Impact of COVID 19 in education sector
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis of completely different magnitude. Dealing with this kind of crisis requires unprecedented scale of effort.While the critical concerns like heath, poverty, unemployment etc are being well responded in our country, the educational need cannot be forgotten and the detrimental impact of this crisis on education, should not remain unaddressed.
Where do we stand?
In an attempt to restrain the spread of COVID 19, most of the governments around the world, have temporarily shut down their educational institutions, impacting over 90% of the world's students population. Most governments are planning for a phased approach that places priority on health, safety and remedial learning. According to UNESCO's report, around 128 countries have not yet declared any date for reopening, while 71 countries have announced specific dates.
The effect of long term closure has its toll on the future of the children and youth. Researches shows that, the longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. This trend of dropout could be seen in higher educationsector as well. The overall learning and assessment process is highly disrupted by the crisis. In Bangladesh, the results of the public examination like SSChas been delayed, which effects 20 lacks students and the HSC Examination is postponed for a long time, which involves 13 lakhs students.
Who are most vulnerable?
According to the report of "Education Can Not Wait", young and adolescent girls are twice as likely to drop out of school in such crisis. They face greater barriers to education and when not in school, they are more vulnerable towards gender-based domestic violence. Another vulnerable segment is the refugees, displaced and migrant children. Apart from this, children and youth with disabilities suffered in many ways because of the closure of their specialized educational institutions. Educational institutions works as a trusted place for disseminating information, counselling and support through authority, teachers and peer. Long term gap of educational attachment will tend to increase the trauma or mental health issues among young people.
The possible solution and challenges
The risk of long time closure versus the emergency of lockdown becomes a big dilemma and a systematic exit plan seems essential. At this moment, Limiting the interruption and continuing education through alternative learning pathways must be the top priority. Bangladesh government has taken initiatives to broadcast classes for the primary and secondary level school children, through National Television. The private educational institutions are taking classes through online platform like Zoom, Google Classroom etc. NGOs and other organizations are introducing Tele-Counseling, Tele-learning etc.to keep communicating with their students. According toUGC report, 63 universities (7 Government and 56 Private) are conducting online classes through internet applications.
Nevertheless, in a developing country like Bangladesh, where the infrastructure and the facilities are limited, this transformation towards online education faces many challenges.
Less connectivity, weak network, and high browsing expense are among the top obstacles:
According to BTRC, as of February 2020, the total number of internet subscriptions is 99.984 million, and mobile phone subscriptions are 166.114 million in Bangladesh. So, around 40% of the population, if not more, are not connected through internet. Moreover, in practice, around 25% of the areas have suffered for lack of internet connectivity or weak network. 40% people still do not have smart phone and many of them do not have PC or laptop in their home. Platforms used by distant learning often require sufficient amount of audio-visual involvement and in the suburb and rural areas, learning is extensively hampered due to weak network problem. Relying on mobile data, makes the learning comparatively expensive.
The socio-psychological impact and lack of mindset is another barrier. People are panicking, facing financial uncertainties and social pressure which act as a blockage for ideal learning environment. Students and parents are not habituated with home schooling process and lack mindset. Since all the parents are not equally tech savvy, aware and knowledgeable, there will likely be substantial disparities between families in the extent to which they could help their children's learning. This would increases the chance of inequality in the learning process. And now, that, Student assessments are also moving online, there will be a lot of trial and error process.
How to step forward
Though class room education is not replaceable,the emergence of remote learning or E- learning is inevitable now. And if we could positively response to this need, many opportunities could be opened. Government, Private Organization, NGOs and other institutions all together could work on revolutionizing the online learning landscape, reshaping application processes, and refreshing crisis management strategies.
One basic focus should be use of cost effective and inclusive media:
In Bangladesh the primary and secondary level classes have been conducted through National Television. But the system lacks direct involvement of the school teachers with their students, which is crucial for their mental health in this crisis. We should develop and use platform that connect students, parents, teachers and authorities through simple technologies. A basic tele-counseling or online, app based group calls could be a good start. For higher education, faculties could be connected more through phone, facebook groups and messengers. Cheaper and extensive media like Radio could also be consider for disseminating audio materials for learning.
Using diversified educational applications:
To facilitate student learning and provide social care during school closure, we should think of popularizing differentlearning applications and platforms. Students are commonly using Collaboration platforms that support live-video communication such as Zoom, Skype etc. Some of the organizations are using Digital Learning management systemsuch as Google Classroom, Moodleetc. But we should also opt for designingsystems, built for use on basic mobile phones that provide strong offline functionality. To utilize lockdown time, students can use Massive Open Online Course Platforms (Coursera) and Self-directed learning Content (Khan Academy) for further learning.
Remote learning could be an opportunity to share resources and enhance engagement: Since in the pandemic situation, students are learning from home through internet, there is a possibility to exchange and share resources like teachers, class materials etc among the educational institutions. An urban teacher could allow students from rural areas to join the class and vice versa or even one school can share materials and discussions with other schools. More interconnectivity could help to fight back the crisis well.
Cross Institutional Courses could be introduced in long run: Thus students will get more flexibility in choosing course from different organization and transfer credit to their running degrees. This will enrich their learning experience and save time.
Collaboration of Telecom Sector with Government and other organizations to facilitate affordable e-learning is a must: In this COVID 19 crisis, Telecom industry, with the help ofrelevant organizations, could design specific data packages for the students which enable them to use the e-learning application and platforms through mobile internet at a cheaper rate. If properly executed, this could have been a revolutionary step that would benefit the future of education evenin long run.
On a positive notion, we are hoping to fight back all the odds and recover from this COVID 19 crisis in near future.
Nevertheless in longer run, to mitigate and manage risk in better ways, we need to focus on reforming the education system with more contingency capacities and innovative approaches.
The writer is an Associate Professor, faculty of Business Administration Eastern University