Distance Learning: A New Pandemic

Today, in Palestine, we have more than 100 schools that shut down because of the registration of COVID-19 cases, and the semester has not yet begun! It seems that distance learning is a situation that will last longer than what was expected at the beginning of the pandemic. COVID-19 is here to stay.

Written by: Nader Salha

The COVID-19 pandemic challenges every student, teacher, school and classroom, as everyone is in a state of uncertainty. Everything we have learned and are accustomed to in the school education system has become problematic in terms of preparedness, planning and effectiveness, especially that of protecting the students’ health and safety. Today, in Palestine, we have more than 100 schools that shut down because of the registration of COVID-19 cases, and the semester has not yet begun! It seems that distance learning is a situation that will last longer than what was expected at the beginning of the pandemic. COVID-19 is here to stay.

What initially appeared to be a clever trick on the virus, with the persistence of distance education, has become a real nightmare because it strikes the core of the educational process, especially those students who are in their primary stages of their learning journey.  The justification of the entire educational process is to acquire and exchange knowledge and skills, which depends on direct personal contact in an enjoyable, humane and interactive educational learning environment that is rich in diversity. A large part of all this human experience has been diminished because of the imposed social distancing measures that led us to an electronic environment, which lacks many dimensions of the human and social experience. Very urgent questions are pressing for convincing answers, and for creative solutions that combine elements of the difficult equation. Distance learning preserves the elements and gains of social affinity as much as possible. In theory, the solution has long been known; the development of an electronic learning environment enhanced by virtual reality, VR, or augmented reality, AR. There is a long list of obstacles that stand in the way of the widespread use of these technologies, the most important of which are the technological infrastructure and the development of curricula for this method. This needs contracts for implementation and widespread adoption. The most optimistic scenario is to wait for the vaccine to arrive and things return to normal. Until that time, it seems that the educational system will take refuge in the available tools, technologies, platforms, applications and digital resources until relief comes. I think that there are many influences on the cognitive, skill and behavioral achievement of children and adolescents, according to the expectations of researchers and experts in the education sector, including:

First: Teachers’ inability to see their students daily makes it difficult to maintain the relationships they have built with them, let alone engage them in meaningful learning. This is a concern for the most vulnerable students. This exacerbates existing achievement gaps and opportunities because the school is closed.

Second: Before all of this began, more than 50% of our students do not have access to the Internet at home quickly enough, nor do they have enough appropriate portable devices or personal computers. Asking parents to provide these needs of high internet speed and suitable devices beyond the capacity of many residents in various Palestinian cities. This makes distance education mentally and financially stressful and makes the education experience fraught with family pressures that negatively affect students’ focus and the quality of the outputs. It is not possible for many families to support learning from home, especially in the absence of the Palestinian telecommunications sector and the private sector in providing the appropriate and expected contribution.

Third: It has been scientifically and practically proven during this pandemic last semester that there is no technical alternative to the relationship between teachers and their students and students with each other. The level of quality and consistency in learning opportunities and in cognitive and skill acquisition at various levels has been seriously compromised.

Fourth: Students with special needs will be most affected by the inability to provide them with appropriate services and support by the specialists and their tools.

Fifth: The linguistic stock of students will be severely affected, according to studies and research in this field, as distance learning is mostly based on only receiving information.

Sixth: The receiving of scientific and skillful experiences coincided with the mental and temporal age of the students. Delaying this synchronization will negatively affect students’ depth of thinking, analytical, critical and problem-solving abilities.

Seventh: Before the pandemic, most of our children and adolescents spent an average of four hours a day for entertainment, games, communication and browsing social media sites. Adding four to five additional hours in the learning process would result in health and psychological warnings that thousands of studies have reported on the level of the social, health, psychological and intelligence future of children.

Eighth: A problem has arisen in the methodology and rationality in the evaluation of cognitive packages in the form of specializations, courses, or curricula at the unit level, as well as at the level of the entire teaching process. This makes estimates less objective. Some studies have shown that the rates of electronic assessment have reached dangerous margins, close to 30% less or more than the teachers’ estimates than before.

Ninth: The accumulation of recorded lessons through the communication sites, the television program or audio episodes It kills students ’momentary spirit and discourages participation. It gives the illusion of getting acquainted with educational materials and perhaps postponing viewing them and executing jobs simultaneously at times.

Making every effort to return students to a normal educational environment is what must be invested in prior to the start of the school year in terms of providing safety tools and training children and families to adhere to the prevention protocols that have become known. It will save us a tremendous effort in addressing the problems that arise from and accumulating knowledge that may not be compensated. Enthusiasts of e-learning and distance education should wait a little. It is most likely that education at some stages will be integrated, but are we ready for that? Not yet.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.

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