By Dr Richa Arora, COO and Head of the Institution, University of Stirling, RAS AL KHAIMAH, UAE
2020 marked a dramatic experience exacerbating learning crisis shining a harsh light on the vulnerabilities and challenges humanity has experienced. It has impacted the human capital of this generation of learners. Economies around the globe came to a grinding halt forcing most governments to announce closure of educational institutions to contain the spread of this dreaded Covid-19 pandemic. It also surfaced extraordinary human resourcefulness and potential and hence even in this crisis situation students, whose learning had got hampered due to the closure of various schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutes, had some hope when institutes around the globe shifted from offline to online mode of learning.
Experts feel that this different educational pattern, over a period of time, has the potential of negatively impacting students’ skills and their prospects for the rest of their lives. But in reality this was a time for pragmatism and quick action. It must be remembered that education is a bulwark against all inequalities and hence when education flourishes, mankind flourishes.
If figures are to be believed, nearly 94 per cent of the students were out of school worldwide but today around 700 million students are studying from home given the economic uncertainty and various options of hybrid and remote learning options available.
In the current scenario there are students who have missed out on their preferred university choices and hence are contemplating of taking a ‘gap year’ and/or undertake a paid job to build some savings before they can travel to their dream university after situation resumes normalcy. Some students are enquiring about a gap year as they wish to re-visit their decision of career choice. These are the ones who want to ace competitive exams. Also with the enforcement of lockdown several industries have got paralysed causing job cuts and increased rate of unemployment. In this scenario parents also want their children to reconsider their career paths and taking a gap year will help them to better chart their future options. However, experts voice a cautious advice – the gap year to enhance preparation for competitive careers might hit one of the biggest roadblock – dip in motivation to follow a strict study routine. And thus, students must evaluate their persistence and resilience before finalising anything.
At this juncture, it is imperative that innovation and creativity stimulated by this crisis be leveraged to make education systems more just, inclusive and resilient. Given the unprecedented array of uncertainties, many institutes around the globe had been compassionately putting robust plans in place. From technological advances powering pedagogical innovation to urgent calls for greater research collaborations and partnerships, the pandemic is leading to paradigmatic shifts amongst universities worldwide.
Institutes, worldwide, have adopted humanistic vision for education and development of the young minds:
Dream University – The much sought-after universities were and are remotely working and responding to queries from prospective students seeking a place in their dream university. They are communicating with students to help them make better career choices. The compassionate approach, during this unprecedented array of uncertainties will definitely aid students in making the right choices.
Remote Access – Students are experiencing challenges in accessing technologies in terms of abilities and availabilities. But in order to bridge the gap between connectivity and access to knowledge and information and to boost student’s independent learning capabilities many universities opted for remote teaching of subjects that could be delivered online leaving their premises space for subjects that needed physical presence like laboratory-based teaching.
Digital Receptiveness – Universities needed to ensure digital accessibility and lecturers and teachers also had to re-work and re-format their teaching skills. This remarkable innovation from these frontline educators got them better engaged with families and communities showing any resilience.
Curriculum Revamp – Universities also had to revamp the curricula to make the subject content not only informative but also performative wherein students would be evaluated based on their performance of the assignments for every subject. This helped in making education more meaningful, challenging and at the same time interesting for the students.
Ethnicity Attainment Gap – Universities needed to gauge the usefulness of the curriculum as apart from academics, educational programmes and student assessment, emphasis had to be levied on preserving student’s motivation, engagement and interests especially when institutes had been closed for longer periods of time. Universities must promote an inclusive culture in teaching and learning to ensure that needs of diverse student communities are met.
Also without letting the student-tutor or student-student relationships get affected, institutes had to intelligently employ techniques that would help value-add and complement both the in-classroom and outside-the-classroom learning experiences.
The pandemic has the power to undermine several decades of advances and although it is true that we cannot return to the world as it was before, policy-makers, educators and communities must make high-stake choices to fulfil the vision of a desirable collective future.