In the first of a three-part series of articles on what the coronavirus pandemic means for education, Dr. Asmaa Alfadala, Director of Research at Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), speaks about the newfound role of parents in virtual learning.
Schools across the globe are closing their doors due to worries about the spread of COVID-19, affecting as many as 1 billion students. In Qatar, the majority of K-12 students have shifted to online learning to continue their studies.
The move to digital learning has brought inevitable disruption for local teachers, parents, policymakers, and Qatar’s 350,000 students. But it is also an opportunity to rethink how we teach and assess learning, as well as how we lead schools. As with other aspects of the economy and society, the health crisis is encouraging practitioners and decision-makers to consider the question of how to redesign learning and schools for the short- and long-term.
Schools in Qatar – both private and public –, have been making use of online teaching for several years. For instance, the private school my children attend, Qatar Academy Sidra, has regularly utilized platforms such as Raz-kids, Khan Academy, SeeSaw, Managebac, and Zoom. Public schools in Qatar, which have shifted entirely to online learning following their spring break, have used YouTube channels, and more recently Microsoft Teams and Learning Management System. Now these and other platforms will form the basis for student instruction in Qatar for the foreseeable future.
Finding the time and energy to support student schooling at home can be difficult for parents, particularly those who themselves are working from home.
Home learning can be challenging for parents, schools, and learners. Finding the time and energy to support student schooling at home can be difficult for parents, particularly those who themselves are working from home. Parents may also find it difficult to navigate the massive number of online resources and disparate platforms used as learning tools.
Meanwhile, schools must handle challenges related to curriculum delivery and revamping content for different learning needs. Teachers require specialized training to deliver online lessons and to assess virtual learning development. Yet the sudden nature of the COVID-19 crisis has left little time for such preparation.
Finally, decision-makers must decide which home learning policies to introduce and when, while facing pressure from the media and community.
The need to reorganize schooling as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic presents a rare opportunity to reassess education models from the ground up.
Despite these and other challenges, however, the need to reorganize schooling as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic presents a rare opportunity to reassess education models from the ground up – to rethink the goals and modes of learning required of our current generation of K-12 students. Introducing this type of learning will entail new responsibilities for parents, schools, and policymakers.
As an educator, researcher, and mother of five children, I too am experiencing the stress of the current situation first-hand. We must reflect on the type of learning that we need during this global pandemic. I am not suggesting adding new products or platforms, because the first days of transitioning to online learning is not a good time to try new products. I am suggesting that parents and educators need to set reasonable expectations for home learning, and to do that is to enable learners to produce content and be active in their education rather than receiving recorded information.
Teachers work together to design and implement rich learning experiences for students that balance screen time with creative hands-on experiences. This can be done by creating engagements that get students moving and thinking, then sharing on digital platforms. There is a positive side to this crisis: to move from the traditional function of providing information into the role of facilitating and guiding learners and avoiding stress and mental crisis for parents and learners.
Technology is essential to this new learning reality, but keep in mind that it is just a tool. The real agents of learning are the learners themselves.
The roles and responsibilities of the learning community – educators, parents, and students – are:
Technology is essential to this new learning reality, but keep in mind that it is just a tool. The real agents of learning are the learners themselves. And perhaps this crisis will give us the time, space, and innovative mindset necessary to accelerate lasting transformation in our schools and education systems to better support and nurture student learning.