Effect of Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) COVID-19 Pandemic on Academics: What is the Future of Learning?

Introduction

The Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) COVID-19 Pandemic is a health crisis, but its spillover effects are observed in all sectors, including the education sector. The pandemic led to extended school closures in late March, with over 166 countries implementing nationwide school closures affecting over 1.5 billion students. According to UNESCO, 80 percent of the world’s learners are out of school.

Weeks of school closures turned to months, and educators and policymakers are trying to find ways to safely re-open schools without putting learners at risk. The disruption of education is not only affecting academics, but it is also affecting the student’s social life.

As Coronavirus cases continue to rise, it is hard to predict the future of learning.

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The Rise of Online Learning after the Covid-19 Pandemic

As the school closures went on for months with the spread of COVID-19, online learning has become a viable option. Online learning was on an upward trend before COVID-19, with investments in educational technology estimated at $18.66 million in 2019. 2020 has seen the sudden upsurge in online learning.

For example, in mid-February, the Chinese government ordered online learning through Tencent classroom for over a quarter of a billion students. The move was the most significant online movement for K-12 students. Other nations have followed suit with most primary, secondary, and university learning taking place online.

Online learning is not only conducted by learning institutions. Governments and media houses are playing a significant role in supporting virtual learning. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District partnered with PBS SoCal/KCET to offer educational broadcasts.

The BBC launched Bitesize Daily, a virtual learning program with 14 weeks of curriculum-based learning for school going kids in the UK. Video conferencing technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have made it easier for remote teaching and enables students to interact with each other and their teachers.

Online learning during the pandemic has enabled the continuation of education while enhancing the safety of students. However, transitioning to online learning has been a challenge for students and educators. Students and educators have been met with unprecedented obstacles that affect learning.

Here are some of the challenges of online learning amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic

  • Technical difficulties 

Online learning is a new channel of learning for most students who are used to traditional classrooms. Whether its poor internet connection or confusing interface, both student and teachers are finding it hard to adjust to learning and teaching online.

Technical problems are likely to get better with time as users become more familiar with the online classroom platform. However, some students are not in a position to have laptops and internet connections, especially students in developing nations, who are likely to be left behind.

  • Disrupted schedules

Before Covid-19, students operated on a consistent schedule, which is crucial for maintaining discipline. Students had to report to school at a particular time, and their days were extremely structured. Structured learning came to a sudden end with the termination of traditional learning. Students are finding it challenging to manage their time and school work with online learning.

It is hard to stay productive at home with many distractions. Students are less likely to find it hard to concentrate on schoolwork amidst all the distractions without the instructor’s assistance and supervision. Students are likely to leave their homework until the last minute because their teachers are not there to remind them.

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  • Substantial delays 

The sudden closure of schools had left many students with no idea of when schools or classes would resume. Schools were ill-prepared to start online learning, and some are yet to create platforms for online learning. Some students are left behind because the schools do not have resources to establish an online platform to deliver the same quality of education as before.

Additionally, with online learning, classes are not as consistent as traditional learning. There has been a delay in student schedules, and the course schedules have been pushed deeper into the summer. Students are unsure about when they will graduate.

  • Struggling parents

It is no secret that parents are not excited about taking on the role of teachers. Parents are also struggling with the changes in their work and social lives due to corona. With a considerable number of people working from home, online learning has put parents in a tough situation, especially for young students.

Parents have a lot on their tables, taking on the role of a teacher or a supervisor is a challenge.

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Is online learning effective after the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Online learning continues to attract mixed reactions from students and educators.

Some students believe they learn better with online learning as they are in charge of learning. Students learn on their pace as online learning tends to be individualized. Students learn at their own pace; they can go back to re-read or accelerate some concepts.

The effectiveness of online learning is yet to be fully established on a large scale level. Researchers suggest that younger children need a structured environment because they are easily distracted. In a physical environment, there is a range of collaboration tools and engagement strategies to promote teamwork and make learning fun for young students. Studies have shown that younger children learn using their senses, which is not possible using technology.

Learning through games, activities, and other forms of physical interactions can make learning more fun for young students. While the public remains divided on the effectiveness of online learning, the reality is that online learning is here to stay until the Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) COVID-19 Pandemic is under control.

School Re-Opening amidst Covid-19 Pandemic?

Around the world, countries are debating whether to open schools or not during the pandemic. Schools remain closed in many countries, and there is no likelihood of schools opening soon until 2021. For countries such as Hong Kong, which re-opened schools, they have been forced to close schools again as the countries battle with the second and third wave of increasing Covid-19 infections.

Re-opening schools is a tough decision for the government, even in countries where the spread of Covid-19 has been contained. Going back to school will be different in the Covid-19 era as strict safety measures have to be put in place. The news shows that students have to be scanned for schools that have re-opened as they get in school using a thermal thermometer before moving up to the next stations where they sanitize their hands.

Students can no longer sit close, and they must wear face masks all the time in school. The government and schools are spending more money on deep cleaning the school environment and ensuring that students are keeping the social distancing protocols in school.

What is the future for learning after the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Most students have been home for over a year, and the future for learning is hard to predict. Students would have graduated, finished one grade, or moved to the next step. As many students have embraced virtual learning, some are not satisfied with the state of virtual learning, while others lack technology or resources to support online learning.

Young students who are used to modern technology are transitioning smoothly, while teachers are trying to adjust. Covid-19 has made technology a crucial aspect of education, and students are likely to expect the persistence use of technology in the future.

The future also demands for peer to peer mentoring and adaptive learning. The pandemic has amplified the need for technology that facilitates virtual connectivity in learning. Educators should find ways to enhance peer-to-mentoring in online learning.

Experimental concepts such as the “flipped classroom” are becoming viable options as they focus on empowering students to self-navigate content first, then ask questions later. Covid-19 has stressed the importance of independent learning and an academic system that cultivates independence in students.

While the future for learning will probably entail online learning and educational technology, the challenge for maintaining equity will arise. Covid-19 pandemic has exaggerated socioeconomic differences in education. Kids with little access to resources have lost ground while peers from well-off families are thriving through online classes or access to private tutors. Low-income students often benefit from books, computers, and the internet in the school library.

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The Takeaway 

The academic experience in 2020 has been quite different. The outbreak of the Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) COVID-19 Pandemic disrupted every aspect of society, including education. Fortunately, technology has made it possible for some students to continue their education through online learning. There is a possibility that schools will remain closed for the rest of the year.

Students have no choice but to adapt to digital classrooms as it is the best alternative for now. The COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on education and challenge educators to invest in online learning and other alternatives to prepare for future emergencies like Covid-19.

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