There is no doubt that COVID-19 has altered the way we do business. In my recent article “COVID-19: 5 Digital Transformation Strategies”, I shared some perspectives on business continuity during the ongoing digital transition. In subsequent discussions with colleagues, some of whom, like myself are parents, I realized not much has been written on the transition to remote learning.
I have learned several things during this pandemic journey with my own remote learners who are between their teenage years and young adulthood.
1. Safeguarding & Technology
Technology has played a significant role in improving education by offering a plethora of learning tools to learners, parents, and educators. The hands-on approach of educators with learners helps identify emerging issues associated with online learning such as cyber-bullying, shaming, gang culture, extremism, sexual predators, amongst other vices. During this pandemic and beyond, remote learning will no doubt leave these learners vulnerable to these ills which could go undetected and un-addressed for long periods.
Government and schools should proactively create regulations and implementation policies surrounding safeguards such as the development or acquisition of online systems that assist with cyber-security, online monitoring, and anonymous reporting which will significantly facilitate better learning outcomes. The success of remote learning depends on a strong and reliable internet connection, as well as, an availability of security and careful monitoring. Institutions will need to be more proactive in becoming advocates for inclusion in order to ensure technology does not cause a significant rift between those who have and those who don’t have online access to education.
2. Online Communication & Etiquette
Effective communication is vital for quality teaching and better learning. There is an even greater need for active engagement among the key stakeholders in the learning process. Some schools are setting best practice routines by communicating to parents in consistent intervals on institution and student progress. In addition, there is an increased use of technology tools to bring attention to the everyday rigors of attendance, participation, attending to assignments and grading. Moreover, feedback is being communicated regularly to allow for deliberate monitoring and engagement with parents regarding student progress.
Online etiquette (or netiquette) is essential for effective communication. Educators should focus on enforcing good netiquette skills on learners. The internet is rife with Zoom faux pas and while they are in some instances entertaining, they can be a source of significant humiliation to a learner who unwittingly fails to realize that they are working in a “see you – see me” environment. Attention to schooling learners on netiquette is critical to understanding the salient aspects of online learning to achieve desired outcomes.
3. Learning-at-Home Structure
There have been some wonderful stories citing the effects of family bonding during this pandemic. However, is the bonding extending to the home learning environment? Schools are effective at running a strict timetable with transition signals from one activity to the next. With remote learning, the onus is on us, as parents, to cultivate an environment that is dynamic enough to maintain the learning environment structure. With learners working long hours, a structured home environment with necessary breaks will allow the students to work at their best.
4. Health & Wellness
The excitement of learning online is waning and exhaustion is beginning to set-in. Truth is, even when schools re-open there will be considerable online interactions. However, limited social interaction and increased remote workload is yielding some negative side-effects. Health and wellness is an area that will most likely be overlooked with disastrous consequences. As working parents, we have engaged in discussions on workplace wellness but have not placed enough importance on learner wellness. We expect the students to “get on with it” despite the evolving and complicated environment around them. Some forward thinking schools have recruited wellness professionals who are tracking how students are coping with this new normal. They should be lauded. Where such programs do not exist, there is an opportunity for parent and school interactions to design and place standards of dealing with issues associated with this new norm without stigmatizing any struggling student.
Students, in addition to being highly excitable, are also highly energetic. In the old system, games and Physical Education were and hopefully will continue to be vital to their education. However, given that the pandemic has robbed them of this experience, parents and the schools alike should look for ways to engage their learners in some form of exercise. I’m pleased that some schools have been sharing videos and evaluating the learners on the execution of the exercises. As we acquire a deeper understanding of how education will progress, these aspects will be in the fore-front of the online education ecosystem discourse across the world.
5. Inclusive Online Learning Ecosystem
The learning ecosystem is composed of many stakeholders including parents, learners, educators, administrators as well as governments. The other day I logged into a webinar at my daughter’s school. It became clear to me that even though we are excited at this new mode of education, the teachers’ welfare is equally as important as our children’s. Addressing their needs will prevent imminent burnout to the detriment of our learners. In the same webinar, I also noticed that the school had become agile and had adopted an innovative modular approach that is both a welcomed departure from the rigid systems. This will set them apart as an innovative learning institution. Finally, I’m encouraged at the continued dialogue in some countries such as Kenya where the government is soliciting parents’ views on when schools should open. The incorporation of all views can only strengthen the learning ecosystem. My takeaway was that the school fabric has a delicate ecosystem. None of the stakeholder parts should be left to fail if we are to ensure the successful education of our children.
There is no doubt that the globe is working through a myriad of issues for the first time. However, as we progress post-COVID-19, it is imperative that we invest in the development of those responsible for our future. The society that emerges from this pandemic is heavily dependent on how we act now.
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