Providing and focusing on education amidst an unfavourable and constantly deepening crisis is indeed a huge challenge for all concerned. It is indeed an extraordinary circumstance that the world faces today as it sees an escalation in the number of COVID-19 cases every day. However, the question is, to put it in Shakespearean terms:

 

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them.” -(Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1)

Laying down arms in the face of calamity suggests a despairing attitude. Fighting problems through fortitude, resilience and determination can change the course of history.

The important consideration for educators is to adjust to the new reality. After the outbreak of COVID-19, the new reality that emerged was uninhabited and unpeopled learning communities. At the outset, this posed an immense challenge to the educational world with a sudden halt to all teaching-learning activities. However, a quick response came and alternative means like online modes of teaching and learning were suggested and implemented to deter the educational loss. Online mode of learning right now is being successfully used around the world, including Pakistan, to continue the academic process. Video conferencing platforms including Zoom Meeting, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx and others are making it much easier to connect with the educational fraternity to continue academic activity. Technology has transformed the world into one interconnected society.

The use of technology may not only add value to the educational process but also extends to students an opportunity to experience learning beyond the borders of a traditional teaching-learning set up. There are several discipline-specific online courses available for students to benefit from. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses developed by the best universities in the world for anyone to enrol. MOOCs typically comprise video lessons, readings, assessments, and discussion forums. Moreover, MOOCs also carry important features like auto assessment which give rapid feedback to students. In face to face interactions, students sometimes wait for a long time to receive feedback from teachers which dilutes the purpose of formative assessments at all. Also, MOOCs promote engagement through peer assessment which enables students to reflect and comment on each other’s work. This is an excellent way to promote peer learning especially when student body is well spread out and distributed. Although MOOCs are created by universities, they rely on course providers such as Coursera, EdeEx, FutureLearn and Udacity to run them. The need is to benefit from such platforms and embed them in our educational culture. Research has proved that such platforms make students self-regulated and autonomous learners and promote critical reflection. Also, such online methods bring learning to the doorstep, which students can access in their own time and space.

The COVID-19 crisis has enabled the educational fraternity to realise the importance of an often sidelined and unrealised platform of education: the online mode. In the recent past in Pakistan, the online mode of education was often labelled as unauthentic, fallacious and an ineffective means of imparting education. Today, the circumstances have made it emerge as one of the most powerful and dependable tool to impart education. It is high time to recognise the importance of such facilities and use them as facilitative tools for student learning. Education standards must keep pace with the changing world and adapt according to changing realities. Use of technology adds value to the educational process and extends students an opportunity to experience learning beyond the borders of a customary teaching learning set up.

It is important to re-envision the mode of imparting education. There are still millions of students around the globe who, amidst the present crises and otherwise also, do not have access to standard, modern and state-of-the-art educational facilities to benefit from. Lack of resources, poor infrastructure, and an unskilled educational force are just to name a few problems that continue to hit the educational world hard. Such problems can be overcome adequately through an online arrangement which may include pre-recorded lectures, educational activities, assessment exercises and educational videos. Co-existence with technology has become a vital need and therefore ways need to be paved for the smooth amalgamation of technology in education.

Apart from rethinking the modes of teaching and learning, amidst a crisis situation, it is also vital to stay connected as an education fraternity. Learning from each other’s experiences and thinking of innovative educational techniques together are far better steps than sinking in isolation. It is high time that educational institutions develop intra and inter active consortiums and continue dialogues on ways to continue and innovate the education process. Also, access to using each other’s resources and facilities for the educational benefit may break barriers and enable the less advanced to profit from institutions that have more technically advanced equipment and facilities.

It is equally important to stay connected with the student body and remain associated with them through messages of encouragement and hope. Students should not get the vibes of being abandoned and left in the lurch. Moreover, communication with regard to the present crisis, ways to combat it, the efforts of the education departments, management and teachers to continue the teaching-learning process, and most essentially students’ own role to accept responsibility and self-regulate themselves are ways to make them feel motivated and inspired. It is important to learn from the past to inform the present and future. Rumi referred to the same when he said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Dr Fatima Rehan Dar

The writer is the Director, Centre for Teaching Excellence and Learning Innovation at Iqra University, Karachi.