Tue. Jun 25th, 2024
Dr Amin Rehmani

One of the worst negative effects of Covid 19 has been the closure of educational institutions globally, for at least as long as the threat of Corvid 19 remains alarming. Educational institutions had to find out, rather quickly, ways of addressing this colossal issue particularly those in developing countries like Pakistan. They needed to switch to new strategies of e-learning, albeit, at an accelerated pace, yet without much proper training. Teachers and students who are mostly used to F2F teaching had to quickly adapt to and learn how to use numerous digital tools to be able to deliver and participate in e-learning respectively.

Although distance education has been in force for quite some time in Pakistan, this online e-learning continuously was rather a new experience for many educational institutions, particularly schools and their teachers who required to put in greater efforts in providing long- duration, continuous online teaching. Similarly, it has been equally challenging for students and parents, many of whom have had little computer knowledge and skills.

While learning about varied experiences and trails of online learning during Covid 19 brought rays of opportunities in terms of building the capacity of teachers, schools, students, and to some extent parents, it has also paused many challenges including pedagogical and methodological issues that needed to be addressed.

The challenges multiply for countries like Pakistan where uninterrupted access to the internet and electricity have been perennial issues. Recent monsoon rains added to this agony many folds. In such a situation communication through e-learning was next to impossible in many areas.

Access to gadgets is yet another major issue. Although mobile phones are widely used in Pakistan, having a smartphone, iPad or laptop may have been a dream for many, especially when many had lost their jobs due to Covid 19, hence e-learning has not been universal and its experience has been limited mostly to the middle class and upper-middle-class students, who mostly attend private schools. Even then the challenges were not any lesser. The government’s initiative to have a TV channel for learning is a laudable gesture in addressing the issue of access.

Zoom and Google classrooms are the two widely used platforms for communicating and disseminating e-learning and e-teaching. Teachers may have had some basic training provided by their schools in searching and using online communication platforms, preparing lessons for online classes, conducting an assessment of submitted assignments and projects and their marking, and sharing feedback with students, though on the one hand, these activities may have developed capacities in using various tools, these may have equally been thorny issues. Students, especially of primary level and their parents had to juggle through various tabs and tools in searching for solutions to issues they faced in smooth e-learning processes, including how to take screenshots, how to upload assignments, and turning them in, especially when, at times, Google classroom could not support such a facility due to heavy use of online learning systems.

Challenges of communication, highlighted here, also include learning and handling digital tools, sifting through an enormous amount of data and information, selecting, appropriating, and adapting digital information, developing motivational and relevant strategies, finding correct and appropriate materials, worksheets, activities, quizzes, etc.; learning to upload and downloading skills, developing online assessment tools, checking of assignments and sharing feedback with students as well as creating interest in and motivating students to stick to google classes and zoom sessions for a longer duration have not only provided opportunities but have equally paused deeper challenges to learn and enrich the e-learning experiences.

Online e-learning requiring parents to constantly monitor their children, who were not fully exposed earlier to the internet and apps constantly, also raises some ethical issues. It is easy for children to skip a class altogether and chat with their colleagues instead, using the chat option. It was observed that students’ span of attention was limited and they preferred to switch to other apps such as FB or YouTube or games, especially during the breaks between the sessions. Many parents are not literate in using parental controls. Although some parents could provide feedback to schools to address some of the issues they encounter, most could not, due to their limited capacity in computer literacy.  Schools should provide some orientation to parents from time to time as new issues of communication arise.

Guidelines from schools for using online sessions and asking students to keep their cameras on for better classroom interaction as well as monitoring of their activities and participation are positive moves. Some schools on the contrary have not allowed cameras to be on. Provision of various interesting activities, learning links, videos, exercises, and worksheets have been added to the e-learning experience. Whereas, providing timely feedback to students’ work, assignments or projects has been challenging for teachers. Similarly, taking images and screenshots of classwork and homework, uploading these on google classroom, saving their work in files and folders have been quite time-consuming for both children and their parents.

One of the major challenges that need to be addressed through devising proper strategies is the longer duration of screen time. Five to seven hours of daily online classes is not only tiring but could also be boring, especially where teacher-talk is extensive. Moreover, putting headphones on for a longer duration could badly affect students’ hearing. It is, therefore, advisable to have periods not longer than 40 minutes. 

The online learning during Covid 19 has created issues but therein lies some opportunities also to test out handling issues and learn new experiences. Some of the issues can be addressed amicably that are within the control of teachers, students, and schools. Whereas some issues are beyond their control such as uninterrupted internet and electricity provision.  Online learning as being experienced during Covid 19, seems to have paved ways for learning beyond classroom walls and a lot of future education would depend on it, particularly in an era of technology and a booming youth population in Pakistan who are increasingly becoming gadget-savvy. However, ethical frameworks would be required to address issues related to the proper use of this technology. More research could inform as to the impact of online learning.

By Dr. Amin Rehmani

The author is a writer, Educationist, PhD. from the University of London. His areas of interest include, curriculum development, teacher education, teaching and learning and assessment. His writings are available at AKU e- Commons and academia.edu

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