The Covid19 pandemic forced most of the schools to move their classes online this year. This proved to be a great challenge for the teachers and for the children as well. Online classes are the most difficult for the little ones; children aged 6 or 7 need the help of an adult all the time. Without the help of parents, they can't even connect to online classes. They also lose their interest very quickly and get easily distracted, so to capture their attention, teachers try to find new and original methods: they have to come with questions all the time, or ask them to play a role to make the class interesting.
There are also health issues that need to be taken into consideration when talking about online schooling. Doctors from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia say that excessive screen time has negative effects on kids, causing eye fatigue, dry and irritated eyes and loss of focus and visibility.
When they are physically at school, teachers can offer them a different kind of help, like showing them how to hold the pen correctly or sit straight. It is also essential for them to socialize, to get in touch with other children. Teachers try to adapt and use different methods: they show them pictures, project movies and do different interactive activities, but it is a big disadvantage for the child's training period. Learning letters and numbers online can be quite a challenge as the teacher is not physically there to help them and guide them.
With older students the situation isn't so bad, as they are more mature and seem to understand and adapt easier to the changes in the educational system. They also have no problem with the technological aspect of online schooling, many times being better at it then their teachers. It might even happen that teachers ask the students to explain to them different settings of the software they are using.
In high schools and in universities even more, the teachers are promoting methods of individual study, and students seem to be ok with that. Of course, they also need and miss the social interaction, but it's not as important as it is for the little ones.
The problem comes in the vocational schools, where students have to practice what they study, and online education hasn't yet offered any option for this. In some areas, there are teachers who encourage their students to make small workshops at home and try to put in practice what they learn, but in most cases that is very difficult to accomplish; therefore, they are sticking to the theoretical part of the subjects, hoping they will soon be able to address the practical part.
There are teachers who dictate the lesson online using a webcam, but this is not enough. Some children might spend hours in front of the laptop just writing after dictation. Some words are left out, and the meaning is not even questioned. A lot of teachers are just trying to replicate online the method they are using in the class, and it simply doesn't work. They have to find a different way to teach using online tools.
Each school has chosen the platform(s) for teaching. UNESCO website has listed a number of educational applications, platforms and resources created to help parents, teachers and schools in this new and adventurous journey called online schooling. However not all teachers use platforms that are created for educational purposes, using emails instead or WhatsApp groups to communicate with children. Research shows that eye contact is the most important thing in classroom management, and without it it's more difficult for teachers to keep the students focused.
Pupils have received tablets in certain schools only. In some countries there are public schools that couldn't provide the children with tablets or laptops and their parents may not afford to buy them, so they have no means of attending the online classes. If there is still a problem with the auxiliary resources, it means that things haven't changed significantly since the first lockdown, although countries had the summer period to get plan and prepare, and it's been a while since the school year started.
Many children cannot attend online classes because they either don't own devices or they don't have an internet connection. Those children are the most affected. If they drop out of school because they cannot attend online classes, this will be an educational failure. But even where there aren't any technology issues, many children find it difficult to adapt to this new way of studying. Experts are saying that we will have worrying dropout rates the next period.
Online school is extremely limited because it doesn't offer a real interaction with the child. The child may not have a camera, only microphone. The teachers don't know if what they say reaches the student, they don't know if the method used is effective. In the face-to-face interaction they see if the methods work and, if not, they modify or adapt them. In online school, they often can't do that, and in any case, it's not easy.
The student's lack of motivation is a real problem. The face-to-face school is a social group, a small community and often the interactions between the children stimulate them to participate, to be active. This rarely happens in online school. Everyone learns from home, there is very little collaboration between students; teacher may try to bring them together and make them workin group, but this might happen only occasionally.
Teachers need clear guidelines and trainning on how to hold online classes, how to structure the contents of the subject so that this transfer to children is effective. They need clear indications about the methods, the teaching strategies. Those guideslines are necessary because for most of the world online teaching is something new and many teachers are not familiar with the methods. The pandemic has just revealed the critical need of training and development on online teaching tools.
There is a positive outcome, namely the fact that the weaknesses in the educational system were identified, and solutions are sought. When this health crisis ends, lessons will have to be learnt which will be impacting the training and methodology of teachers. Finally, the educational system admits it has some problems, now all that remains is to start solving them.
As the second coronavirus wave grows, France, Germany, the UK... are going back to national lockdown, yet they are keeping the schools open. This decision was taken in order to maintain the quality of education and minimise the disruption caused during the first lockdown, for children and also for parent juggling with their work at the same time. In other countries schools are partially closed, depending on the infection rates in each region. In this case, classes will continue to be held online.
Despite its disadvantages, distance learning is still education and it is important for students to keep in touch with teachers and their colleagues, because even if they learn from home, the school continues to exist. Online education is just a temporary stage before the return to face to face school, which is essential to learning. But in the meantime, students must continue to learn as best they can and make the most of this situation.
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