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The pandemic and online learning-The challenges ahead

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By: Rahamanuddin Md Moinam
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown our lives out of gear ; for the first time, in an unprecedented way ,as far as our generations can remember, we have been compelled to come out of our comfort zone and introspect and retrospect the way ahead.While the pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives and rudely awakened us from the deep slumber of being fully safe and sound in the lap of technological and medical advances in recent years, the most visible and palpable disruption has been seen in the field of education, consequent upon the closures of schools across the globe and that has spawned the new challenges – to rethink and reinvent and keep on continuation of learning without really going to school.
While the global health pandemic has pricked the bubble of human invincibility it has also exposed the vulnerabilities and challenges humanity faces. We face unprecedented disruption to economies, societies and education system.The pandemic has the potential to radically reshape the world. But the biggest challenge has been addressing the educational needs of more than 1.5 billion students whose learning has been hampered due to school closures as per a report by UNESCO. Disruptions to education systems over the past year have already caused substantial losses and inequalities in learning.School closures and the resulting disruptions to school participation and learning are projected to amount to losses valued at $10 trillion in terms of affected children’s future earning as per the world bank estimate.
To compensate the lost ground in teaching and learning the world has been forced to engage in the ubiquitous mode of virtual, digital and online, by whatever names it is called, teaching and learning.For the records online and distance learning is not a new concept it has always been there and used to maintain continuity in learning and education but the kind of scale we see now is unprecedented in human history,so much so that, experts have started speculating the lasting effects of all these and what education may really look like in the post- COVID era.While some would prefer an immediate retreat and return to the traditional method of physical classroom and still for some others the forced shift to online education is a historic moment for introspection and stock taking to reimagine,redesign and reinvent how education could be delivered.This will be the right time for all the stakeholders to brain- storm for the challenges ahead as we cannot return to the world as it was before as has been rightly pointed out by the UNESCO.
Online mode of education has been, traditionally, viewed and perceived as an alternate pathway well suited for the adult learners looking for higher educational opportunities and continuity in education. Moreover, it has been seen as an urban concept for the people who possess all the required modern gadgets with fast internet access. But the onset of the pandemic has blurred the thin boundaries and all learners irrespective of ages and locations have been forced to hook to the online classes bandwagon. It cannot be denied that the transition to online classes was forced upon by unforeseen circumstances and it was done in a hurried manner and the planning and execution might have been haphazard. After getting all the students of all ages to be addicted to the fancy of online learning for around one and a half years, a return to the normal pre-Covid physical classes may not be a smooth and fluid transition as online classes have become the password for the new ages and new normal classes with a rightful claim to its own independent existence alongside the likes of the physical classes.
Circumstances have compelled many new age learners between the age of 5-18 to be hooked to online classes. It includes many first time learners as well and for these new learners, physical classes will be as new an experience as online classes are to our generation. When a near normalcy returns these young learners need to be adjusted to another learning experience. It is for Educators to plan and design new learning materials for these young learners and those materials should be no less lively, interesting and entertaining than the online materials so that their attention is aroused and we can attract them to physical classes. At the same time ,an absolute normal, as was before Covid-19, looks like a distant dream, in the near future. Moreover , a prediction for a third wave which will impact children more is floating around in the COVID infested air. So however much we want a quick return to traditional learning, Online learning is here to stay and it is we who have to adjust.
Looking ahead a single mode of delivering education will become out of date and out of sync with the new age. Educators and experts have to reimagine and redesign for a multi mode of delivering education. Those who have been a part of this online classes revolution might have arrived at their own conclusions regarding the pros and cons of this new age learning experience. I myself have been a part of this online classes revolution as a post graduate teacher of English teaching English to higher secondary students in a JNV in UKHRUL . The transition was hesitant and cumbersome on a smart phone but now we have settled down to lap tops, X pen , digi – classroom etc. We have seen through Zoom, Google meet, Microsoft office, Google Forms on the premise that something is better than nothing and to keep the students engaged and in learning mode .Personally I have found online classes to be effective and convenient for teaching Comprehension passages and writing skill.
Flexibility and convenience has been one of the biggest assets of online classes. In the years to come hybrid and blended learning and education may be the in-word as many types of teaching and learning experiences have to share their spaces; it will be nigh impossible for one to dominate and monopolize over others. Now the ball is in the court of the experts and educationists to balance the different modes and platforms of learning and it is to be seen that we do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs or throw the baby out with the bathwater in whatever policy decision we take for the future.
(The writer is M.A English , M.Ed., is an Alumni of I I M C, New Delhi, Teaches English to Hr. Sec. students at JNV. RAMVA, Ukhrul)

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