Our lives have taken a sharp turn with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and many of us are faced with new realities. With schools shutting down and teachers compelled to take to online teaching, children and parents have new challenges to face.
Online education, however, is a blessing in disguise in many ways. Not only does it open more doors for education opportunities, it lends a bigger platform for teachers and students for learning with the use of technology.
While it improves access to education, it enables a better space for children to sharpen their computer literacy.
Suddenly, teaching and learning has broken boundaries with no limitation to student participation.
It has a much wider reach, regionally and globally where students from anywhere in the country or world could join a lesson with a click of a button.
Student participation is much higher as the tiresome bus rides and long hours in traffic are now unnecessary. Time could be managed more productively now that the lesson is at home.
The space issues that limited student participation in tuition classes is now no more. Mainly, the urban-based education facilities have now done away with cramping student in their limited infrastructure as it has a new platform where education could be delivered at a lower rate.
There is no building rent, electricity and water bills to think about and the benefit is for the student too since the tuition fee has reduced as a result.
Teachers do not have to travel from one city to another while rural children are now able to join popular tuition classes from their homes spending much less. Of course, the burden is less for parents too, especially for the older ones, as they do not have to be in the constant worry about their children’s safety when they go out of their homes.
For mobile service providers, people moving to online platforms means more focus on data. New avenues have opened up for e-marketing, e-shopping, and e-learning which means today’s generation has to be technology savvy than ever before.
Although trust issues exist, the online platform is where the world has already moved on to whether Sri Lanka is ready or not. Therefore, this generation has the challenge to get onboard quickly.
With children being more exposed to the digital world, they have a better chance of surviving in the job market too. Remote learning is not new in other countries and most countries already have vibrant online e-commerce platforms even in India. In that sense, Sri Lanka was lagging behind compared to other nations until the pandemic forced schools and educational institutes to go online.
It is not to say, however, that online learning does not have its own challenges and disadvantages.
Many of our schools, parents and students were not ready for a fully-fledged online learning when the pandemic broke out.
Teachers had to think on their feet, make new lesson plans, and come up with innovative ways to keep students interested on a digital format when their years of training had been on classroom interactions with children; and this too, without any time for training.
The urgency for e-learning demanded quick action. Children had to be computer literate quickly, parents had to equip their households for an e-learning environment, often with multiple devices to log in when there were more than one schooling child. Children’s online lessons had to be managed when many parents themselves struggle with working remotely.
Online learning is not without practical problems. Online learning comes with constant interruptions, be it connection issues, overlapping conversations, issues with bad weather etc.
Most of all, it hinders children’s overall development and socialising skills where the online platform provides limited solutions.
How long a lesson should last is also another debate. Some schools adopt the strict time schedule as a physical class, starting from the usual school time from 7.30 am and ending lessons at 1.30 pm, making students sit in front of the computer for hours with limited break times.
“Teaching all the subjects on one sitting is not practical. It is unfair to ask children to sit in front of the digital device and conduct lessons as if in a physical classroom.
Teachers must understand that this is completely different from a physical class.
We cannot expect to do the same thing as before. Students lose interest especially when they are not monitored as in a physical class. Also, they are bombarded with homework for all their subjects on the same day.
Children have no time to play. Some teachers deliver their lectures too fast and do not pause to interact with students to make sure they understand the lesson.
Time limitations on online platforms leave no room for student-teacher discussions. Lessons should be planned to suit the online format,” said a parent.
However, the teachers’ stories are different. “Some parents criticise the teachers for various things. We need the cooperation of parents took to make online education a success. We never got a computer, a tab or free data to conduct classes.
We do it with our personal resources. We also have children, so we need to think of accommodating to their needs. These are challenging times for all of us and we need to rethink the way we teach.
We ask parents to be patient and log in on time to classes and get their children to listen during the limited time allocated online. Ask children to follow online ethics as we have to handle about 40 children at once and most of the time, teachers have to waste their time asking over and over for children to mute their mikes.
So, parents should be aware that we are trying hard amid many difficulties,” a teacher at a leading school said.
Parents also worry about how the increased use of computer screens would affect children’s eyesight, especially those who already have issues.
Dr. Muditha Kulatunga, an eye surgeon, shed light on the issue.
“There is an increase in the number of children and adults seeking advice on ‘computer vision syndrome’,” she said. “Very often, this is related to constant accommodation that automatically happens in people under 40 years.
This is accompanied with reduced blinking rates automatically, which contributes to the headache and eye pain due to reduced spread of tear film,” Dr. Kulatunga said.
To reduce stress on the eyes and for those who already has eye disease, she said that maintaining a distance with the digital device is key.
“Avoid bringing the reading material closer to your eyes. Also, if there is a minor refractive errors, your need to correct them by wearing appropriate glasses. Use tear supplements when on the phone or computer for long hours. You also need to break continuous use every hour,” she added.
As times change, new methods need to be adopted to make life as ‘normal’ as possible.
Unfortunately, the young generation is the scapegoats to test new theories and for better or for worse, they face a challenge that no other generation has faced before.