ARTICLE: The role of COVID-19 in our Educational System – The Experience of Colleges of Education

Introduction

Formal education is a hierarchically structured and chronologically graded “education system”, running from primary school through to the university, and including, in addition to general academic studies, a variety of specialised programmes and institutions for full-time and part-time technical and professional training.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is defined as an illness caused by a novel coronavirus now called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 which was first identified amid an outbreak of respiratory illness in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. It was initially reported to the WHO on December 31, 2019. On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global health emergency. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the educational systems in the whole world, leading to near-total closure of schools, colleges, universities, and other educational establishments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of the education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries in all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94% of the world’s student population up to 99% in low and lower-middle-income countries (United Nations, 2020).

Most governments around the world have temporarily closed down educational institutions in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19. According to UNICEF (2020), monitoring forty-six (46) countries are currently implementing local closures. School closures impact not only students, teachers, and families, but have far-reaching economic and societal consequences. Such closures in response to the pandemic have shed light on various social and economic issues, including students’ debt, digital learning, food insecurity, and homelessness, as well as access to childcare, healthcare, housing, internet accessibility, and disability services.

The impact is more severe on disadvantaged and poor children and their families, causing interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems, and consequent economic cost to families who could not work since most have lost their jobs amid COVID-19.

Impact on academic – the impact on academic integrity has been observed around the world. Many institutions have turned into commercial services to takeover exams proctoring; the impact on students is the mental health and psychological anxieties.

According to UNESCO (2020) in Ghana 9,253,063; number of learners enrolled from pre-primary to upper secondary education; 443,693 is the number of learners enrolled in tertiary education programmes (Data on country-wide school closures by country/territory) within the 2019/2020 academic year and since March 2020 schools have been closed down until further notice. 

The Impact of COVID-19 in our Educational System

School closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have shed a light on numerous issues affecting access to education, as well as broader socio-economic issues. As of the middle of March, more than 370 million children and youth were not attending school because of temporary or indefinite countrywide school closures mandated by governments in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

According to United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the COVID-19 pandemic has affected more than 91% of students worldwide.

The closures carry high social and economic costs. The disruptions have affected communities across the world and the impact is more severe on disadvantaged children and their families – interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare issues, and high economic cost.

Studies show that school performance hinges critically on maintaining close relationships with teachers (OECD) but there was total separation.

Working parents missed work when schools were closed down in order to take care of their children, incurring wage loss and negatively impacting productivity.

Distance learning – online learning has become a critical lifeline for education, as institutions seek to minimize the potential for community transmission. Technology is to enable teachers and students to access academic materials well beyond textbooks that could bridge time and space but our colleges of education were not ready. Do our 46 colleges of education have access to videotelephony software to promote for example zoom meetings, whatsapp interaction, e-learning, students’ inability to access textbooks and other learning materials to study? Several initiatives were taken by the affiliated universities and colleges to grant students and teachers to open educational resources, some succeeded, others failed and students were the sufferers. Students’ learning was affected negatively because of the deprived opportunities.

At the college level, the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) with support from Transforming Teacher Education and Learning (T-TEL) established a Virtual Learning Programme for Teacher Education. The affiliated universities and their colleges created online platforms for the B.Ed students for teachers to help their students (T-TEL, E. A. Henaku, 2020) for the second-semester programme to commence.

Impact of COVID-19 on our Schools

Disrupted schedules – sudden termination of in-person (face-to-face) classes has affected students to properly manage their time and remain productive throughout the period.

 Students studying at home with the diminished assistance of an instructor possessed an extreme disadvantage for educators to evaluate students effectively.

Substantial delays – due to the closure of schools and businesses, many students suddenly had no idea when or how classes would be resumed.

The spread of the coronavirus has forced Colleges of Education to turn to emergency remote learning, but teaching online isn’t new to everyone – many instructors were already conducting online classes before the global health crisis, but there were numerous challenges.

The two main advantages of online teaching and learning: the flexibility of the schedule – with this comes a certain level of discipline because you have to decide when you are going to watch or participate in a lecture, when you are going to log on and read the content, and when you are going to do what is outlined in the syllabus. If you miss something, you can easily go back and re-watch or read recorded lectures.

Online learning opens up a much broader network, allowing you to meet people from all walks of life. Everything is packaged for you in an online programme. It is just a matter of being disciplined about when you are going to go in, pull out a material, and figure out how you are going to apply that to whatever the assignment is.

The other advantage is that online learning opens up a much broader network, allowing you to meet people from all walks of life. While it is uncommon to find students from all over the country, you might have students from other institutions.

The opportunity to learn on any connected device, without having to relocate or attend class in person.

Challenges

Online training is boring. Many e-learning courses consist of never-ending texts followed by a long list of multiple-choice questions that fail to engage students.

However, online training comes with its limitations. The biggest challenge is helping students understand that they have to focus on scheduling and stay on top of their work since they are not being forced to go to a classroom with an assignment; rather it is just a date that is been posted.

Online Teaching and learning do not promote personal relationships with the instructor and the students on one hand, and students and students on the other. It is very difficult to get in touch with the instructor.

It is challenging to build a comfortable environment for learning or a sense of community in the online environment. It will be important to think about ways students and teachers can get to know each other and stay connected.

 Students encounter technical difficulties – technical problems are one of the main stumbling blocks of online teaching and learning. Very often, there are compatibility issues, the courses never get off the ground or the student does not know how to continue. All these add to their frustration and reduce effective engagement.

Some students do not have time for online teaching and learning. Online teaching and learning offer students great flexibility – they can participate in a lesson at any time when and where they like. However, so much flexibility often results in inaction. Time passes and a student still has not accessed the instruction platform or completed the course.   

The quality of the course is mediocre – at times the quality of the content is not up to par/expectation. Many students end up frustrated when they discover that they can learn more on their own and access any information they like. They end up accessing irrelevant stuff.

Some instructors also feel reluctant to adhere to the laid down instructions. Some give up notes or course materials without explanations.

Faculty members often need to rethink their course design and use different strategies for teaching, engagement, and assessment in the online environment. Learning happens continually in the asynchronous environment.

Instructors and students who were new to the online environment or who have lower motivation and drive fell behind or got confused. Creating a structure for the class and communicating deadlines and dates for assignments can help to overcome this challenge.

Although it is not necessary to have advanced technical skills, it is important to feel comfortable using a computer and navigating the internet. Slow connections can also make accessing course platforms and materials frustrating.

Online teaching and learning is very expensive. Instructors and students have to use all their money in buying data to access course platforms. Some colleges of education, it is said helped their instructors with all the relevant resources. Others left their instructors on their own.

Conclusion

Even though distance learning during a pandemic was a challenge for many students, it made the continuation of education possible from the safety of home.

The world of education and learning towards online education (learning) has come to stay, even if coronavirus is eradicated in our midst. What then do we have to do to improve our situation? The shock of the COVID-19 crises on education, especially on Colleges of Education has been unprecedented. It has set the clock back on the attainment of national education goals and disproportionally affected the poorer and most vulnerable. And yet, the education community has proved resilient, laying groundwork for the rebound (UN, 2020).

There remains a risk of a downward twisting, in a negative feedback loop of learning loss and exclusion. Yet every negative or positive spiral of aggravating socio-economic circumstances suggests its reverse image. There is unlimited drive, and untapped resources, we can count on for the restoration, not only of education’s essential services (Colleges of Education) but of its fundamental aspirations. It is the responsibility of all the stakeholders of Colleges of Education to stay true to the principles and conduct reforms, so that not only will the students regain their promised future, but all education.

Written by: Frimpong Stephen Jnr.

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