Can we predict the unpredictability of re-experiencing education facing post Covid-19 challenges?
Almost a year now that captivity in the form of a natural threat has been the reality across the world and the chance for survival could only be left towards destiny. Now that the possibility towards rehabilitation resurfaces, further thoughts progress towards recovering for the lost productivity, towards rediscovering our new adjustments and coping up strategies. This is the perfect time to ask ourselves with conviction in retrospect; what made us recollect our strength, what provided the hope to look forward and gain positivity, what made our optimism find its new definition?
Struggles with online education surfaced in different dimensions and magnitudes in different parts of the world. Challenges ranged from getting the students and faculty members accustomed with the new normal situation of online teaching and learning, fixing platforms including troubleshooting before orienting the stakeholders, dealing with internet connectivity and disruption issues, dealing with tuition support for students with COVID affected families with financial needs and a very important crisis was to deal with mental health issues to tackle depression and frustration during the pandemic both at the delivery and the receiving ends. However, common struggle was to identify the optimum and the most effective way of communicating the content to the students and orienting both the students and the educators with the off-campus education management systems. UNESCO conducted a study on impact of COVID-19 on Education Sector in Central Asia while listing down the key challenges in introducing distance learning program in the region such as sharp decline in education quality, skills gaps to use ICT, inequalities in access to distance learning, shortage of quality online learning content and emotional unrest and anxieties of students with a considerable burden on home caregivers especially women.
If we look back at the past year, there are stories of start-up, messages of inspiration, condolences for losses, experiences of rejuvenation through constant fear of immersion; nevertheless, has the journey not imparted us with innovation to make our delivery more acceptable, has it not pushed us towards feeling others' shoes to share their pains, has it not made us realize the meaning of the term "empathy" all the more?
Let us reflect upon the concrete outcomes of the Covid-19 phase which is making us face the reality of practical challenges towards effective learning in physical isolation and shifting of focus in the mode of teaching to balance the passive reception in the receiver end. Starting of a new year seemed challenging online as there were new things to learn, to cope up with and to bring all aboard with the motivation to continue and be committed to tackle the same content targeting to deliver quality education. Struggles with strategizing for an effective assessment system, managing with laboratory courses through virtual adjustments, dealing with the fact of keeping the field trips/internship opportuning pending with the travel restrictions etc. gave rise to frustrations whilst compromised innovations for ensuring continuous engagement. Students at all levels are more vulnerable now as accessibility to uninterrupted digital facilities requiring multiple electronic media is a common issue that a lot of students do not have any control over. Statistics always provide realistic overview for reasonable forecasting and planning. UNICEF reports that 31 per cent of schoolchildren worldwide (463 million) cannot be reached by the broadcast- and Internet-based remote learning policies either due to the lack of necessary technological assets at home, or because they were not targeted by the adopted policies. Globally, 3 out of 4 students who cannot be reached by the remote learning policies come from rural areas and/or belong to the poorest households.
All across the world, higher education has become a commodity of luxury as economy has been exhibiting a downward trend due to the precautionary intermittent lock down phases placing income generation in jeopardy. A glance towards the first world countries provides more insights. A survey by Julie Baer and Mirka Martel during November 2020 brought out the fact that new enrolment of international students in higher education in the United States dropped by 43% losing billions of currency necessitating the institutions to shut down study abroad and travel sanctions. According to a world bank report, the prolonged closure of schools may cost Bangladesh and other South Asian countries over $1 trillion in lost earnings in the long run. Nevertheless, surveys also reveal an increasing trend for virtual mobility and collaborative learning. Andrew Smalley reports (March, 2021) in National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL) that around 20% of students in higher education at US have issues in accessing effective technology and reliable high speed internet. This much can be fathomed from the figures that third world countries would have higher fractions of students in disadvantage. A 2019 report by internet companies had found that while the global average for broadband connection speed is 54.33mbps, it is only 25.08mbps in Bangladesh.
A survey report was published by Islam et al (2020) from Daffodil International University, Bangladesh revealing that 41.7% students could not concentrate on online classes due to the financial crisis whereas 26.8% respondents were worried about their career and future stability. Again, 44.5% students faced challenges in adapting with the online system while 19.7% of them lacked computer and technological literacy. To add to that, 15.7% students were suffering from self-demotivation. Looking at these statistics, despite all the challenges regarding continuing with the online semester for the students, it becomes increasingly necessary that the students are kept away from depressing reality of discontinuity and delays in their semester schedule. Occupation with the online classes, exams, groupwork, discussions with peers etc. are being proved out to be effective in maintaining a healthy composure compared with the situation of idle sitting.
Although physical classrooms can never be replaced with digital, collaborations have become easier, course materials easily accessible and sharing has been more efficient and faster with distance learning. Furthermore, cross cultural experiences are being sought on different platforms igniting the acknowledgement of the common new normal global predicaments to deal with. A global survey on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) by International Association of Universities (IAU) during 2020 revealed that 31% of the participating (in survey) HEIs reported for new opportunities having been created with partner institutions due to COVID-19 pandemic. The same report mentions that the vast majority of institutions indicate that they have plans beyond the crisis to explore new ways of teaching (87%) and enhance digital capacity (70%). The importance of student engagement for learning, finding solutions in collaboration, following global trend of effective pedagogy in teaching and learning are becoming obviously evident more than ever. Both the students and the teachers are re-experiencing education from empathetic perspectives. This brings us to predict the necessity of reorienting the standards, concepts and priorities that would ensure robust and flexible ecosystem for education during post COVID-19 phase. With a view to keeping the online advantages intact, physical classroom teaching needs to be integrated with online sessions both for sharing and learning flexibilities with additional advantage of keeping the opportunity open for rendering ourselves more digitally apt.
We will need to pick up from a whole new dimension and perspectives compared to where we had left off our education management in the pre COVID phase. While facing post COVID-19 challenges, let us put our hopes forward, prioritize positive transformations, learn from the vulnerabilities and struggles for existence; Only then shall we be able to make all these efforts worthwhile and impart optimism and commitment to continue once again, let us dedicate this effort to our students, our future nation builders.