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OP-ED: The new face of learning

  • Published at 10:18 pm September 8th, 2020
online education

Schooling will never be the same again

There is no doubt about the massive impact Covid-19 has had on all aspects of our lives. With about 900,000 deaths worldwide and about 26 million confirmed cases, it continues to challenge us as a society. We were required to implement many changes to combat and cope with this virus, starting from social distancing to international travel bans. The education sector was no exception, undergoing major modifications.

The new norm

With about 1.2 billion students affected by school closures, online platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet are the new classrooms of 2020, with interactions consisting of turning on our microphones and videos. As our reliance on technology has skyrocketed, these companies have experienced major booms in profit.

Zoom revenue has grown by approximately 170% in the last quarter and nearly doubled its revenue guidance for the whole fiscal year. E-learning platforms such as Khan Academy and Udemy have also experienced a significant increase in users and popularity. Those who have access to the facilities and can afford them have not faced a great halt in their schooling.

Technology has once again proven to be a blessing; if a virus as contagious and damaging as SARS-CoV-2 was to plague the Earth even two decades ago, these opportunities would not have been available to learners. 

Online education not only saves students transport cost and time -- which is significant in a traffic-congested city like Dhaka -- it is also more convenient and can result in increased productivity.

Moreover, teachers don’t have to resort to making multiple batches in order to accommodate students, sparing some time out of their day as well. Location is also not a factor with digital education; as long as there’s internet access, you’re good to go.

The drawbacks of online education

The internet has become a more prominent part of our lives. One study shows that people between the ages of 16-64 in select countries now spend 70% more time on their smartphones and nearly 50% more time on their laptops (Source: Digital 2020 July Global Statshot).

Since communication, assessments, and research all have to occur online, nothing but the circumstances can be blamed for this trend. As a result, internet addiction is becoming more common amongst all age groups. Eye and back problems are some of the consequences of this, not to mention the deteriorating social skills amongst children and teenagers.

Children as young as first grade are doing classes online -- this can’t provide the amount of support and care they require from a learning environment. They prosper in playful, interactive settings -- which online education is yet to be competent in.

Needless to say, teachers have also not been spared from the struggles of digital education. Having to familiarize themselves with this daunting world of online teaching after years of conventional teaching is no doubt challenging, especially for older teachers. These unprecedented times have forced all of us to explore unknown territories, figure our way out one day at a time.

Inequality due to privilege

The bigger issue, however, is the inaccessibility of online education. According to the MICs 2019 report, only about 37.6% of households in Bangladesh have internet access. Children from rural Bangladesh, who were already travelling miles for school, have no way of smoothly continuing their learning amidst this pandemic. 

This creates a greater rift between the privileged and underprivileged kids and will surely have long-term effects. The children that are facing massive hindrance in their education will become less competitive and less inclined to pursue secondary education, which will, in turn, affect their future employment.

Furthermore, cases of child labour as well as child marriages are already increasing. In families with backdated beliefs, young girls with bucketsful of potential are being permanently taken away from studies. With the rising unemployment rate and the economic recession, more households are expected to fall below the poverty line. 

Education, naturally, becomes a lower priority than keeping their stomachs full and having a roof above their heads.

Overcoming these obstacles

Increased government revenue has to be reallocated to the education sector. Although initiative has been taken to increase allocation by 17% for the next fiscal year, more support should be available to underprivileged children.

Distributing books and stationery to such kids can be a great initiative. Furthermore, internet access and ICT facilities should be improved in the rural regions, in an attempt to bridge the gap between children living in urban and rural areas. Multiple NGOs, such as Brac and Care International, work directly with such children to provide them with better opportunities; crediting and supporting their work can go a long way.

Life after lockdown

Countries such as New Zealand and Vietnam are emerging from the lockdown, slowly but surely returning to the old ways. This is only because of their effective and timely actions taken against the spread of the virus, and it is unfortunate that the whole world couldn’t follow suit.

Schools may open up in various countries, but schooling, just like everything else, will not be how it was pre-pandemic. There will be no more crowded assemblies or packed classrooms, or sharing food with your friends while laughing in the cafeteria.

The sheer fragility of our existence has been demonstrated before our eyes, with the whole world in shambles by something measured in nanometres. Life after lockdown will require a lot of trial and error, cooperation, and luck. However, we’re natural adapters, and with the help of medical advances and innovation, there is no doubt that we’ll pull through.

Rufaida Rahman Khan is a freelance contributor.