Leveraging Virtual Learning in the COVID-19 Context
Every challenge is an opportunity, they say. I’ve been thinking about the impact of the coronavirus, and the kinds of tools and services that could be focused on ensuring that students don’t miss a beat in their learning. COVID-19 has brought home the reality that education technology that delivers great content and engages students and teachers has never been more important. While many education systems have resisted changing their 150-year-old structure, necessity now compels them to do what declining student achievement could not. Thousands of entrepreneurs and innovations can help our students keep moving in their educational journey no matter where this virus disruption takes them. While we are all upset by this global problem, we can and we must overcome it. And fortunately the tools to do so are at hand.
The last few weeks have witnessed heightened awareness of the threat from the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus). As the virus spreads around the world, we also need to understand what it means for the education systems of Europe and Central Asia. With the need to contain the virus, many countries are implementing measures to reduce gatherings of large crowds. Our schools are not immune to these actions, nor to the spread of the virus. Many countries have now implemented measures in their education systems – from banning gatherings to the temporary closing of schools. At the epicenter of the virus – China – more than 180 million schoolchildren are staying home. But while schools are temporarily closed for quarantine, schooling continues. It’s just that it is a different kind of teaching. Students are being educated remotely using technology. This is being done through a variety of online courses and electronic textbooks. To date, almost all countries in the Europe and Central Asia region have instructed their primary and secondary school systems to close completely or partially, to stop a possible virus spread among students and the general public. The question is, from an educational perspective, what do these students do when schools are closed? In China, a massive effort is underway to make sure children keep learning. Technology seems to be the answer. We will only know how effective this is after the crisis, but it does seem to be a good use of children’s time. Home schooling might be an answer, but this option is not very widespread outside of the United States. In Europe and Central Asia, we have a diverse set of countries at different levels of income and development. The spread, use and availability of technology is key, as is the availability of online learning materials, as well as devices and the level of internet connectivity at home. At the same time, one more important question is: can students actually benefit from technology at home? Here we clearly have an equity issue. While financially well-off families can afford computers and multiple devices, students from struggling families can hardly afford simple devices and may likely not have the internet at home.
In summary, the Education Sector Response Strategy developed by the Ministry of Education is focused on mitigating the immediate impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning and is thus focussed on the short-term. Within this, it is focused mostly on prevention, public awareness, as well as to ensure the continuity of learning through the provision of remote learning services via radio, online and offline electronic resources. The government is encouraging the use of digital platforms. For example, a private organization, Higher Life Foundation, provided free access to its online learning platform but there is limited utilization by children due to the limited connectivity access for students.