In the light (or rather, darkness) of the Corona crisis, one of the first measures taken by every country across the world was to close the educational institutions. The reason is obvious. Schools, colleges, and other academic institutes form the biggest network for assembly of the population.
So, they would be the most potent causes of the contagion of the COVID-19 virus. The disease would spread horizontally among students and school staff and vertically from them to their families and anyone else they come into contact with. The situation would be most dire in the developing countries, where the majority of the population comprise of the youth and a large percentage of them have access to some form of schooling or community education system.
But There Is A Huge But Here…
But, numerous studies and past instances have proved beyond doubt that missing school en masse will adversely affect the acquisition of skills by the youth, to the point that the labor force can even be cripple by this.
The quarantine is already wrecking the economy worldwide. Millions are losing their jobs. The few that will retain their jobs will be overwork & exploited after the crisis is over because neither would companies have the money to pay a workforce of the size they used to have, nor will the employees be in a position to make a choice. If the future labor force is under-qualified to hold these positions, it would only aggravate the problem.
The Only Solution Is Not Enough…
This indicates that we cannot put a hold on school, college, or university education. Since pupils going out is out of the question, the education must be brought into their homes. This means beside #workfromhome, we would also need #studyfromhome. Most schools and institutes have already started online classes. Unfortunately, many teachers and students are still grappling with the system. The former are trying to adapt to a technology that their generation has tried to elude till now. Whereas the latter is facing the twin issues of financial viability and the conduciveness of a domestic environment to studying for students used to learning in the school environment.
Financial viability itself is a two-pronged issue.
- First, not every student can buy a computer or avail of uninterrupted, & reliable data connection essential for online education.
- Second, many students rely heavily on the resources at school, especially the library & digital resources, for assistance with their studies. Online classes through video conferencing only deprive them of that.
Thus, conducting classes on video conferencing or setting up a WhatsApp group is not enough. A better solution is necessary.
Online Education System
School management systems made their way into educational institutions much earlier than learning management systems. Even before dedicated ERPs became the norm of the day, most institutes had been using digital spreadsheets to maintain their administrative data. But until Smart Classes became common, people kind of frowned upon online classes, distance learning, and the general digitization of the learning process as ineffective and even detrimental to the learner.
Unfortunately, the present situation demands the exclusive use of an online education system. It also demands that changes be made to accommodate the needs of students and even teachers from every financial stratum in society. Developers and school managers across the world are already hard at work to make it easy to take the school to the cloud. Here are some pointers they can do with.
A Seamless Experience
Traditionally, the school management system (SMS) and the learning management system (LMS) have been entirely separate entities. This was back when people were still there to man the systems on location in the school. But now more than ever, there is a need to create intimate bridges between the two and automate their communication. This would help somewhat make up for the lack of computer skills still rampant among the staff.
For example, the student information system (SIS) of the online school management system needs to calibrate to detect the email addresses that are actively logged on to the online class in the LMS to update the attendance log. The library management system of the SMS should be connected to the digital resource library to easily keep track of who is utilizing which resource. The exam and result management system of the SMS needs to work hand-in-hand with the online examination system of the LMS to automatically compile the results & publish the report cards.
Ironically, the ones that most vociferously expressed their hatred for school are the ones that miss it the most. The school was just not about the classes and the learning. The community experience was equally responsible in shaping a student’s development. With that gone, the fellowship, exchange of ideas, and the scope for students getting individual care in the parts they were struggling in have also been limited.
The online education system needs to put more stress on the creation of small and large online communities connected via video conferencing, group messaging or other communication channels to somewhat imitate the school experience. Systems like Google Classroom, Moodle, & Paper Airplanes are all community-driven systems. This will also bring a semblance of continuity in the learning process and help both students and teachers cope better with the present circumstances.
Equality and Inclusivity
Sitting in the comfort of your home with an unlimited Wi-Fi connection, state-of-the-art noise-canceling headphones make it easy to advocate online education systems. But let us not forget that far less than 50% of the youth in the world who are part of some form of schooling system does not have access to a digital device. No, not even a smartphone often. Some used to go to school or hang out in a public Wi-Fi space for the Internet.
For many, their school was the only way to get access to study materials through a library or computer lab. These students are the worst hit in the pandemic. An elaborate & equipped LMS does not squat to them because they do not have the tools to exploit the resources. This calls for a leveler. The current system needs to be adapt to work smoothly with what they have. A smartphone is a much commoner presence in homes than a computer. Thus, a mobile-first approach is necessary. This applies to the school staff too.
Many of them used to use school computers to manage ERP systems. Since they are confined to their homes too, tweaks must be made to allow the operation of the school management application like MyEdu. All systems should be made less data-intensive or even offline, like Eneza Education and KaiOS.
To Sign Off…
Now many will argue that this is just a temporary situation, so do we really need to take such drastic measures? Well, of course. There are two strong and valid reasons to back it up. The first is that the present situation is a lesson. If we do not take counsel from it and fortify the education system to prevent a disruption in the event of a similar case in the future, it would be no different than not wanting a vaccine against the Coronavirus saying, once we eradicate it, it will not return.
The second is that even in times of peace, we can benefit from an online education system. It will radically expand the borders of literacy and lift the barriers that prevent many from physically attending school. Online education systems are a step towards a developed world better equipped to resist the ravages of disasters like this.