General Education and COVID-19

Article is published within the framework of “Enlight” three-month analytical internship program.

General Education and COVID-19
New environment, New Challenges and New Opportunities
General education during pandemic

The presence of the epidemic in our everyday life has brought about various changes. The educational system was not an exception as a challenge of such a large scale is hard to remember in the last century. Even the temporary closure of educational institutions during two world wars was not as widespread as it is now because the classes were then mostly interrupted in the places of ongoing military actions  and of high risk of bombardment. Because of the epidemic various countries have faced a dilemma: continue to keep open educational institutions or close them. Many countries decided to timelessly close educational institutions which resulted in the impact on 60% of international school students’ community (90% in some resources) that were out of education. Because of restrictions, 188 countries of the world gradually closed schools from march 4 to April 1 in 2020.

Due to closure of educational institutions an urgent need came up to develop, adapt or use new ways of organizing education which would allow not only to ensure the continuity of education but also to provide education in the highest quality possible. During the first period a number of tools of online education were tested in educational institutions of various countries (Moodle, Microsoft Teams, G Suite and so on) trainings of professor were implemented ( in some cases those were made by NGOs or institutions) a number of methodological guidelines  were developed to help teachers in organizing online education by using methodological, technical tools and computer programs.

After some breaks the educational system finally reorganized in an online platform which, however, did not only solve all problems, moreover, it brought new ones.

New environment, new challenges

The general education system of Armenia and of many countries of the world faced many new problems as well as aggravation of previous ones in the new environment caused by the epidemic. One of these problems was the accessibility of education which, in this case, was mainly connected to technical tools and availability of internet and which became the reason for being left out of education among the children from socially vulnerable groups in developing countries. It is true that some lessons of several topics in some subjects were broadcasted on television and on the radio in many countries (in Lithuania, in Georgia, in Australia, in Armenia and in many countries), however, their productivity as the main way of organizing education for school children  left out from education, was not so high.

Another problem is organizing inclusive education using online tools. Conditioned by  the presence of health and psychological characteristics of school children of SEN (Special Education in Need) many school children were left out from education given from special teachers. The above mentioned circumstances aggravate the problem of availability of education being the reason for the occurrence of social, cultural, economical and a number of other problems among the children left out from education causing the growth of inequality. The problem is relevant and worrisome for Armenia too because as a result of timely closure of comprehensive schools, organizing inclusive education, a group of SEN school children could not get an appropriate professional help, the actions for developing their abilities were stopped and they left out from educational process on the time, when other school children had the opportunity of online education.

The problem of availability of education is added with the problem of quality education, the provision of which with exclusively online tools is very hard and in some cases just impossible. The absence of educators from school life impacts on their socialization, practical abilities, formation of abilities, comprehensive and harmonious development. Based on the report of “Spotlight: Quality education for all during Covid-19 crisis”,  during online education educator concentrates on his education with difficulty, he actually feels lonely, parents are trying to combine their work and children’s education together, difficulties appear in school- children-parent- teacher relationship because of improper or incomplete provision of feedback and organization of general communication. 

The other problem is the imperfection of online assessment and process of assessment in this context which is more aggravated during exams and final examinations. During the educational webinar, organized by UNESCO on April 9, 2020, the approach was proposed according to which learners’ progress should be assessed discovering their educational gaps and after opening school suggest accelerated and developed education and assessment as not all subjects could be thoroughly studied and assessed online. This could be one of the best solutions during the given situation, however, organization of online assessment keeps being one of the relevant pedagogic issues.  What concerns exams, in some countries such as  Great Britain, France, exams were canceled, other countries like Germany, Hungary, Austria, decided that exams should be held keeping epidemic rules, and other countries (such as Armenia) held the admitting and graduating exams cancelling a part of them.

Precise planning of educational process with long-term and medium-term plans has become a serious problem for education managers all over the world as the governments can appoint decisions regarding the work of educational institutions leaving the participants and staff of the educational process in uncertain situations and without certain planning. The serious problem for teachers is, for example, the compilation of thematic planning of taught subjects, because of the specifics of the topics being studied in the cases of face-to-face training, they may be given a different amount of time, another time in the case of online.

The desire of pedagogues to work by their profession has been declined during the pandemic. N. Sweenay, a professor in Cambridge university, claims that a one third of teachers actively seek another job with the aim of leaving the present job within 5 years, which will bring a crisis of teachers and the recruitment process of education managers. Teachers’ and education managers’ complaints are connected with the heavy workload, big responsibilities and not appropriate low pay. In addition, in the background of numerous changes taking place in education now, there is a need to review the content of pedagogical education, having the purpose to prepare such pedagogues that not only will face the problems but also can successfully overcome and show creative attitude.

The organization of education in the online sphere by age-specific accounting of learners is also a problem. If the middle-aged children of school that had already adapted the rules of school and classes relatively could continue education in the online sphere, it was the problem for junior schoolchildren. It was sometimes needed from junior school children to sit in front of the screen, try to concentrate attention and not to show physical activeness, which was becoming an unpleasant process for them. Pedagogues were able to do some tricks, games and methods during the face-to-face education, which fostered children’s active attitude and concentration of attention. Except, if high school students actually realize their goals and the importance of education, it is a problem for junior school children too. Sometimes they do not realize the importance of education and they prefer to spend more time on their hobbies and activities than on learning,  staying at home.

Summarizing above mentioned problems and challenges, we think that the impact of some problems (for example age-specific accounting, assessment process and etc.) on general education will greatly reduce if the mixed type of education will be invested, which will give the opportunity to combine online education with face-to-face, and also it will be possible to reduce the flow to schools. The main point of mixed education is the combination of traditional and online education during which a learner could lead his educational plan, determine the place, time and speed of course. 

To provide unobstructed education in high and mid schools we offer combining the education of Branch Programming type of technology with currently  used traditional education in schools. Branching Programing allows to organize independent, individual education based on  pre-arranged planning, use of which will not be obstructed in constantly changing conditions. It supposes no big division of exploring material and subjects and development of questions and exercises to determine the level of their mastery to find out the reasons for mistakes. It was given to the student after finishing work with each section, yet if the  answers are wrong they cannot pass on to the other topic: they must redo that topic until they master it and answer the questions correctly. The whole process takes place by computer and the most difficult part is preplanning and arrangement of the program. After that, learners, in parallel with the work with teachers and classmates, will have an opportunity to study topics independently. This can be an effective supplement to the current approach in Armenia according to which, classes, having more than 20 school children, attend school only 3 day, 2 topics are given within days and one of them should be studied independently.

New environment, new opportunities.

Due to the epidemic, this new situation in the field of education has also led to some positive changes that deserve our attention.

Moving to the online organization of education, a great number of trainings were held for teachers and education aid  staff in many countries. These fostered the development of professional skills/abilities and the usage of new methods and ways in the teaching process, which they can successfully use in face-to-face education. For example, teachers can determine the level of achievement of educational outcomes among the students in a given subject by conducting anonymous online electronic surveys. They can combine face-to-face education with online, having a purpose, for example, to keep in touch and continue studying with school children, who may have health problems or other reasons to be absent from the classroom and so on. 

The closure of educational institutions and online education fostered to the increase of the level of technical-technological literacy for all beneficiaries. Moreover, it fostered the increase of involvement of parents and family members in organizing the educational process of children and preparing the lesson. The latter is especially organized in the circle of the children’ parents and family members from elementary and middle school. On the other hand they were trying to support the development of children’s ability to use technical means, on the other hand parents were more involved in the learning process. Due to the fact that children actually did not attend school and teachers’ individual approach in online platforms is not like during the face-to-face, parents spent much more time on their children’ lesson preparation, on  the explanation of possible uncatchable subjects and questions. It gave an opportunity for parents to spend much time with their children to learn about children’ educational difficulties, features.

Epidemics fostered the change of demands of society and realization of its importance regarding the educational content, revealing the importance of vital knowledge (health, hygiene and so on) and the formation of educational abilities of the 21st century (creativity, collaboration and so on).

Online education gave teachers and learners the opportunity of effective and flexible time management: now they have been able to record lessons and use them afterwards, create a database of online resources, organize educational processes in much more convenient conditions and not to spend time and resources on going to educational institutions and on coming back.

Epidemic fostered the revaluation of teachers’ role, realization of its importance. It was the priority challenge for teachers a big part of which tried to learn the opportunities given from online platforms and adapt education with new conditions in a short period. It was a rather busy and responsible period for them and at this stage their work as such was situated in the center of attention of school children’, parents’, family members’, education managers’ and beneficiaries’ of the society. As a result their work and willingness or the role and mission of teachers in these very processes, were the basis for the transformation of the teacher’s work and ideas about the latter’s image.

Due to pandemic, one of the main trends was the process of transition from culture of teaching to culture of learning. Pedagogues stated to strive learners for individual education, the usage of technical tools in addition to being a revelation for thousands of learners also helped to realize the peculiarities of the organization of learning outside the classroom to gain practical experience and to develop a desire to use them continuously.

It is obvious that 2020 will be written boldly in human history  as problems that occurred during this year, left their big trace and would still be left on the development of humans, countries and of the whole world in general. The transition of the general education system to online platforms in parallel to the epidemic have had many opportunities, however, the transition of online education was full of new challenges and problems that will be left not only in the short terms, but also in the long term. The education will not be the same as it was because the challenges, problems, opportunities that have occurred within this short period, fostered the development of new educational paradigms.  

Author: Anahit Hovakimyan © All rights reserved.

Translator: Aram Sanamyan.