due to the pandemic is the basis for the future. Schools are now considered more as caregivers that foster social and emotional skills – something that is by and large under-delivered so far. As classroom settings are becoming more flexible and collaborative, there is a dire need to give more agency to students in this redesign. The important role of parents as stakeholders also cannot be denied in the re-design. A more collaborative learning and fluid communication with parents would be key in making the shift possible.

In conclusion, we believe that pedagogies will not return to the status quo. Teaching pedagogy has to change and become more innovative. For all intents and purposes the unidirectional provision of learning through a teacher at the head of the classroom is now an anachronism. In our teaching we introduced as much technological support as was possible in the pre-Covid-19 era. But we were restricted by shortcomings in our learning environment.

Technology will be a powerful tool for transforming learning. It must be used in a way that deep dives into improving learning pedagogy and improving student-teacher relationships; otherwise, it will only be something superficial. Education will continue to evolve in the coming months and years. There is no quick fix as the ecosystems will keep on changing and so will the demand and the need for more innovative learning spaces for the future.

The writers are freelance contributors.