Over the past two years, the education system has gone through a seismic change – this change is bound to have a massive impact on overall student learning. The sudden and unprecedented closure of all educational institutions and the shift of the entire system to virtual platforms have drastically changed the habits of students as well as their learning abilities. Although the first few months were difficult to manage, everyone got used to it in two years. This remote learning system created a chasm in the interpersonal connection between a teacher and a student, which eventually became part of the “new normal”.
Ever since video reports of school reopening preparations made the rounds on social media last year, we’ve been amped up in anticipation of a rather bustling landscape in Dhaka since then. Later, in March 2022, all educational institutions finally opened after experiencing the longest closure of 543 days compared to any other country in the first phase. However, the excitement seemed to have faded for many as reality hit.
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With the flattening of the coronavirus curve and the opening of all educational institutions, students are still struggling to fully integrate into the new system. There might have been more avenues to explore in addition to Zoom and other educational platforms during the pandemic, which could increase interpersonal connections between teachers and students. On the other hand, many students have also undertaken various tasks such as volunteer work, online courses, part-time jobs, etc., with the aim of making their time amid the pandemic more impactful. Under such circumstances, many students are stuck juggling between work and education, with no way out.
Additionally, according to BRAC’s May 2020 rapid assessment study, 56% of Bangladeshi students did not participate in online classes due to accessibility issues. Educational institutions, on the other hand, have gone to great lengths to fill the gap by providing educational support or resources to primary and secondary students – something that was completely lacking in early childhood care and development. . Due to the epidemic, children under the age of five have been severely deprived of educational and social opportunities. In addition, pandemic-induced mental health issues have posed a real problem for young students. The stress on families due to loss of income, reduced access to education and changes in children’s behavior during quarantine adds to an increase in the physical and emotional abuse of children. More than 44% of Bangladeshis surveyed in USAID’s Crisis Report analysis said they were under a lot of stress. This has an impact on productivity, children’s ability to learn, household cohesion and household health. With all these issues in mind, the transition from online to physical classes was very stressful, requiring further acclimatization.
In such a scenario, despite all the difficulties that this vulnerable group of learners faces, we cannot stress enough the importance of in-person education. Online learning systems, although necessary at the time, resulted in learning losses. Therefore, educational institutions and parents must come together to facilitate this transition for students. As sustainable learning has long-term value in shaping an individual’s future, it is crucial to ensure that students enjoy and absorb the content of their lessons.
For this to happen, an ideal approach would be to ease the transition by initially keeping the option to attend classes online during the emergency opening, or by providing additional support when needed. In the case of assessments, we can start with viable alternatives to pen and paper exams such as assignments, group work, projects, open book exams, etc. These methods have also proven to be quite durable in many cases. Substantial efforts to make lessons more engaging and fun through videos, participatory discussions, and hands-on performances can be a great way to motivate students to come back to class and learn more effectively. Such methods not only facilitate the learning process, but also keep students active and motivated.
In addition to efforts to bridge the academic gap caused by the pandemic, teachers must also deal with emotional, behavioral and attachment concerns of students during on-campus classes. Teachers may be unable to identify emotional and social disturbances in their students due to a lack of resources. Due to the masked faces of the children, some teachers may miss signs of non-verbal communication.
To address these concerns, experts (counselors or school psychologists) could perform general assessments of students who have been identified by instructors as being uncomfortable or agitated in class. These screenings help school psychologists determine what kind of assistance the child needs and how the school can provide it. Briefings for parents and secondary guardians can be held to restore an emotionally healthy home environment.
Apart from these technical details, struggling students should be treated with empathy at all times, where their problems are acknowledged and valued. They should feel free to come to their teachers or parents for any problem they face, whether academic or personal.
In addition to academic losses, many students have lost loved ones in the pandemic and suffered financial hardship, while others have faced pandemic-induced mental health issues. These have largely responded to students’ reluctance to return to school and should therefore be handled with the utmost care. Apart from this, students who have developed and practiced social interaction through online platforms might face issues of social anxiety and lack of confidence in face-to-face communication. They need to worry about acceptance and love to restore their confidence and social skills.
The brutal blow of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about massive changes across the world, with the negative impact on education being major. Jyoti is just one example of the many students currently struggling to meet the unforeseen challenges thrown at them. We’ve all heard that “change is the only constant”, but the struggles of coping with frequent and unforeseen change are often forgotten. Therefore, now is the time for teachers and parents to come together and support these learners in their quest to find familiarity in change!
The author is the director of the DPS STS school