COVID-19 and the Substitution of Remote Learning
By Samantha Wickramasinghe
In Sri Lanka, schools and universities are still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ministry announced that government schools will reopen from 29 June in four stages. Meanwhile, during the pandemic, both public and private institutions have been teaching online by using video calling apps like Zoom, Google Hangouts or social media apps like WhatsApp and Facebook.
Even private tutors found creative ways to teach classes online by assigning homework through social media apps and video calling services. Paying fees for classes are no longer done at the register, but through online banking services and transferring of funds.
Regardless of all these astonishing developments, what we need to ask is whether the traditional teaching models in Sri Lanka in the large context, have been fundamentally changed or not. There is no guarantee that in a post COVID-19 learning environment, there will be positive educational reforms if modern technologies, only have been used to reiterate the practices of the past.
During the initial stages of the pandemic, services like WhatsApp and Zoom enabled teachers to teach and connect with their students and vice versa.
People across generations used these services that they may have not used before. However, these services have also acted as a substitute for the previous traditional education systems that were already in place before the COVID-19. In order to understand the heart of this argument, one needs to know the difference between online learning and distant or remote learning.
Even before the COVID-19 Pandemic, online classes were offered free by many reputed universities, but these classes were not constructed in ways what you called a remote learning model would. In a remote/distant learning model, a teacher would teach from another country or another province, using a video calling service.
What that really means is when a teacher teaches online with her/his camera on as they are doing the same thing as in a traditional classroom — if not less, since they are not even able to access student engagement as they would in a traditional classroom where teachers and students are physically present.
On the other hand, online learning is a concept that is rooted in independent, student centered learning where students have all the materials, they need in a central platform. Their teacher guides them with certain activities and assesses their performance with the help of computer programmes. Online learning is also rooted in the artificial intelligence technology.
This is where algorithms and coding can help teachers make online classroom interesting with activities that are interactive. Activities like quizzes, comprehension passages, listening, reading and even writing can be assessed with the help of smart computing programmes and teachers only have to monitor and guide the student towards the correct understanding of knowledge and attitude.
The proceeding of traditional classroom being substituted by remote/distant learning is a great example of how we should understand technology and the use of it for positive development. What seems to have happened during the COVID-19 pandemic was, by practising distant/remote teaching, teachers picked up new tools instead of old ones they had.
Arguably, some of these tools are not accessible to all and they are even worse than the ones that teachers had before and vice versa with students. Just because you have the latest gadgets and cool learning equipment like smart black boards, mobile phones and tablets, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have great technology.
Great technology is what revolutionise learning through empowering learners and allowing them to take control of their own ways of learning. Online learning is a great example of a positive learning development where machines help human beings to do less work and focus more on the important things.
For those teachers who are frustrated by having to use these online calling services and mobile apps, the good news is that you are not missing anything by not using them. This doesn’t mean distant learning is not all negative or bad. But means that you should not be worried about the change that are taking place with the development of remote learning models.
What you should acknowledge is that the future of education is (must be) with online learning and online learning is here to help the teachers and help the learners, thus make the best use of it.