WHILE growing up, we all heard common phrases such as ‘the world is shifting towards biological war
fare instead of weapons and the coming time will highly be influenced by technology’ and indeed it is happening but are we prepared for such a drastic shift? Talking about how the Corona pandemic has led to the closure of schools and shifted the mode of education from interactive traditional classrooms to completely online, no one was prepared for that except a few educational institutions which had already inculcated the use of technology into their teaching methodology. It is high time to change the pedagogy and attitude not only regarding the schools’ curriculum to meet the expectations of online teaching and efficiently deliver the content but parents also need to play an effective role in providing a better online learning experience. These technologies cannot replace the classrooms; however, we need to adopt a blended approach when schools will reopen where both online and face-to-face methods will be used. Yet, virtual classes do not mean that schools will not exist in the future. No one can deny the importance of institutions/schools for the following reasons; our traditional classroom-style teaching provides and enhances their emotional and social engagement, structured curriculum, focused knowledge, guidance, teamwork, assessments and feedback. The efforts put in by the management and the faculty to groom the students’ academic and social skills cannot be substituted by online classes. We need institutions/schools as accreditation bodies that will vouch for student’s performance and take responsibility for transforming a set level of knowledge to different age groups according to the approved standards.
Internet is bombarded with so much of open and irrelevant knowledge that at times it is very confusing for a young mind (learner) to remain focused, while set curriculum which is developed over some time with lots of experience and experiments convey focused knowledge along with guidance by mentors or teachers. Institutions are important for co and extracurricular activities and student’s engagement in so many competitions to develop holistic personality, leadership qualities and management under proper training, guidance and counselling by coaches and mentors. Such a combination of academic and other activities under one roof cannot be provided on a virtual framework alone. 1.6 billion students are suffering due to the closure of schools in almost 188 countries. 28 million students in Pakistan alone are directly affected by this lockdown. In our country where 70% of schools are government operative, schools have failed to provide quality education via online classes either due to lack of resources or power failure or lack of stable internet connectivity in remote areas. Not only this but many underprivileged students do not have access to electronic gadgets or other means to access the online world. However, private schools comprise 30% of the education sector and they were quite effective in managing e-learning successfully. Education for all will never be achieved if our Government will not improve public-private partnership in the education sector. The government should support them to further enhance their capacity and support the public sector, revise the curriculum and train the faculty. No doubt private school curriculums are far better and up-to-date as compared to public schools’ curriculum.
Soon, every President, CEO, Dean and Trustee will recognize that online education is one of the potential sources for generating revenue. Hence online education will be recognized as a core component for every school’s plans for institutional resilience and academic endurance. Schools need to invest in online education and make it as a strategic priority. Although this isn’t easy and schools may face hindrance. Schools need to update and develop their online resources as current resources available on the internet are not in line with our culture, norms, and requirements. As institutions, schools need to work on ways of online assessments where there will be less plagiarism and more room for research, critical thinking and they creativity. Parents are also confused as to whether their children are learning anything online like he used to in a traditional classroom or are they just sitting idle in front of computer screens and to a great extent, they are rightfully worried about everything. In a world where knowledge is just one click away, the role of educators must change too. Companies must take the decision very sensibly as they may face an increase in cost due to technology enhancement. However on the other hand laying off staff to balance this cost will result in demotivation, lack of critical thinking, creativity and ownership.
Teachers must be trained and digitally equipped, and in classrooms instead of giving lectures, they have to act more like facilitators to engage debates and discussions with learners for their academic and social development. Teaching life skills e.g. creativity, communication, collaboration alongside empathy and emotional intelligence will be their main role. They have to prepare learners to be able to work across demographic lines of differences to harness the power of the synergy through effective teamwork. We must all be prepared for the schools to look different when they re-open. We might not be able to get back to normal immediately hence we would have to consider the AM/PM schedule or call on alternative days to divide the students and still practise social distancing due to the strength of students in all the schools. They should provide alternative learning spaces for keeping students six feet away from each other. These spaces will include common rooms, music rooms, libraries, gym, conference rooms, etc. These spaces may be redesigned for classroom instructions as they provide space for students to social distance. Hence it is very important to understand these upcoming challenges and to take initiative to overcome them. The future of schools is still very bright because schools give hope and provide a platform where parents can have blind trust for their children’s successful future.
—The writer is an educationist based in Islamabad.