By M. Mir
The coronavirus pandemic has changed how millions around the globe are educated.
New solutions for education could bring much needed innovation.
All schools and colleges in China have been closed for more than two weeks in the fight against coronavirus, the impact of China’s efforts to deal with the virus across education is taking classes online – and some of its unexpected advantages.
Given the digital divide, new shifts in education approaches could widen equality gaps.
In a matter of weeks, coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed how students are educated around the world.
In China, the Ministry of Education has assembled a group of diverse constituents to develop a new cloud-based, online learning and broadcasting platform as well as to upgrade a suite of education infrastructure, led by the Education Ministry and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Chinese authorities have taken extreme measures to try to contain the coronavirus, which has spread nationwide. More than half the country’s 1.4 billion people are now restricted from leaving their homes in some way. Public gatherings are banned, including those in schoolyards.
Since students have stopped physically attending school, their Chinese classes happen in real time following the regular schedule, using a Chinese app or the international team teaches using Moodle, an open-source learning platform that has the ability to do live video conferencing with digital whiteboards and break-out rooms.
I myself an international student studying at a university in China, Like me, you’re probably now being inundated with emails, links to resources, and social media shares offering free access to educational programming for home learning. You’re also juggling directives and restrictions from your district, administration, and technology department.
Indeed, the system has numerous shortcomings. Many families don’t have computers.
Online learning certainly hasn’t made education easier or more accessible for everyone.
The lack of access to the internet remains a barrier to many of students.
Learning online absolutely requires self-discipline or perhaps the presence of a proper mindset
Additionally, there are still many factors that affect educational equality. One major consequence of the months-long experience has been a noticeable performance gap between schools, students and families based on income or location.
There are problems, of course. At the top of my list are technical issues, which can be, quite frankly, extremely annoying. Slow internet and poor audio/visual equipment means questions need to be repeated before they can be answered. Other challenges include time differences for the international students who are in their countries.
With only basic conferencing software, it is nearly impossible to efficiently check understanding and force accountability on so many students. For the first few weeks, we needed to be very flexible and patient. Everything that would have done in person took longer virtually as we learned to navigate online learning. But with time the schools have worked out many kinks and are now engaging students in high-quality learning experiences online.
The response of China’s education system to the COVID-19 emergency is remarkable, in terms of depth of the remote learning facilities being made available, and of the scale required to cover needs. Just one of the platforms, offered by the Ministry of Education, allows for 50 million students and teachers to connect simultaneously, enabling them to access primary and secondary education modules, as well as life skills content relevant to a health emergency
When classrooms move online, the performance gap between students within the same school has also widened, often because the distance has lessened a teacher’s ability to manage the classroom
The massive volume of data collected has enabled the authorities to pinpoint clusters of infection to better target their quarantine and disinfection efforts, and send members of the public text-message alerts to inform them of the past movements of infected patients in their area – even down to the names of shops and restaurants they visited
The responses of the Chinese government and education department have been remarkable some steps include:
1. Delivering courses online
2. Providing intensive courses
3. Arrangements around semester commencement
4. Fee refund and deferral
5. Provision of clear and updated information
6. Support structures for starting and continuing international students within China, including extended academic and welfare support, counselling, special helplines, and coronavirus specific information guidelines
7. Support with visa issues, accommodation
This outbreak further raises awareness within the international education sector of the need for risk management and crisis response strategies to ensure sustainability
Such a fast-moving crisis presents a range of challenges for those in universities, colleges (especially the international students department) and schools who are trying to communicate with thousands of worried students who can’t enter the country.
To quote the Chinese ministry of education tíngkè bù tíngxué — stop classes but don’t stop learning.
The pandemic is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of the skills students need in this unpredictable world such as informed decision making, creative problem solving, and perhaps above all, adaptability.