Monday, 6 December, 2021

Educational Implications Of COVID-19

Kushal Pokharel

The impact of COVID-19 on education sector is going to be huge. According to UNICEF, an estimated 1.54 billion children and youths enrolled in school or university are staying home owing to COVID-19 closures. Many countries have switched to online learning platforms, the effectiveness of which, however remains elusive.
With students and teachers requiring unprecedented adjustments in teaching-learning style, it will be too early to predict that this would be the standard norm of education for the future. As a matter of fact, the new mode of learning is rife with challenges. Difficulty in concentration to full capacity has already surfaced among children learning through this new method. In addition, parents have also been overburdened with the task of facilitating the online learning of kids by helping them to complete their lessons and assignments using internet. Incorporating children with special needs and disabilities including teachers with limited knowledge about internet technology stands as a challenge.
Students have been stuck due to postponement of standardised tests and exams. Consequently, various psycho-social problems are also emanating. Out of fear and intimidation, millions of children will find it extremely difficult to concentrate on studies even after the resumption of schools in the corona free world. Furthermore, children of low income families have an additional impact on their health and nutrition. As many public schools tend to provide a nutritious diet to these kids from such community, the continous closures of schools have left these kids in serious trouble.
With the impact of COVID-19 not running out anytime soon, various countries have decided to resume schools by adopting precautionary measures. In China, authorities have been sanitising the entire school compound three times a day to prevent the spread of the virus. Ranging from bus to school and canteen, social distancing has been provisioned. Meanwhile, Germany has adopted a policy of priorisation in opening schools. Under the first priority are students on the verge of completing their course enrolled in primary level. Denmark has recently resumed its classes by provisioning 10-11 students in a single class. Likewise, reduction in teaching hours and total school time has been implemented to ensure that children get an opportunity to learn in safe environment.
Hence, the new situation demands a drastic change in the role of teacher including school administration. Ensuring the health safety of children will be the most important task for educators and school managers globally. Children are unlikely to attend schools out of the psychological fear. This has already become evidenced by the reluctance of the parents to send their kids in countries where schools have already opened or planning to resume.
Reimagining education in Nepali context has become crucial in the changed scenario. With numerous children in deep confusion over their future, ensuring education in a safe environment remains a critical question calling for appropriate policy response. Policymakers are confronted with some tough questions: When and how to operate the regular classes? How to ensure students, teachers and other staffs safety in schools? Since it is impossible to ascertain when the virus threat will be over, making a decison to resume normal day affairs has become pretty challenging for different sectors let alone education. This calls for a clear roadmap of education in post corona era. First, stakeholder consultations under the leadership of the Education Ministry to figure out possible ways of resuming classes should be conducted. In this regard, getting feedback of prominent educationists, school community including parents and students will prove handy in devising educational plans. Second, it will be equally important to discuss among central, provincial and local governments on the new educational path. With the voices of some educationists to cancel the SEE examination owing to a situation of anxiety and fear, the government needs to take a better decision in the hour of dillemma.
More importantly, protecting the waning public education appears as a stiff challenge. With the families of the public school children hit hard by COVID-19, bringing children back to school seems an uphill task. Massive investment on public education not only in terms of augmenting resources but also ownership, supervision and oversight is the need of an hour.
Under the revised roles, teachers and school managers should engage in deep interactions with students beyond academics. Psyco-social counseling will alleviate fear imprinted in the minds of students to a large extent. Nevertheless, teachers as role models ought to create a enabling environment and garner support of children prior to resuming regular classes. Deep seated confusion among students about class promotion and exams needs to be addressed promptly. Likewise, school management should also focus on the comfort and safety of the students rather than their studies and grades in the beginning. Investing in parents interaction will add value to the efforts. Learning the psyche of children and parents, the school management can adjust its plans to accomodate their diverse interests.

(Pokharel is a social science faculty and a researcher.