COVID-19 came as a stroke of lightening from the sky. Its presence unheard and unknown; it shook the entire mankind to the core. Unprepared and unaware, we are still grappling with its reality. It brought in its wake numerous adjustments that mankind had to make; affecting each and every individual, household and industry in its path. The entire system of functioning went for a toss and saw a complete overhaul not witnessed for ages now.
The biggest impact was felt on the Education industry as it put millions of children out of school and saw a perpetual closure of the feeder schools, pre-primary schools, putting the entire industry in tremendous strain vis-à-vis income generation, employment and affected the livelihoods of numerous households be it Grade I officers or Grade IV support staff.
However, like a Phoenix, the education industry managed to rise and transform its existence in a matter of hours if not days. Teachers, School leaders and Managements devised a way of delivery of knowledge through the available media to ensure that children across the world were academically engaged if nothing more. Being the risk takers, the teachers transformed themselves into caring and empathetic adults who not only spearheaded the learning in these virtual classrooms but also became the ears for their students to share issues and challenges that they faced in this caged environment.
As if the education industry was waiting for a trigger to an unheard of revolution, COVID-19 served as the catalyst to shake off the lethargy which had cocooned the Education departments’ world-wide into a slumber. Awakening to meet the new challenges the educators metamorphosed into individuals poised with knowledge and resilience to guide their prodigies through these new walks of learning with aplomb and confidence. Simply put, crazy was a word many teachers have used to describe teaching during the pandemic. And frustrating. And exhausting. They had to become technology wizards, Zoom screen DJs, counselors, cheerleaders and teachers all in one. Workloads doubled and stress levels quadrupled. Nothing in their training had prepared them for this.
The COVID 19 brought a new side of knowledge dissemination to the fore. It allowed for learning to become virtual with the use of varied platforms for delivery. An idea which was unheard of and unimaginable by the majority of the educators. In fact some had laughed off the idea as fantasies of the mind.
It endorsed for learning to become child- centric and interactive as personal contact between educator and learner became almost non-existent. It allowed for use of digital platforms for better propagation of knowledge in light of restricted personal contact. Gamification and other ideas were efficiently proliferated to allow for a better learning in the virtual classroom.
It promoted reflection on part of the educator to explore newer avenues to make understanding of concepts effective and easily transferable to the mind of the learners. Thereby allowing a personal growth and transformation of the educator almost instantaneously in order to match the influx of knowledge transfer and survival.
In fact, this pandemic brought into the open the susceptibility and challenge that the human race faces in this light. It has brought to light a clear vision of the existing and clear divides that prevail in the world and how to address the question of providing education to more than 1.5 billion students whose learning has been put on a hold due to the prevailing pandemic. As per the UNESCO, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides many of the necessary signposts and guidelines. The International Commission on the Futures of Education—established by UNESCO in 2019 presents nine ideas for concrete actions today that will advance education tomorrow. These are:
- Commit to strengthen education as a common good. Education serves as a wall against inequalities. It is in the safety and flourishing of the entire human race that we can be safe and flourish alongside.
- Expand the definition of the right to education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information. We cannot limit education to either just gender or resources but rather look at it as a tool for acquiring knowledge for the larger whole.
- Value the teaching profession and teacher collaboration. The past year has highlighted that imparting of knowledge has achieved the greatest success wherein the community has been a supporting vehicle in the dissemination of knowledge thereby reiterating the fact that for innovation to flourish a certain degree of flexibility and autonomy is desirable for effective teaching and learning.
- Promote student, youth and children’s participation and rights. This pandemic has further highlighted the need of the hour being to encourage the participation of not just the students but the younger generation in redesigning the curriculum for effective delivery and engaged learning.
- Protect the social spaces provided by schools as we transform education. The school as a physical space is vital. Although, traditional classroom organization must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’, the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning must be preserved.
- Make free and open source technologies available to teachers and students. The pandemic has furthermore highlighted the need to access open educational resources and open access digital tools. Education cannot and will not be successful if it depends on ready-made content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students. Nor can it entirely rely on digital platforms controlled by private companies.
- Ensure scientific literacy within the curriculum. Now is the right time for critical analysis and reflection on curriculum design to suit the future needs. Thereby laying emphasis on using method of scientific enquiry and data collection to build curriculum.
- Protect domestic and international financing of public education. In its wake the pandemic has brought to the forefront the need to revisit the Education industry and reorganize its structure so as to undermine the eminent damage to the fabric of the Education systems world-wide. It is a collective responsibility of all nations to work collectively to safeguard the human interest in education.
- Advance global solidarity to end current levels of inequality. COVID-19 has shown us the great divide amongst nations to protect and fight against this pandemic. The situation calls for a joint effort by all nations around the world to stand unitedly to protect and preserve the human race in the wake of this pandemic and time has shown that a united front has allowed for any challenge to be mitigated and resolved.
Having said this, there are certain challenges which still loom large in the face of human race. Challenges which were hushed in the ages gone by but have reared its head up threateningly and dangerously in the wake of this pandemic. The biggest one being the question of mental health and well-being of the human population world-wide and this applying to all ages from preschoolers to adults. The confinement of individual with little or no interaction with society has had both positive and negative impacts. On the one hand, it has redefined the meaning of family and the connectedness within families. Yet on the other, it has given rise to the need of personal space as demarcated by the work spaces where a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and pride could flourish. Likewise for the youngsters it has led to a solitary confinement within the spaces of the home with little or no access to individual of their age group leading to a suffocated existence for some. The school year needs to open with a focus on mental health, mindfulness, social-emotional learning and support for not just the learners but also the educators.
Another threat which is raising its head like a demon from the past is the great learning loss which has been experienced by all echelons of learners. It is a challenge which needs to be met and faced given that virtual learning comes with its own challenges. It necessitates rethinking and re planning of learning world-wide to ensure that the basic levels of learning are delivered to all learners around the globe. They are also rethinking what the great catch-up should look like, with many shifting the focus from remediation to acceleration, or what’s sometimes called “accelerated learning.”
Additionally, assessments at not just higher levels of education need thought and reflection to ensure the required standards of learning are achieved by learners throughout. Designing of assessments to measure not just the concepts but also skills seem to be the need of the hour.
The pandemic has given us an open canvas to rethink, redesign and reformulate teaching and learning strategies to ensure that the generations of the future are better equipped to face the unknown which lies ahead. It sanctions us to lead the learners from the known to the unknown and acquire the expertise and competencies required to face the fetters of the trials of tomorrow.