You may have heard it before, and chances are you will hear it again “The coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to digitalise the education system” - it is practically a mantra now. Whether and how schools will reopen this month has been widely discussed in the news, virtual round-tables and social media after one of the largest disruptions of the education system in history was recorded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some even went as far as saying it was the enemy to the education system. This led to the closure of schools and other learning facilities which impacted 92 per cent of the world’s student population and up to 99 per cent in low-middle income countries.
With this sudden shift away from the traditional classroom in many parts of the world, many teachers and students were left wondering if online teaching will be their new normal. As a result, the education system has changed dramatically with the rise of e-learning, where teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.
So, what does this mean for the future of education? Simply put, while some believe that the move to online learning, with little or no training, or insufficient preparation will not yield good results, others believe significant benefits will emerge.
An excerpt from “Ethics Amidst COVID-19: A Brief Ethics Handbook for Caribbean Policymakers and Leaders,” by Dr Anna Kasafi Perkins & Professor R. Clive Landis (The UWI COVID-19 Task Force) notes "Teaching and learning has been forced to go online with rapid adjustments needing to be made at all levels of the education system. Emergency remote teaching, online conference and tele-business and medicine have become necessary. Many parents find themselves playing multiple roles, including that of teacher, while balancing the challenge of working from home without adequate tools, and suffering from the psychological burn-out engendered by the usually distinct spheres encroaching on each other."
Teachers at primary and secondary level, who are mainly women, themselves parents and caregivers, are subject to additional pressures in moving to the digital mode and working to include students who are digitally disadvantaged. Pressures on their already strained economic resources are often not countenanced. Generally, the unpaid work by women - especially the burdens of care - which has been a significant part of the economic backbone of our societies, continues to go unrecognised.
At Media InSite, we tracked data over the last month for UWI, out of the 878 results (Trinidad & Tobago), the majority of the discussions were held online, giving it a 65.3 per cent lead.
As early as March, the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Professor Hilary Beckles noted that they will be investing in online training and online technology. New and continuing classes for full-time, part-time programmes and continuing and professional education programmes (CPE) will begin in October 2020. At UWI, Mona, with the exception of programmes with clinical or laboratory components, all courses will be offered online for the first semester of the new school year. Meantime at the St. Augustine Campus, Professor Brian Copeland, Vice-Chancellor and Campus Principal announced the removal of the TT$500 amenities fee and the introduction of expanded payment plan to assist students during the pandemic. Teaching, which was initially carded to start on September 7th has been pushed back to September 14th.
Although the COVID-19 learning curve has been a trying journey, it has taught us many valuable lessons moving forward, the main being that anything can happen but learning institutions must be ready, because the show must go on.