The epidemic is an opportunity to promote educational reform in Kashmir by taking advantage of digitization of education and online teaching
MOHAMMAD, a middle school student, gets up every morning and turns on his mother’s mobile phone to receive a list of daily learning tasks and assignments from his teachers on various subjects on whatsApp and Zoom applets. His school has adapted a teaching practice by recording school-level online courses as a necessary supplement and formulated detailed daily teaching schedules. Every weekend, he receives new learning tasks from the school coordinator for the next week through the school whatsApp group, which contains class schedules and homework materials.This kind of semi-self-study learning method took students and parents a while to adopt. They had to figure out the way to download learning material and use the new system. But after a few weeks, parents became adept at using it.
In traditional scenario, a class means teaching in brick and mortar environment. Lockdown due to COVID-19 has compelled most of the countries to close their schools and as a result, teaching in traditional scenario has not been possible. As problems create opportunities, lockdown provides incentive to go beyond traditional classroom learning to digital or online learning. COVID-19 outbreak has changed the lives of people around the globe. Governments around the world have encouraged people to stay at home to prevent and control the spread of the coronavirus. However, life has to go on and so has the education of our children.
Students in Kashmir have been the worst sufferers because of back to back lockdowns. One big positive that has come out of the current pandemic is that students have been able to continue their studies via the Internet during the period of in-person class suspension. Fortunately, this has become achievable thanks to the rapid development of networking technology and Internet. Millions of teachers and students across the globe are congregated online, and online teaching has become the only choice for both educators and students during the epidemic.
The challenges students in Kashmir encounter apart from extremely slow internet connectivity, stem more from the need of learning self-control without the constraints of school rules and discipline. The timetable and various tasks are what they need to meet and complete through self-discipline. One of the common problems children face while taking online classes is being easily distracted. Regardless of the academic ability of the children, this is the limitation of online teaching. In order to make up for this shortcoming, teachers can devise various methods to keep students’ attention, such as holding regular video class meetings and organizing regular online question and answer sessions to strengthen teacher-student communication. In short, goal should be to let the children feel that although they are in a virtual space of learning, teachers and classmates are always together. In fact, the biggest change relates to the teaching plan. The reasoning and calculation of equations on the blackboard used to be a complete presentation of thinking logic underlying the solution. As an existing pen tablet has limited space to write on, it is a far cry from a blackboard in terms of flexibility and presenting details. After class, in addition to normal homework, students need to be provided with corresponding supplementary practice materials to ensure that they achieve the purpose of knowledge consolidation. Whether it is recorded broadcasting or live streaming, both teachers and students are adapting to the new models of education.
Online teaching is demanding on children’s self-learning ability and self-control, which is not a uniform characteristic in all students. It will bring about the polarization of students’ performance after in-person classes are restored. I personally think that online teaching needs more investment in courseware production, which is an advantage of the Internet. In recent years, with the progress in data analysis technology, some educational institutions have adopted the evaluation software to assess the effects of teaching. After explaining a difficult knowledge point, the teacher will ask students to practice in the classroom. The students’ answers are fed back to the teacher through the system, quickly analyzing the correct rate. If the accuracy is high, the teacher will continue the lecture and consolidate the same knowledge points through more exercises; if the accuracy is low, the teacher will explain the relevant knowledge points again. If the analysis software is developed relatively well, the teacher can also see the reason why the students make mistakes.
The effect of online education is directly related to the development level of the teaching system. By taking advantage of digitization of education and online teaching, the epidemic may be an opportunity to promote educational reform in our part of the world. After the epidemic is over, priority will still be given to offline education. But this epidemic has had a positive effect on online teaching.
It is true that technology can change lives. Online teaching was basically inaccessible in the past, with network and equipment problems being real obstacles – by the way it still is a big challenge in Kashmir, courtesy slow internet connectivity and non-affordability of smart-phones by the parents of children studying in Government or small private schools. Parental supervision is the key and a few concerns that need to be addressed are providing low cost smart gadgets to students whose families can’t afford it. Students would love using digital learning as a substitute, if they are provided with better internet connectivity.
It is indeed a big hope and a powerful driving force for us Kashmiris in particular. I am sure future education will definitely have a place for online education. Because of the epidemic, online education will be integrated into the current education system more quickly. The many advantages of online education can compliment existing traditional education models. Online education could prove to be a great opportunity for local start-ups as well. Making online classes the new normal in education industry will become indispensable tool in future.
- Ifthikar Bashir is a freelance financial advisor
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