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OP-ED: How to make online education more effective

  • Published at 08:13 pm August 26th, 2020
online class
Representational photo: Bigstock

It may be a good idea to cut them short

With the current pandemic continuing to impact education, online education is a crying need. But it seems online classes have a number of potentially serious detrimental impacts on students. 

So what could be a better option than making online education more effective when other options are off the table? 

Among many potential areas of improvement, one that gets very little attention may be the most significant: Shorter classes to maintain student attention, enthusiasm, progress, and health. 

What matters most: Quantity or quality? If it is the latter, then why not curtail the class duration?

Nearly four months ago, our government decided to telecast online class lessons for primary and secondary school-level students in late March. Likewise, for tertiary education, the University Grants Commission (UGC) decided to run university classes online in late April. 

When businesses and educational institutions were shut down, initiatives to get students engaged in education were undoubtedly admirable. However, accessibility, how learners respond, and how effective these virtual class lessons are should be the subject of a study, so as to assist e-learning to become as fruitful as possible.

Conversely, if I take the students’ well-being into account, I must assert that online classes do more to the detriment of students’ health than benefit them academically. This is because university classes tend to last for 50-90 minutes. 

Hence, a student who takes three courses, the minimum required credits, needs to attend classes for two-three hours per day except for weekends.

What is more, as the coronavirus outbreak is yet to curb in our country and staying indoors is the key precaution for it, around 70% of the students find studying from e-books comfortable. For obtaining expected grades, students definitely need self-study aside from attending classes. 

So, if a student spends one hour, for example, for each course every day, he/she has to dedicate a minimum of three hours a day to homework or self-study. As a result, a tertiary level student reasonably requires to stay in front of the screen for nearly six hours daily. 

This seems to have a deleterious impact on a pupil’s physical and mental health. According to one of the reports published in The Washington Post, prolonged sitting in front of computers or smartphones is dangerous and is associated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems. 

Harvard Medical School researchers have shown that excessive use of computers or smartphones emitting blue lights can disrupt sleep patterns by suppressing the secretion of the hormone melatonin. 

Time Magazine reports that more screen time is linked to poorer progress on key developmental measures such as communication skills, problem-solving, and social interactions among young generations. 

It is undeniable that the fewer soft-skills students have, the less they are likely to be hired by the employers of prestigious organizations, resulting in failure in professional life.   

A study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information reveals that spending six hours or more a day watching TV or using computers is associated with a higher risk for depression. Apart from that, scientific research suggests that excessive screen time results in obesity, blurred vision, chronic neck and back pain, coupled with a loss of cognitive ability. 

Given these physical and mental ramifications of online learning, it is high time for the university authority and the UGC to consider cutting the time limit of virtual classes short to make the lessons more productive and learner-friendly. 

Although universities of Bangladesh have managed to conduct classes online to ensure that students do not become compelled to go outside and get infected by Covid-19, they have not done enough to make remote learning effective or safe. 

Embracing distance learning does not necessarily entail overlooking the detrimental effects of this system. More importantly, because Covid will continue to create havoc in subsequent months of this year and beyond, making e-learning effective is of utmost importance. 

Moreover, as we are stuck home for months without knowing how long we have to wait to get back to on-campus classes, it is whimsical to conduct classes just in the name of carrying out academic activities paying minimal attention to students’ well-being. 

Unless students are physically sound, their education will be of no use. So putting the health and safety of them over education will be wise when we are heavily reliant on online education with no options left. 

It is not the quantity, but the quality that matters. So it is time the Education Ministry, UGC, and university authorities considered pruning the classes to make online education more effective. 

Mahde Hassan works for the British Council Bangladesh as an invigilator. He can be reached at [email protected]