Just before the pandemic affected the way we live and work, our children used to wake up and go early to school. They would attend classes physically, learn and engage with the teachers face-to-face, work and collaborate with other students while truly benefitting from a focused quality education away from home.
Today unfortunately due to COVID-19 and the necessary requirements and precautions of staying safe from the pandemic, the reality of quality education is a great challenge. Parents who send their children to private schools continue to pay huge amounts of money to only receive less-than quality education in comparison to pre-COVID-19 era. My article today will shed light on the factual reality of remote learning; yet also share some ideas on how the different stakeholders from the government, solution providers, schools (teachers and students), apart from families can play an integral role to help enhance the delivery of quality education.
Let’s not deny that the coronavirus pandemic has led to significant disruption to education in school. Millions of children across the sultanate were taken out of the classroom because of school closures which as a result forced the adoption of remote learning technologies. The government continues to lay framework policies and employs comprehensive set of recommendations for technology-assisted instruction across the schools and for the education bodies to follow for the COVID-19. Solution providers continue to introduce, enhance and provide solutions that the education bodies can use to deliver education. Schools continue to utilise the various technological solutions to deliver sessions remotely while the parents try to accommodate the changes and requirements to ensure their children get the quality education required to prosper in their lives.
The Ministry of Education, for instance, signed a partnership agreement with Microsoft to accelerate digital transformation in education across the sultanate for empowering teachers with the necessary technological skills to improve learning and prepare students for jobs of the future. Both Omantel and Ooredoo have also partnered with solution providers to support the government by offering remote learning solutions. Omantel has announced a new partnership with the Ministry of Education to introduce Google’s GSuite for Education to all schools in the sultanate, while Ooredoo launched an e-learning platform linked to Oman’s Educational Portal that create virtual classrooms for students to learn from distance.
Private companies like Huawei have also jumped in, helping to ensure the stability of telecom networks as data traffic has spiked during the pandemic. The company has shown a high level of commitment to building a healthy ICT ecosystem in Oman through collaborative efforts with public and private sector partners. This has included hosting their last annual Huawei ICT Competition online to continue providing training opportunities for Oman university students despite the pandemic. The company also has in place partnerships with various universities and colleges through its Huawei ICT Academy to improve the digital skills of students and academics alike, along with global programs like Learn ON, offering more than 300 courses and resources for free, 57 online open lectures, and organising more than 700 classes. In fact, more than 60,000 teachers and students from over 200 schools worldwide had benefited from Huawei’s TECH4ALL digital inclusion initiative by the end of 2020.
Most of the heavy weight technology solution providers of the likes of Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Huawei and Zoom have enhanced their solutions to offer better educational learning experience that offer video conferencing, discussion boards, collaborative tools, interactive virtual sessions for the schools. Namely, Microsoft with its teams, Google with the Classroom, Cisco with WebEx Education, Huawei with its Ideahubs and finally Zoom with its video conferencing application. Though the ultimate goal is to ensure students are engaged with the faculty and staff members for learning, yet the reality of the actual experience and quality of the education is not yet par to the pre-COVID-19 experience. I’m basing this fact from majority of the students who are attending schools remotely, so as myself personally having attended a couple of practical sessions remotely.
Teachers, across the sultanate, are making a lot of efforts to follow government’s advices and recommendations by utilising digital technology for remote learning and teaching to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 disruption on their students. Nevertheless, not all schools, use the same technology to deliver education to the students. For instance, some schools use Microsoft Teams, others use Google Classroom and the remainder use Zoom for education. While most of the solutions offer basic communication abilities yet the outcome of a quality focused education is yet to be truly achieved.
Students are required to use different tools or application, depending on the school, to attend a class remotely. They would either use a desktop, laptop, tablet and/or mobile phone to log in virtually to the classroom, Most of these devices run on batteries that needs to be recharged unless are always plugged-in to the electricity for power; most of these devices carry many applications that run in the background where they constantly send notifications distracting the teacher and the students as a whole; most of these devices are not controlled, monitored and administered allowing the student to control how he or she is represented in class; all of these devices depend on quality and dedicated Internet connectivity to remain in class from the telecom providers.
Last but not the least, staying home as opposed to being school will always have its share of distraction.
Ideally, improving online’s form of teacher and student eye contact can help bring focus back; yes video conferencing is a technology feature but avoiding manipulation from either of the side is yet to be perfected. Students can easily cheat so as copy and paste contents faster. Administering, controlling and managing student’s device functionalities from and by the school, being it their desktop, laptop, mobile phone or a tablet, would help reduce too many distractions emanating from the non-related educational applications. Ensuring some form of constant engagement and participation virtually by students will help replicate the value attained from a physical classroom interaction. Utilising big data to understand students behaviour and consequently offer best methods of learning while reducing routine and intensive tasks. Lastly, offering dynamic and personalised reports to parents on their children’s performance (attendance and participation) will help build respect and trust for remote learning as an added educational value. Teacher-student relationship will only be improved if teachers are supported with the necessary knowledge to operate and adjust the technology in question that are utilised by the school.
In conclusion, one cannot deny that a physical classroom cannot be replaced by a virtual classroom, at least not today and from the experience shared out of the last year operation till date. In a physical classroom, all the students’ focus is there; while in a remote classroom, dependency is scattered around many layers that include but is not limited to different technology providers, telecom providers, teachers experience with the technology and last but not least, families’ commitment and acceptance to adhering to virtual education. The need for standardisation from technology providers, dedicated undivided high-speed quality Internet connection from telecom providers, and the necessary commitment from students and family is paramount for the remote learning to succeed, or even be an accepted norm to delivering quality education virtually.