By BETTY GABRIEL WAKIA
SINCE its outbreak nearly 1.5 billion students worldwide from pre-school to higher education have been affected by the pandemic.
The new coronavirus has caused the most serious damage to the education system in history, affecting more than 190 countries, according to the “Covid-19 and Subsequent Education Policy Briefing” published by the United Nations on Aug 4, 2020.
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) said: “We have never seen education face such a massive disruption”.
Billions of students are unable to attend schools or universities due to the temporary closure of educational institutions by governments around the world.
According to the report, 94 per cent of students worldwide are affected by the closure of schools and educational institutions. In low and middle income countries, this percentage reaches as high as 99 per cent.
With the development of the internet, online education has become an important educational method. This led schools to embrace online courses to schools around the world and students are trying to learn online in a variety of ways. However, the difficulty part is that not all students have access to tablets, computers or reliable internet. According to data from the United Nations Internet and Telecommunications Bureau, about 54 per cent of the world’s population of 4.1 billion people use the internet, but only one-fifth of the least developed countries are on internet.
In view of the increasing attention to the current Covid-19 pandemic, more and more universities around the world have cancelled or postponed all campus activities such as seminars, sport, conferences, workshops and other events. Faculty members are already in the process of transiting to online teaching platforms. Recently, there has been growing interest on the impact of Covid-19 on the education system around the world and has been extensively studied in the last few months since the Covid-19 started. Recent concerns about impact of Covid-19 have generated a considerable body of research and have identified criticisms of how education technology re-defines and reduces the concept of teaching and learning.
Not many studies have investigated the impact of Covid-19 which leads to new challenges on online education that forces schools around the world to take up online classes. Several studies have shown that the schools around the globe are experimenting and designing activity plans for online teaching and learning. Few studies also challenge with the story that claims “education is broken”, and it needs to be fixed with technology. These technologies often considered neutral and are closely linked to education and impose increasing social problems for education to resolve.
Therefore, this is a critical moment to reflect how the current options of educational institutions are affecting the education and online learning during this pandemic crisis. We can already see that the crisis caused by the epidemic is affecting education in the form of new emergency measures. Digital education platforms also likely to be acquired and implemented more by monitoring and participating in educational management to keep institutions functioning in the event of a crisis. Within the framework of the worldview of capitalism and the effective understanding of education such technologies have already emerged as a solution.
But the question is, will post-Covid-19 education be shaped and designed critically for reflective and holistic learning by visions of public good or will it be influenced by company interests in new markets?
A recent survey has shown that distance learning has accelerated during the crisis in the TVET sector, much like in general schooling and universities. The majority of respondents in 68 countries out of 126 report providing training courses fully remotely during the pandemic, whereas only 13 used to provide online distance learning regularly or often prior to Covid-19 outbreak. Few attempts have been made to the online education. However, these studies have not addressed the issue of the coronavirus impacting the global education which is putting online distance learning in a new challenge.
Unprecedented momentum in online learning
During the Covid-19 pandemic, educational institutions worked hard to find ways to enable students to continue learning in the face of crisis and social barriers. This gives unprecedented momentum to online learning. The suspension of classes due to the coronavirus pandemic has caused the entire community to concern about the students’ future and the learning disabilities. The school has been suspended due to a pandemic and most international immigrant students typically take major international exams in many countries including International Baccalaureate, National School-lever exams and the recently suspended International A-level.
A community of civil society organisations, educational professionals and civil servants used digital technology for distance education to response to the school closures sooner than expected.
Online learning has become a global hot topic in the midst of Covid-19, and countries around the world have decided to tackle new challenges. With the evolution of the epidemic and the turmoil of regular education, all major foreign universities and colleges have also launched online learning tools for students stuck at homes around the world. This pandemic crisis is accelerating online learning and conducting distance learning and teaching experiments on a global scale.
According to Mbonyinshuti (2020), the launch of satellites in the rural communities of Rwanda has enabled the use of internet to secure online learning. While in Uganda, the launched of e-learning platform at Christian University has begun by offering student courses and notes online to help students complete their semesters. The Academic office is committed to use online, e-learning and e-resources to ensure remote assistance for classes that have not yet completed the semester syllabus. The Universities and Colleges also will establish online consultation channels to enable teachers and students to build internet with the learners. The student’s exams will be uploaded by the institution’s lectures on e-learning platform.
Students began to switch to online learning when schools at all stages in China began online education and it has suddenly become a national hot topic. During the school season, many teachers turned into “anchors” and thought online for the 2020 spring semester, the Chinese Ministry of Education has demanded the platform “suspend classes without stopping”. However, students with different learning needs have different levels of achieving online learning goals through new forms of online courses is the first “exam question” for students and teachers.
In South Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the dissemination of coronavirus containment measures at universities may not be suitable for distance learning or online learning when returning home without using the internet during the campus lockdown. Remote areas in these countries lack adequate facilities and internet services, impeding classroom continuity. However, it is difficult for students to study online in India due to the expensive internet connection and lack of internet in rural areas. Students also report that their families are overcrowded, distracted and unable to study online.
The South African Institute of Distance Education (SAIDE) meets with universities to help students explore the various features of the facility and the equipment that students may use and access the institution’s “various tools” available online for learning.
All universities in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island countries need to carry out this assessment. According to Smah (2020), the Tunisia government proposed an online class but the student union has completely rejected it and called for a boycott online education platform.
In many African countries, this raises questions about the feasibility of choosing online education. The Union of General students of Tunisia (UGET) stated in a statement on March 22, 2020 that the Higher Educational Research Department will open universities and other educational courses through online learning; the proposal violates the principles of equality and equal opportunity. Not all students have personal tablets, laptops, computers or reliable internet access.
According to a 2017 report by the US Congress, the United States had 12 million school-age children without broadband access. It is estimated that half of the students in the Los Angeles school district do not use tablets or computers and a quarter of students cannot access the internet at home. In China, most of the world’s luxurious and affordable smartphones are made in China, but many parents cannot afford to buy multiple devices for their children and themselves. The country is dealing with 4G services, but the signal is very low in some rural areas.
As creativity becomes an essential skill, the world moves towards the advancement of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), providing avenues for university lectures and students. However, most universities lack the latest ICT facilities to support the growing number of students in their schools and e-learning opportunities are not being used effectively in universities in developing countries.
This allows many users to use handheld devices to display content and universities have adjusted their ratings and plan delivery policies to submit assignments in advance, especially on the submission date and mobile friendly websites.
The current experiments of university education indicate that four years of face-to-face can no longer relies on past credits. At the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, teachers and students are encouraged to continue face-to-face educational and research activities, including contacting student’s supervisions by email. Face-to-face education is very important but with current distance learning, it is absolutely necessary for the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, designing an activity plan for teachers and students and closing the school in a remote location is quite different from planning a face-to-face school activity.
Stable internet critical
During Covid-19, most online education relies heavily on stable internet. Currently, educators and students cannot easily move from one place to another to connect to the internet. In order to provide better internet services, people are hoping that the government should cooperate quickly with internet providers and other telecommunications companies. But there are still some problems, including the inability to effectively schedule all courses online that cannot meet all educational needs.
The final choice made by the student focuses on non-academic courses that colleges and universities can view on radio and television, helping students learn moral values, life and specific skills languages and more.
Today, very little is known about the Covid-19 effects on the higher education industry. The issue of the Covid-19 and its impact on the higher education industry is a growing topic of discussion worldwide. Closing universities and cancelling classes have become a Covid-19 reality in many parts of the country, leading to enormous anxiety and uncertainly.
At the same time, the Covid-19 crisis has revealed the severe inequality and inequity that exists in higher education worldwide. Covid-19 may be a temporary crisis, but it should serve as a wake-up call for higher education institutions in PNG to change their transfer channels and access rights by ensuring a flexible education delivery model that serves a diverse group of learners.
- Betty Wakia is a freelance writer and blogger