We are seeing schools close as a protective measure of reducing the potential exposure to the coronavirus across the globe. This is due to the fact that schools could be a major source of transmission from one child to another child within a classroom, from one classroom to the whole school, to within the families and the greater community. And all at a very speedy rate of transmission of Covid-19.
The action of closing schools is an acceptable move in the more developed sectors of the global community as children tend to all have access to the internet, and in many instances have their own ipads, tablets or laptops. So with school closures in the physical sense, it is a very viable option to open up the classrooms to online learning from with the safety of their own homes.
School and university closure has been introduced in over 120 countries. This has impacted around three-quarters of the global student population according to UNESCO. This translates to an estimated 1.2 billion students.
School Closure and Marginalized Children
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, school children around the world could lose out on more than just their education, and at a much more serious level of concern. The issue is not just about education, but their general well-being, especially in developing countries of Asia, Africa and the Americas. The marginalized children are often from low-income households. These children often receive school meals which might be their only source of nutrition for the day.
Even in developed nations, the governments need to include appropriate action to counter balance not just the loss of school lessons but school nourishment for the young learners during and after the pandemic.
Image Source: www.weforum.org
The other challenge is for governments and learning authoritative bodies to provide upskill training for teachers to be able to convert from in classroom teaching and learning to online teaching and learning within a very narrow window of preparation time.
The Fear of Distance Learning
The whole concept of “online”, “remote learning” or “distance learning” has struck fear and anxiety into the hearts of many parents and educators across the developed nations. It may have been speculated and talked about as the way of education in the future. But the future is now. Questions and concerns rose very quickly and were voiced very loudly.
- How were teachers supposed to transition to digital learning for their students within hours or maybe several days’ notice?
- How were parents supposed to learn how to teach their children at home, while some are also working from home?
- How were educators supposed to turn their hands-on, interactive lessons and games into something teachers and students could use on a digital platform?
No answers are given for these questions here. But a translation of what this might mean for education across the globe.
The Scale of the Problem
The number of children who were suddenly out of school or university, was equivalent to the entire population of India. The lockdowns proposed were initially for 2 or 3 weeks. But many of these lockdowns have been extended to 4 weeks, 6 weeks and even 8 weeks.
Even after the lockdown is lifted, there will still be many restrictions and limitations to our lifestyle. Hundreds of millions of students will not be returning to normal classes for months. There will be important exams that are postponed or cancelled altogether. Exams that would determine the future lives of many young people.
Yes, one option would be to cancel out this academic school year and start all over again after Covid-19. Except we do not know the end date of the pandemic, just as we did not know the beginning date.
It is already a known fact that the longer students are out of school, the more likely it is that students will never return to school. Necessities of existence and survival will direct their efforts elsewhere. This is especially true for girls who could be simply married off, and those from low-income households who could be redirected into low-wage earning situations to help eke out a survival mode of living.
Need for Easy-to-Use Distance Learning Tools
All these reasons and considerations are why it is so critical, so important for governments to put in place easy-to-use distance learning tools with immediate effect. It is also vitally important to ensure that the learning methodologies and technology used do not exclude poor, disabled or marginalized children.
So the pressure is on for education providers to be creative and inclusive, ensuring that educational options are available in the home setting. Some options may sound a backward move but if they are the only option for home schooling, then it is a viable option. Radio and short-wave radio were the modes of education for outback stations in the central desert region and in the Northern Territory of Australia and up in the high country farm stations of NZ in the 1950’s through into the 1970’s. Today, in communities with limited or no access to the internet, for example, radio programs could enable children to continue their learning.
The Most Vulnerable Groups
The children hardest hit of all with regards to any form of learning during this pandemic are the most at-risk children across the globe. They were already marginalized by their circumstances but the current global situation is moving their advancement even further from their reach.
We are referring to homeless, parentless, refugee-status, abandoned and neglected children. These are children who are simply without any semblance of family or communal living existence. Refugee and displaced children in temporary camps are even more vulnerable than they were before this current crisis.
There are also the young people who are disadvantaged because of physical limitations or intellectually challenged that could be marginalized during these extreme situations.
Low-income families and families with a subsistence lifestyle, may be urgently required to keep their children at home to work on the land, or to work on the streets for their merger funds in order to help bolster an already meager family income. Girls often carry a very disproportionate responsibility of caring for families in such states of deprivation. Their opportunities for any form of schooling could easily vanish totally.
As in any troubled times, it is those who are marginalized the most, in both the short term and in the long term. Perhaps something good might come out of all this chaos. Maybe countries will be held responsible to care for and provide for their disadvantaged children. Something that really has not happened at a level that lifts the marginalized children out of their level of deprivation.