Online learning concept to continue beyond pandemic | Sunday Observer

Online learning concept to continue beyond pandemic

25 July, 2021

Although online learning is not a brand new concept to the world and also to Sri Lanka, the ‘new normal’ model of living became a household term with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Around the world, governments and other educational institutions started looking towards online education platforms to provide continuous education to students from kindergarten to the university and above. The new normal has now transformed into a concept of education in Sri Lanka and throughout the world. As of today, digital learning has materialised as an indispensable source for students.

Although many online programs were conducted by educational institutions, both Government and private, before Covid-19 came, for higher education students, those in schools from grade one to GCE A/L, online learning was an entirely new experience. As enthusiastic as they should be, almost the whole student population quickly adopted to the online learning process in a relatively short time.

Online becoming popular in Lanka

During the past few months, online educational practices have become significantly popular among Sri Lankan students. The recognition is such, subjects such as painting, music, cookery, and even teaching sports activities have been introduced. The experts predict that the trend will continue in the future even when the coronavirus pandemic is completely under control.

On a different note, online education has become a controversial but mostly discussed topic in the country during the past two weeks due to the boycott of ongoing online classes by teachers. The decision for the refusal came after a debatable action by authorities on a health-related issue where several trade unionists were sent to a quarantine center.

Instigated by a few trade unions, the majority of teachers who were engaged in online education collectively stayed away from conducting online classes. The action was largely detrimental to most of the innocent student population who were taken by surprise and this unjustifiable action was vehemently criticized by parents.

Nevertheless, the media reported that some of them continued their online programs disregarding the trade union requests. This gesture of decency and commitment to the noble profession came into praise of thel public.

Private sector losing jobs

No doubt that the public appreciates the voluntary service offered by the teachers to involve in online education during the pandemic. However, simultaneously they must be reminded that many private-sector employees completely lost jobs or received part of their remunerations due to the dire situation of the country. Nevertheless, as Government servants, teachers received their full salary during the whole period as a result of the painstakingly long closure of schools. Therefore, one cannot say that online teaching is entirely voluntary even if their stipulated duties do not mention online teaching.

Traditionally, online education was an alternative pathway that was more suited for adult students seeking higher education. The sudden emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic compelled educators to devise virtual learning models to bridge the gap created due to the loss of customary physical classrooms. In Sri Lanka, initially, the virtual classroom method was deployed as emergency remote teaching. This model is likely to be continued until the Covid19 is substantially under control with a very high possibility of continuance even after that.

As with many other teaching methods, online models also have their own positive and negative aspects. Therefore, educators have to evaluate and analyse such factors cautiously to deliver more efficient lessons to students.

Flexibilities of new style of education

On the positive side, the online education process offers unprecedented opportunities to students during this period. The main advantage of the model is that it allows students to participate in the program from anywhere convenient provided the technology supports and suitable devices are available. Besides, online lessons can be recorded and archived to access the learning material at a time convenient.

Depending on the study schedules, the student has the advantage of choosing a time for discussion with the teacher. Online education offers teachers an efficient way to deliver lessons to students at their own convenience and pace. Instead of restricting to a specified time as in school learning periods, the teacher has more flexibility to adjust teaching times. Also, teachers have the freedom to extend the lesson plans by using tools such as videos, PDFs and podcasts. which is not available in a typical physical classroom in Sri Lanka.

As the online classes can be attended from a location of choice, more participants can be drawn and student’s chances of missing a lesson also can be minimised. Further, there is a cost advantage to parents when students are learning from home. Requirements such as transport and meals can be eliminated or minimised in addition to fewer study materials needed in online learning.

In Sri Lanka, internet coverage is a pressing issue and the key challenge for the majority of the students who are in remote areas. According to the reports of the four service providers, the penetration is spanned to almost 90 percent of the country. Also, the mobile broadband subscription is over eleven million as of 2020. However, the actual penetration is questionable in some areas where students are failing to access the internet for online lessons.

Continuity of online education is an issue without consistent internet connectivity and a large number of students and teachers currently is affected. At present, the government and private sector organisations are working together to provide fast solutions to this critical issue. Also, currently, in addition to the government-owned television stations, several private television channels are telecasting online lessons.

In addition to the technical issues, perhaps a more serious psychological factor in students has surfaced with online education recently. For students engaged in continual online learning, minimal physical interaction between other students and teachers can lead to a sense of isolation. Therefore, it is imperative to devise other forms of communication methods to interact between peers, fellow students, and teachers. Also, suitable recreational activities can be introduced to students to reduce stress.

The blue light emission of digital electronic devices is another possible health concern that has arisen in children due to excessive online usage. Medical experts say that blue light exposure can lead to permanent vision changes. More acutely, it is linked to the slow release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Psychiatrists warn that poor or lack of sleep can directly influence the memory capacity of a child. Therefore, if the online learning concept continues into the post-pandemic period, parents have to manage screen times and authorities have to find proper solutions to these health concerns.

Distracted at homes

A disapproving and pessimistic impression was noticed among a section of Government teachers on remote education practices. Their view is that the emotional commitment of online students is lesser than in a physical learning environment. They also suggest that the students can get distracted by elements in home environments. They said that the subjects with practical applications and special topics cannot be taught online. Whilst their views are acceptable, it is a dire requirement to find appropriate remedies.

In response to part of the negativities discussed above, discussion on the ‘hybrid model’ in education has emerged in the world where a possibility of having a remote school within a public-school concept is being considered. Several reasons such as uncertainty of the timelines of unpredictable Covid-19 pandemic, that the vaccine is not a cure but only a temporary solution for emergency use and the virus itself is still under study are being deliberated by experts. A hybrid model, if introduced, will cut down costs for the Government as well as the parents.

Sri Lankan students, secondary, tertiary, and higher levels, have made a notable and commendable shift to online education since the closure of schools and other institutions last year. Most of the country’s student population has to participate in online learning despite varied negative factors confronted so far. It was observed that Sri Lanka has progressed to a remarkable digital transformation compared even to developed countries.