On Wuhan virus and education: let us make the best use of what we have

Posted by Greten on 11 Sep 2020 under Thoughts

The Wuhan virus disease—officially called Coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID 19—has turned the lives of many of us into topsy-turvy. Education, livelihood, social practices, religious practices, and several other aspects of our lives are affected.

Many people are afraid to go out. In several places around the world, governments restrict the movement of people to avoid large gatherings to contain the pandemic. Festivities, schools, and houses of worship are among those that are severely affected.

Earth with inteconnected bright nodes and a graduation cap surrounded by coronaviruses.Schools are not allowed to gather 50 or more students in a classroom. As shown in Japan and South Korea, gathering a reduced number of students for hours in a classroom, even with appropriate distancing and protections, can still cause a resurgence in the increase of Wuhan virus disease cases.

Even though school-age children are among the least likely to die due to the Wuhan virus disease, parents are afraid to send children to school or even send them outside the house. Many parents opted not to enroll their children this school year. For those who intend to push through with their schooling, the most popular choices are online classes, followed by correspondence education (a.k.a. printed learning modules delivered to students' houses).

However, online learning is not without issues.

Availability and quality of internet connection

The first issue is about the quality and availability of the internet.

Internet connectivity is not available in certain areas. In the Philippines, there are areas that the broadband cables cannot reach, and thus, the learners have to rely on mobile phones. Worse still, there are also areas that mobile phone signals cannot reach. Social media is filled with pictures of students going to the top of the hills to receive mobile phone signals and study there.
Some families cannot afford to pay for internet connection. Low-income families cannot even afford to purchase smartphones and prepaid loads to access mobile internet. For some families, the closure of businesses due to quarantine results in lost income, and thus, those who can afford the internet during normal times may not be able to afford it now.

The internet can be slow and unreliable at times, even with those who are using broadband connections. When several students and a teacher are connected using group chat applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, some students might be disconnected from time to time due to the quality of internet connections and fluctuations in internet signal. When internet service providers advertise, they use the phrase "up to ____ Mbps", implying that it is the maximum speed that the internet connection can reach, not necessarily its regular speed or its speed for most of the time.

Compromised quality of the social aspects of education

The second issue is about the social aspects of education. Aside from academics, the development of life skills like interacting with peers, working together to accomplish a goal, standing-up to bullies, or resisting peer pressure, is something that teachers and learning institutions cannot readily replicate in an online environment.

Students spend their breaks in regular schools by eating and chatting with their friends, classmates, and other kids of the same age group. Online classes have scheduled breaks, and they are spent with family members, just like the hours after school.
Nonverbal communications like facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are a large part of the overall communication that students must learn to navigate life and social situations as adults successfully. Communications through online channels do not transmit all of these. Chats are entirely verbal. Voice chat may capture the tone and voice, but not facial expression and body language. Adding a camera may transmit facial expression and body language to a certain extent depending on the camera's quality and internet connection. If the internet connection is not powerful enough, the cameras and the voices are the first to go so the online lectures can transmit smoothly.

Not the best of time, but let us use what we have

The education system is not in its best state, but we have to use what we have. We are all struggling now. Some things have to give way. We need to deal with this pandemic with extreme caution and continue to learn. Some students might need to drop out, but making everyone drop out by having academic freeze is not the solution. Those who can study using online and modular classes should be free to do so.

Hopefully, we can go back to normal soon. No one knows when the pandemic will end, but the Wuhan virus is undoubtedly to get weaker until it becomes just another variant of seasonal flu viruses, just like the Spanish flu viruses before it.

This trying times is an opportunity to appreciate distance education and online learning, a system that may or may not be good depending on the given subject knowledge or skills that a learner aims to acquire. Still, many in the education sector tend to dismiss in favor of traditional classroom education.

Last updated on 11 Sep 2020.

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