Pandemic-era Learning For Children: The Possibilities And Pitfalls

Tips and trends for learning for 2020-25 and beyond

Donna J. Abernathy, former editor of Training + Development Magazine had once said “Online learning is not the next big thing, it is the now big thing.”  

Truer words were never spoken at any time than this when students all around the world have been forced to go online to continue their learning. With the COVID pandemic forcing most people around the world to stay at home, over a billion students worldwide are unable to attend school. 

With major disruptions in the traditional delivery model of education, online learning for schools will finally come into its own and get the fillip it had lacked thus far. 

  • Boost in online learning for schools/Increase in blended learning – To keep children’s education on track, parents, as well as educational institutions, are taking the online route. Those who had earlier been skeptical at the idea of online education for schools are realizing that this model, in use because of necessity now, is eminently possible. This will transform education as we know it. Though the intimacy of face-to-face learning and the camaraderie a school setting offers cannot be replaced, online education will be recognized as core to every school’s plan for academic continuity.

Key takeaways for parents: The initial days of online learning can be a confusing time for children as they learn to navigate new software and applications in order to learn, attend classes and submit assignments. This is also the time when they start missing the school environment and their friends. As a parent, do be mindful of this stressful and challenging time for children and support them by setting up a study space for them and help build their confidence as an online learner. 

As you try to balance the demands around your work life and home life, build a schedule and structure around your own work and other responsibilities. Children learn by observing the behaviour of their parents. Show them that discipline is a must for learning/working  from home and you will see them  build a routine around their activities.

Tips for Parents

  • Be mindful of challenges for children
  • Set up a study space
  • Build your child’s confidence to learn online
  • Stick to a schedule and structure – both for your child and yourself!
  • Model hope and positivity to your family.
  • Emphasis on human/life skills to prepare for the future – We are today living in a world nobody was prepared for till even three months ago. That is precisely why it is critical to teach children resilience and adaptability, to equip them to navigate their way through life’s inevitable challenges. Automation is expected to become more mainstream in the years to come, hence employers of the future are more likely to look for non-automatable “human” skills such as creativity, empathy, critical thinking, the ability to engage in complex communication, and emotional intelligence. 

Key takeaways for parents: As challenging as the situation around is, as a parent, try to model hope and positivity to teach your children resilience and how to cope with the unexpected.  Talk about what is happening in the world and teach them to be empathetic and grateful for all that they have even as the world around them grapples with a ravaging pandemic.

  • AI-based personalised education – The education industry  has an incredible potential for the application of AI-technologies. AI can identify what a student knows and doesn’t know and customise curricula for a learner-first approach, based on the specific individual learning needs of the student.  

Key takeaways for the ed-tech sector – Through the use of AI, ML and cognitive science, ed-tech companies should be able to build solutions that will identify gaps in knowledge for students and then adjust the curriculum to fill in  knowledge gaps for each student. Student absenteeism is a problem that is rampant in online learning. This can be countered by integrating games into online courses. 

Tips for Edtech Leaders

  • Identify gaps in curricula and fill them in
  • Use AI, ML, cognitive science to deliver personalised learning experiences
  • Tackle absenteeism and lack of engagement with gamification and other innovations.
  • Changing role of teachers/educators  – With children around the world tapping their way into virtual classrooms, the role of teachers will be redefined in the years to come. Their role will not just be limited to imparting knowledge but also becoming facilitators of young people’s development. It will be imperative for them to keep up with technology to stay relevant in the digital age.

Key takeaways for teachers: Preparing and teaching content online requires a lot of time, patience and effort. Teachers will need to adapt to new ways of teaching and communicating. Teachers must use interactive methods of teaching and come up with innovative ideas to assess how well their students learn from home. Teachers can explore myriad online resources and tech tools that help students understand and learn concepts.

Tips for Teachers

  • Adapt! Arm yourself with tools and techniques to teach online
  • Explore interactive methods of teaching – online chats, polls, video-on conversations, quizzes etc.
  • Equip students with online resources and tech tools after verifying them yourself.
  • Public-private partnerships (PPSs) in education could grow in importance – Diverse stakeholders, such as governments, publishers, technology providers, and telecom network operators have come together to utilize digital platforms as a temporary solution to the crisis. This could become a prevalent trend in  future education. Well-designed PPPs could introduce innovation and attract investment into the schooling system.

Key takeaways for academic leadership: Educational leadership and governments have a crucial role to play in ensuring educational continuity through technology amidst COVID. While most institutions have come up with solutions like pivoting to online learning, educational leadership needs to consider the pain points of students and staff who do not have easy access to online learning. The challenges faced by faculty members who are struggling to cope with the situation also need to be understood.

Tips for Academic Leaders

  • Plan for educational continuity leveraging technology
  • Factor in pain points for students and staff: inadequate net connectivity, lack of laptops, lack of space to attend day-long sessions etc
  • Support your faculty members: train them in online tools, use the opportunity to innovate in teaching methods.

As schools in India reopen after summer breaks, teachers are getting ready to take their classes online. The initial results might not be perfect as both students and teachers adjust to the new normal. There are also issues such as intermittent access to the Internet and the fact that children from low-income families might not have access to the Internet at all, or might live in an environment that is not conducive to remote learning. 

All the obstacles to remote learning  notwithstanding, it is clear that with the sudden disruption of the regular model of classroom education, online learning has hit a new frontier and several elements of online learning will stay even after the pandemic ends. 

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