Online Education Systems Need to be Strengthened
By Kavindu Hansaka Bandara
Even though many public and private education institutes are providing online learning facilities for students in the wake of COVID-19, they considered it merely as an option, not as a new aspect of learning. This was well evident when traditional learning methods came back almost instantly after the islandwide curfew was lifted and the country opened up after the first wave of COVID-19.
Now again, with more and more infected patients getting detected and the spread of the virus rapidly making its way among our communities, the work of many institutions, including that of educational institutions, has come to a standstill.
Thus, it seems like, if we had looked at online education as a learning tool, a second wave of COVID-19 and lockdown would merely be words. Unfortunately though that is not the case, these nationwide closures of education institutions are, of course, impacting thousands of students as it is an option that only some students can opt to take and an option most institutions were looking at as a temporary fix. So, we as a country are having to readapt online education from the beginning.
Several other countries have implemented their own systems to ensure that educational programmes are uninterrupted for students. In Sri Lanka, as the second wave hits, we have to close schools, universities and some higher educational institutions indefinitely, but we as a country, cannot afford to not move our lessons to a digital space, as this will hamper with not only the individual progress of each student but as a country too. Like we all know, education is the foundation of a country’s development.
With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are somewhat in doubt as to whether the adoption of online learning would continue to persist post-pandemic, and how such a shift would impact global education systems.
This is not an easy task for a country like Sri Lanka. According to researchers, only 22.2 per cent of Sri Lankans have their own laptops, tabs, or desktop computers, and the computer literacy rate in Sri Lanka stands at 30.1 per cent whilst only about 29 per cent of the population of the ages five to 69 years used the internet at least once during the year 2019.
Taking into account the cost of data, it is simply not financially feasible for the average Sri Lankan parent to pay for the cost of streaming, which would run to several hundred rupees per day and over Rs. 5,000 per month per student. In addition, many families have two, three, or even more children who are studying and to spend for all of them to learn online, would not, by any means, be an easy task.
Since over 1.2 billion students are out of the classrooms at present, this is the best time for Sri Lankan traditional class rooms to engage with online education. It will not be an easy task to be dealt with. We, however, have taken the first step forward. If we can continue this strongly, intake for Government Universities can be extended by at least 75 per cent because the issues such as lack of space and hospitality cost can be totally solved by going online.
It is also vital that both the teachers and students be provided proper training in distance education. If the Government and other authorities concerned pay attention and necessary arrangements to this, it will be of great importance in bringing the Sri Lankan traditional education system to another era.
Given the uncertain state of the world, where numbers of infections continue to rise rather than fall, it is difficult to predict whether a return to normalcy would occur within the next several months. Some nations that have attempted to reopen prematurely have seen infection rates spike. It is, therefore, important that relevant academics, policymakers, institutions and all officials in position of decision making, consider how best we can strengthen the flawed education system through a multi-pronged approach.
(The writer is a final year student of the Faculty of Communication and Business Studies, Eastern University of Sri Lanka-Trincomalee campus)