The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities as humans but has also brought forth our innate resourcefulness and resilience. The virus has impacted every aspect of our lives — and here, we’ll be talking about one of its most significant aspects — education. Statistics show that school closures have impacted nearly 80% of the world’s student population. And it’s not just restricted to the school level. Higher education has borne the brunt as well, with deferred admissions, changing visa rules, and cancelled classes becoming the norm. However, it is not all gloom and doom. The future of education, at least temporarily, will be virtual. In that regard, in many countries, online classes have already begun in full swing, and every stakeholder is slowly adapting to this new learning model. Institutions, teachers, as well as students are getting acquainted with learning online. In addition, various international organizations have come up with specific recommendations around ensuring continued learning for all. What do the experts say?
The UNESCO report titled Education in a post-COVID world: Nine ideas for public action, has called for concrete and immediate action to make education accessible to all. It’s 9-point action plan includes, among other things:
Making free and open source technologies available to teachers and students
Expanding the definition of the right to education to include the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information.
Protecting domestic and international financing of public education
Apart from the UN, the World Economic Forum (WEF) believes that the pandemic has shaken the current educational system and believes that the way forward lies in:
Educating citizens in an interconnected world
Redefining the role of the educator
Teaching life skills needed for the future
Unlocking technology to deliver education
While the implementation of these recommendations lies with the respective governments, teachers, who are the front line warriors of the education sector, will need to take certain steps to tide through this crisis. The primary one being familiarizing themselves with the concept of a virtual classroom. Educators must become comfortable with audio and video conferencing software that will allow them to impart lessons to students who, for the near future, will not be entering a physical classroom space.
Educators, however, do not function in a vacuum. Higher education institutions must emerge as beacons of hope, prioritizing the wellbeing and continued growth of their students while also contributing to the global fight against the pandemic. They can do this by: Making distance learning easy and accessible
The first and the foremost responsibility of the higher seats of learning is to ensure that remote access is made easily accessible, especially to the underprivileged.
Allowing their facilities to be used for COVID research
Larger universities can play a crucial role in the fight against this pandemic, supporting it with their theoretical expertise and world-class laboratories. Catering to the needs of students — no matter where they are Universities across the world play host to international students from every corner of the world — some of whom may currently be in their home countries, unable to travel due to the pandemic. However, they must not be left behind. Apart from distance learning programs, institutions must:
Arrange special flights for overseas students
Help them obtain visas
Collaborate with embassies and government agencies to come up with practical solutions to the restrictions thrown up by the pandemic
That being said, the role of governments goes beyond ensuring students can travel to and from universities. They must implement prescribed protocols, heed expert advice, and take steps such as: Easing visa rules for students
Most countries, in order to control an inflow of people, have either tightened visa rules or have totally barred people from entering their country. However, steps must be taken to ensure such restrictions do not bar international students from receiving the education they deserve. Visa rules can thus be eased, depending on certain health-related criteria. Ensuring affordable connectivity
Internet connectivity till the last-mile is non-negotiable when learning has moved to the online space. The responsibility to ensure that every student — across locations and economic strata — has access to the internet, lies with the government.
Now, coming to those whose lives have been in flux since the COVID-19 outbreak —- students, particularly international. It is essential at this time that each one prioritizes their mental health. Do what is best for one’s peace of mind, and take time out for self care, meditation, and activities that bring joy. When it comes to classes, if internet connectivity is an issue, start a self-directed study circle, and immediately let the relevant authorities know. Those who have the privilege of connectivity and can share their devices, must do the same. Now is the time to lend a helping hand.
The world is not going to be the same, even when we return to ‘normal’. COVID-19 will remain a part of our lives, at least until a vaccine is ready. Till then, all of us, governments, institutions, and educators, and students, must support each other and share our resources to come out stronger on the other side.