Effect of epidemics on education and distance learning

Effect of epidemics on educationEpidemic outbreaks have become a serious concern today. We’ve witnessed the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014-15 and of course the recent COVID-19 scare in 2019-20. The West Africa Ebola crisis killed 11,000 people, causing huge economic and social disruption. Schools in affected areas remained closed for up to 8 months hindering students’ education to a great extent. The 2019-20 COVID-19 outbreak is no different in terms of effect on education. 
With schools in China, Italy, Iran, United States, Abu Dhabi, Japan, France, South Korea, Pakistan and even parts of India including its capital remaining closed, the question is how will students of these affected areas cope up with learning? Will they be able to recover from this loss of precious class time? Or is class time relevant at all now?
Reports claim that this educational upheaval has affected at least 300 million students globally.
With the virus spreading so quickly, 22 countries in 3 continents have announced school closures, leading to which the UNESCO director-general, Audrey Azoulay has warned that “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption in unparalleled.” 
As per reports by The New York Times, 290.5 million students worldwide are suffering. So, if schools remain closed for days, weeks and possibly months, it could have untold repercussions on children and the society-at-large.
Finding alternative teaching-learning methodologies have become the need of the hour. Since students cannot go to school, schools can be brought to them. Teachers can create a virtual classroom and continue from where they left off. Distance learning/ e-learning has become the obvious option. 
Schools and government officials have found ways to keep students learning and occupied at home. For instance, the Italian government has created a web page to give access to video conferencing tools and ready-made lesson plans. In Mongolia, television stations are airing educational classes. Iran’s government has made all children’s internet-content free. China and Abu Dhabi are offering online classes and free educational apps to continue with the courses.
Technology has opened doors to an exquisite amount of innovation in the education sector, which in turn has helped distance learning gain momentum and become an effective tool for education in the most obscure of places and even in times of great crises like the recent epidemic pandemonium. 
Research by Logic Earth Learning Services have shown that 67% of people use their mobile phones to access learning of some sort. Data by Online Learning Statistics and Trends suggest that the e-learning market is anticipated to reach $37.6 billion by 2020.
E-learning apps like Byju’s, EdX, Unacademy Leaning app, Extramarks, LinkedIn learning, ClassDojo, Science360,Quick Maths, Amazon Kindle, DragonBox, Youtube kids, Edmodo etc. can be effectively used by students. 
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India has its own official learning app MyCbseGuide which contains interesting subject and topic-wise videos with detailed questions and answers and even several online tests on all subjects.
Online tools like Literacy Planet can be used for English as it includes every literacy aspect of reading, speaking, listening and writing. BBC’s video based tool, Muzzy is a great way to learn several languages. They offer story-based animated videos to teach children languages like English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German, etc. 
Fiction Express is a wonderful way to engage students and make them part of the story direction by connecting them with professional authors. 
Websites like Twinki offer a lot of free online resources for different subjects and fun activities and physics classroom offers tons of online and offline materials on physics. It contains hand-outs, videos, concept builders and many more options to get students excited about physics. 
Physics central is an organisation that has created historically accurate physics comic books, such as ones about Nicholas Tesla. It a really fun way to get students interested in physics.
Distance education may use all forms of technology, which may include radio, television, audio
-video conferencing/broadcasting, computer-aided instruction, online learning et al. Radio stations and television stations can broadcast shows on various educational topics on the core subjects based on the curriculum of the students. The content can be varied based on the educational boards that is offered in that area.
Since internet accessibility is improving, teachers can offer audio and video conferencing options from the comfort of their homes and reach all students at a given time. Live streaming/pre-recorded audio and videos can be used. Students can use the comments section to clarify their doubts. Skype and other forms of video chats too can be used to conduct classes in real-time, wherein students can simultaneously talk to the teacher for any clarifications.
Computer-aided instructions too can be of immense help. It’s literally the world at your fingertips.  Several online courses and MOOCs are available to enhance learning at all stages of education. Online chat also enables real-time interactions and instant feedback.
Various EdTech startups have come up with innovative strategies as well to make learning possible from anywhere in the world. These range from knowledge of core subjects to vocational to life skills.  With Immersive Learning as developed by EdTech companies like Early Adopter, educators have created Augmented-reality tutorials, which can even virtually transport students to space while reading a book on the same.
Companies like Yellowbrick and InternView have created Industry-specific online programmes where they have collaborated with various colleges, universities, media outlets etc. to get useful training for various industrial sectors. To ensure 100% student comprehension, Brainly and OneClass have created Seamless classrooms where they aim to connect the world as one collaborative learning group that is capable of adapting to the dynamic global topics and educational trends. Companies like Peachjar promote parent-teacher collaboration and extracurricular activities through Big-Data analytics to discover new ideas, opportunities and resources available all across the country.
EdTech startup, Cartedo, is a platform that provides students with future-readiness and design-thinking workshops to develop creative thinking. Its aim is to equip students have unique and creative thinking and encourage them to find solutions even to issues like UN sustainability and development goals. With platforms like Mangahigh, Gamification is a new option that can be introduced into the classroom to ease understanding of even difficult subjects like math. It regulates its course based on the students’ learning capabilities and can help keep track of the learner’s progress and comprehension at various levels.
AI-based platforms like Securly have created online spaces for young scholars that are safe and educate them on the risks of bullying and self-harm. It is instrumental in educating the students about Digital Safety. Companies like Mindvalley has collaborated with various institutions to impart online lessons on sustainability, life skills and all in all teach the meaning of life. It includes online sessions on communication, stress management, mental health, etc.
Effect of epidemics on education + Reekrit SeraiUnder no circumstances can education can come to a stand-still. It’s, therefore, crucial that all available resources are put to effective use. Teachers can be trained on such situations as well so that they too can come up with various ways to provide effective educational facilities to those unfortunate.   
We have all the necessary ingredients. But, “How are we going to use it?” is the million dollar question. Distance learning is one of the most credible answers in this crisis. With technological appropriateness and connectivity, this growing distance between students and learning can be reduced and the crisis can successfully averted.
Reekrit Serai with inputs by Sayoni Bhattacharjee
Reekrit is managing director, Satluj Group of Schools (Satluj Public Schools, Satluj World Schools, Little Satluj Pre-Schools) and Sayoni works with Satluj Innovation Team.
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