Strategic plan needed for online education
The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted the academic year, cancelled classes and examinations of students across the globe. Thus the educational institutions moved classes into online encouraging students to attend lectures via electronic devices have also sparked a debate on whether the increased amount of screen time helps students learn or if it impedes their progress.
Children are habituated to screens like television, mobile or computer long before the Pandemic. Some have been using the screen for a long time in a day. Eye experts say, looking at the screen for long periods of time can be harmful and that doesn't seem to be a healthy way of learning. In addition to the impact on their health, online learning from home is a kind of isolation and lonely feelings for the child. They don't have their peer students around them and they need to learn themselves without any consultation. Children do not get any direct supervision that they would get in a classroom. Parents are also busy with their own work for which they get a very little time to supervise online learning of their children. Again discriminations are very high between the students, those who have access to online facilities and those who have not. Some are actually missing out of their lessons. Though some families may have access to digital technology, there might not be enough devices for the personal use of all the family members. The parents may be working from home and need to use their computers. So each household needs to have several devices so that they can distribute devices among all of the family members for accessing virtual platform. Multiple issues surrounding online learning now a days a big concern.
It is not just about computers and smartphones, even watching TV amounts to screen time. Experts say, education is not just about information or content delivered to students via screens. Education should be considered as a matter of social interaction with peers and teachers in a school. Since online classes have begun, all social interaction with peers and teachers have been cut out. The cognitive development of a child only can be possible by face to face human touch which machine cannot do. Some say it would be difficult to make children sit in the classroom wearing masks, without touching it including touching other children and their masks. Students need training and awareness of using new fabrics like masks, hand gloves and health hygiene practice.
Teachers are doing enough to develop better online modules, based on activities, but how many children are benefiting from it? The problem is that marginalized child has no online facilities. A majority of the students who are unable to access technology in this pandemic may become drop-outs. This goes against their fundamental right to education.
However we know stopping online classes is not the solution. Instead, we need to work on providing technology to these students including disadvantaged children so that inclusiveness can be ensured. How we can provide smartphones, electronic tablets to children to make use of technology for continuing their study needs to be made high concern at policy level discussion.
During this pandemic, we need to improve our education system in such a way so that we do not have to keep schools closed in such situations. We need to make it possible for the students to have a safe study environment in virtual platform or in person schools even during a pandemic. This crisis time virtual class is not just about online instruction on study materials, but also about preparing students to deal with health hygiene on how to protect themselves, their family and their society at large.
On the other hand, education experts say that during pandemics, schools can be opened in a staggered manner, with 50 per cent students attending every alternate day. This will help avoid crowded classrooms and give students to utilize both options like face to face schooling every after alternative day and online class on the other day. Temperature checks of teachers, students and non-teaching staff should become mandatory during face to face class day. Teachers should not give students any books to carry home. Social distancing should be followed strictly by teachers and students. Thus it will open opportunities for marginalized students as they might not have access to technology. We can create separate safe spaces for these children.
Another concern is the distribution of new books to the students during pandemic. It is a matter of high challenge for the education department to distribute new books to the students.
During our time, many of us, used to have old books from our elder siblings or senior students, relatives or sometimes on purchase. We left this practice because of getting new books each year. But this buying old book practice is still in existence in many Australian and American students. There are a lot of websites in first world countries where old books are available for selling and buying. These sites are very much popular to the students. In Bangladesh, it is good to have new books each year. But during any pandemic or any natural calamity like flood, earthquake, cyclone etc old students may be advised to return their books to school's head teachers and the teacher may reallocate books to new students.
Most of the time a book remains quite usable for the next year. If our students accept this practice, then distribution of new books may be continued every after alternative year, students will get new books, means if he or she gets new books in class six, he/ she will get old books in class seven, and then in class eight new books will be provided subject to return old books to teacher after final examinations. Cash transfer for new school dress (school uniform) for rural students may be deemed as a school incentive option during pandemic.
Anyway, Students and their study should not be overlooked during pandemic even for a single day. Who knows when normalcy would come back? Educationist from their experiences say, if someone is discontinued or out of education and study for a while, it is worrying to bring back them on track of regular study again.
The writer is a former senior secretary