– Niru Agarwal, trustee, Greenwood High International School
There were times when we were made to believe that distance-education is not the best choice for education. In the present scenario we are made to believe that distance or online learning will become an integral part of education. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many life lessons; it has also taught us that education must evolve to prepare learners for an increasingly unpredictable future.
Schools across the country have been prompted to move to virtual classes and when these schools reopen, both teachers and students are going to need the digital skills to be successful in future. Students are now getting prepared to navigate the real world and the virtual world efficiently to deal with future disruptions. Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, schools may be forced to find creative ways to get children enjoy learning. Until a few years ago, the online medium was used only for entertainment content but now it has taken over traditional methods of learning. Despite some perceived drawbacks, online learning is the need of the hour.
When the storm of the pandemic passes, schools may be revolutionised by this online teaching-learning experience. Instead of walking into a school, students might be turning on their laptops to see live-streaming lessons. Online learning gives the learners the benefit of learning from the comfort of their homes or while travelling, providing flexibility in terms of space. In a physical institution of learning, students belong to a peer group which instils a sense of competition, motivating them to excel — a benefit which remote learning cannot offer. Moreover, virtual learning also poses the challenge of short attention (with students’ tendency to multi-task — checking emails, chatting with friends and surfing the Internet during online sessions). This brings up questions — how do we instil discipline and develop relationships with students in the virtual environment? How do we monitor understanding? Is virtual learning truly a better alternative? Or is it better to return to formal classroom setting?
Learning is an ongoing process and the vision of schools is to overcome the learning crisis. Digital learning enables students to take better advantage of the resources available online. Assessments might change giving more weightage to weekly assignments and online presentations compared to final exams. Educators are teaching through video conferencing, and students participate using padlet — a virtual post-it note system that lets them share their ideas, and flipgrid which allows students and teachers to create and share videos.
Social distancing could be challenging for high school students who thrive on social connections. The Covid-19 crisis abruptly brought an end to their academic year, depriving them of the quintessential traditions like graduation ceremony followed by cancelled exams which has impacted students emotionally. Apart from implementing guidelines to provide improved learning experience, caring for their physical and emotional well-being is also important.
In the post-Covid-19 era, students will be keenly conscious of this infectious disease when they come out of home quarantine and re-enter the school campus. Schools will enforce social distancing by asking students to disinfect their hands before entering school while security personnel will check their temperature. Inside the classrooms, the desks will be rearranged to ensure physical distancing, group activities will be limited, movement will be restricted within the classroom and in the corridors, other available space will be used for smaller groups, visits to washroom will be restricted, congestion during arrival and dismissal will be reduced, recess area will be segregated according to classes, solo physical activity will be encouraged instead of games, meal times will be staggered and events such as assemblies, field trips, excursions and classes with high levels of group activity will be cancelled.
While so much remains uncertain about what the future holds, post-pandemic expectations largely depend on schools’ current preparedness for digital learning. This is an opportunity that reminds us of the skills students need in future, such as informed decision making, creative problem-solving, think creatively, communication, collaborative learning and adaptability. It is a good time to reflect on how this disruptive crisis can help us define what learning should look like for the future generations.
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