New ways to learn

28 Mar 2020

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The writer works at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.
The writer works at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.

THE coronavirus threat has thrown our education system into disarray. We live in a part of the world where emergencies are not unprecedented, and we are resilient enough to bounce back with multiple solutions. However, it is a little different this time, as it tests the capability of our education system to deliver what it is meant to.

Schools now have to find a way to teach children while they are away from the classroom, and keep up the expected pace and level of learning. For us, this is a timely reminder to rise up to the technological demands — schools that have missed the digital boat are finding themselves in the throes of a tough challenge as they struggle to devise new ways of delivering content.

Several methods are being used, from Google Classroom to WhatsApp and Facebook groups. There seems to be a scramble to be useful and innovative. As they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Most schools that have kept blended learning to a minimum, having resisted digital learning tools due to large investments of time, money and effort, now find themselves scrambling to get onto the technological bandwagon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Rapid and unprecedented changes in this day and age may actually propel us to learn afresh, and perhaps recognise that learning entails much more than a face-to-face teacher-led model of instruction restricted to classrooms. In this digital age, physical spaces do not mean as much as they did before — most experiences require a blend of face-to-face and digital interaction and this is true of teaching and learning as well.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

While the coronavirus threat is raging globally, it is also testing our ability to rise above our digital challenges and deliver the education that our children deserve and the standards that their parents expect. Whilst we may not have the bandwidth and the outreach that other, more advanced economies might, we do have the tools and the willingness to learn.

Some schools have made a huge effort to reach out to students and parents who have limited digital means — those who have not been able to use Google Classrooms or Moodle, have been provided with alternative platforms such as closed Facebook groups. Learning and education continually demand reflection on and upgradation of skill sets, just like any other profession. The current school closure might be a great time for teachers to reflect on ways they can use this unprecedented experience to bring in newer methods of designing content and reaching out to students. This may be a good time to hand over the reins of learning and devise student-led approaches that rely on the teachers’ guidance rather than instructional control.

This is also a good time for ambitious educators to use the immersive digital experience to leave their own footprint in the field — using online tools to encourage learning through gamification, real-time assessments and a record of progress. This new wave of makeshift digital usage may actually propel us to embed the resources in our daily teaching once schools resume face-to-face teaching.

Students may find themselves in greater control, having learnt new ways of tapping into content and producing work in digital spaces. Some of them may discover intrinsic motivation as they sit with their books following online instructions, and not actually going through the handholding that goes on in class, where they are told exactly what to do at each step of the learning process.

In these times of emergency, innovation and discovery, much frustration abounds. Parents lament that they have had to involve themselves unduly in their child’s learning and step in where teachers are now absent; schools have had to produce content digitally very quickly, and having to jump the planning and synthesising process where ideas culminate into action after some deliberation and testing.

The coronavirus has left us with no testing or experimentation time, resulting in fights between parents and staff on these digital forums. We also demonstrate in times of crisis that we are resilient and impatient. When we face glitches or come face to face with our inability to crack something new, we like to first point fingers, kick and scream, before we eventually settle down and accept the new reality.

As Charles Dickens put it in a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Whilst we gear all our efforts to keep our children and ourselves safe from the overarching virus threat,

we discover so much about ourselves and our ability to reflect, improvise, innovate and survive. While there is obvious despair at how we lag behind technologically,

there is hope in our ability to rise above the challenge.

The writer works at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.

neda.mulji@gmail.com

Twitter: @nedamulji

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020