How a small virus has changed the world in a time span as short as a year is all we’ve heard in 2020. The effect of the same on education has been debated end-to-end too. With e-learning transforming into the norm, the pros and cons are new but numerous. Here’s a run-through on how this has affected the students struggling with technology, coursework or both.

What was good?

The good about these virtual lessons has shown that learners who may have been sick or hospitalised could follow lessons. Learners can revise the recorded lesson as many times as necessary. This has proved to be one of the most valued assets of the way teaching took place these past two months. As President Vella stated some days ago, I hope that in the future teachers record their explanations of concepts so that learners who may not be in school, will not miss out. Wouldn’t it be good if everyone can go over their maths lesson from a recording rather than grapple with abstract numbers?

Some learners and parents/guardians became proficient in the use of tools never experienced before and some participated in their child’s learning in a more active way than ever before. Even teachers who may have not embraced the benefits of technology before, managed to react to the need.

What was not so good?

The COVID-19 crisis has raised the issue of inequalities in provision and access to education. We know there are learners who have not engaged with online teaching from the very beginning, others who are feeling alone or depressed, disorganised, unmotivated or have the necessary discipline to plod on without the reassurance coming from the classroom community.

Children need to be in learning communities. Despite every effort of some families, the home brings with it a lot of distractions – living-rooms became offices and classrooms at the same time. Parents/guardians had to cope with their own work or with other children. Not every family is stable or supportive of learning. Some households may not have had internet connectivity or understandably not have enough IT equipment. Some lacked digital skills, some are tired of the online screen. Those that were lagging behind could be lagging behind even further.

This digital divide has grown and is leading to further educational and social disadvantage. It is now the role of all educators (school leaders and teachers) to ensure that all students are assessed in order to see what their needs are and address these before schools reopen. Let us not resort to simplistic analysis in examining the impact, of this online ‘schooling’ experience.

Richer technology-based teaching for more effective learning

It has been a complex and challenging experience with lessons to be learnt for future design and planning for the post-pandemic months ahead. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that we need to be more innovative in our teaching methods, in designing curricula which may be more in keeping with learners’ needs and in reaching out to learners and their families. Here I would like to offer some insights into the world of technology-enhanced learning for the future whether the virus will spike again or not, but also for post-pandemic planning.

Technologies can enhance learning and make it more student-centred. Online teaching itself, includes much more. It usually takes place through a virtual learning platform like Moodle, Class Dojo or Edmodo, and includes activities such as forums, blogs, wikis, online quizzes, virtual meetings and much more.

In our planning let us not lose the momentum that many teachers and lecturers have gained in the use of technology. Rather than just use Zoom meetings and MS Teams, educators must move to other phases of technology integration, to enhance learning with technology, yet ensure that we have a consistency at least at school level in the use of technology for learning. It is schools that must encompass this and provide teachers with the training, support, equipment and encouragement. Teachers must be better prepared now to use different technologies and ensure that every child is reached.

Technology integration is achieved in phases. There are many models that take teachers from awareness to acceptance to implementation and then adoption and assimilation. It is very clear that teachers need ongoing support and need to share ideas and good practice. This preparation ensures that the teachers adopt the innovative technologies effectively to truly enhance the teaching and learning process and is grounded in a constructivist approach to learning. This means learners use technology to construct knowledge. Learning will be more student-centred, where the learner uses technology to learn through: inquiry (e.g. Webquests); image-based resources (e.g. MS Photostory, videocast, making documentaries); collaboration and sharing (ex. online communities, social/learning networks, blogs, eTwinning, project-based learning in groups); presentations and class-based activities (effective use of interactive whiteboards, role play, online quizzes); games.

When used as part of the pedagogy, technology supports critical thinking, reflection and informed decisions. Different technologies give rise to these learning approaches and there are technologies for every type of learning which are rich in student participation.

Taking the new norm into the future

A new vision to what existed before is required so that the technology that governments have invested in for schools actually enriches the learning experience. The infrastructure has to be consistent across all schools and has to be top notch. It takes visionaries to foresee and plan for the future but it takes an over-arching school-wide plan of action to implement all that technology has to offer in schools. This was a long-awaited wake up call.

The need to collaborate with parents has never been felt as much as was now. Stronger home-school links will help learners. As educators and parents, we want what is best for each child.

Every child is entitled to learn. No child must be left behind. With planning, preparation and commitment we can ensure that this evolving educational norm does not only produce better learners, but also does it in a spirit of fairness and sensitivity to all the situations in our homes.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in maltatoday. The original article can be found at https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/102841/online_schools_those_who_were_lagging_could_be_lagging_behind_even_further#.X-MliNgzbIU)