SDG Pulse: How Can Elearning Assist The Disenfranchised And Disconnected During School Closures?

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It’s disheartening to know that for many learners today, online learning is still a luxury. It is a reality among the developing world and even in countries like the U.S. And let’s not get started on the fact that schools often play an outsize role in young people’s lives. In the U.S. and many other countries meals, housing, vocational training and other essential services are provided at schools or in relation to them. Not everyone looks forward to the summer break.

Elearning is an urgency and a growing necessity at once. However, there are even more basic needs in lower rungs of the student’s pyramid. Insufficient delivery of any of these and the “virtual classroom” will not deliver at its best, or at all:

  • Food and shelter
  • Sleeps, rest, comfortable leisure time
  • Adequate environment, physical and otherwise
  • Social support
  • Teacher presence
  • Proper devices and connectivity

Part of the challenge in “selling” elearning to teachers could lie in its limitations. Not on the pedagogy or the educational experience itself. But rather, on all the other dimensions in which teachers and schools have become vital.

So as we navigate these times, it’s only fair to ask: What are elearning professionals to do?

It is an open answer, of course. And the responses from within the EdTech space will likely only go so far. But it is time for elearning professionals to think about “the missing mile” that so many learners still face, before actually considering a virtual classroom.

What is the ‘curbside pickup’ of elearning?

Perhaps the first place to look for is UNESCO. The organization has some “COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response” resources and guidelines. Most of them inevitable require a strong financial effort from governments or large organizations, as they involve giving devices and internet access to students, if not whole infrastructures. Alternatives being explored involve previous methods of distance learning, including radio, TV and printed materials. Other part of the equation involves identifying people in the neighborhood or locality who can play a role of overseeing students and providing a modicum of support. While observing social distancing practices, of course.

In broad strokes, UNESCO’s recommended action plan involves 5 dimensions:

  1. Coordinate, plan and communicate. Make sure the core team, faculty and the educational community stays informed with objective, clear and actionable communication. This essentially shapes the effectiveness of every other initiative.
  2. Maintain operational capacity during school closures. Calculate the requirements in terms of on-duty staff, effectiveness of work-from home arrangements, rotating schedules, financials and risk management. Keep evaluating alternative modes of education —and assessment— that do not sacrifice the quality unnecessarily.
  3. Provide continuous support for teachers, learners and their families. Expand on the non-academic activities and programs, ideally shifting from a student or household approach toward a more holistic, community view of the school.
  4. Provide hygiene and health education. Emerging new subjects or topics to address may also include well-being and new contexts of child abuse and violence.
  5. Prepare for school reopenings. Once you have ensured all the previous items are properly planned and successfully in motion, this conversation can begin.

The organization also supports the #LearningNeverStops conversation on social media.

According to Sheryl Villaroman, President of Moodle Partner Nephila Web, elearning organizations interested in going the “extra mile” should always do so in consultation with local government offices, if for nothing else to ensure the efforts are not redundant.

What kind of return, and to what kind of normalcy?

With optimistic estimates setting a possible date for an approved vaccine by 2021 —universal administration not included—, any return to classroom settings will not be as it used to a couple of weeks earlier. Just consider how teachers and school personnel can keep track of measures aimed at K-12 students, from social distancing, to regular symptom monitoring and testing. To further reduce risks, hybrid arrangements where students and faculty do not go to school every day are a very real possibility. Curricula is also expected to be reflected to promote better social health practices. A new wave of preschool hand washing and elbow coughing lullabies are in order.

Officers will have to develop or update their safety guides, in all likelihood on a regular basis. A new role, “Safety and Sanitation Officer” or something to that effect will likely join the roster among schools and districts.

There is also a “fringe” argument of sorts, not because of its unlikelihood. With the hasty —to say the least— transition into virtual classrooms, there is a clear possibility that some localities shun EdTech altogether. Will more places join Ebola-stricken villages and opt for a radio-based education, School of the Air style?

For elearning professionals, it is clear that the the relationship with teachers, school administrators and officials is going to be transformed, perhaps towards a more consultative and coach-based relationship where, new information and advice can be quickly transmitted and inform practices right away. Hopefully one of the lessons in this pandemic is the recognition on the value of social investments for the achievement of sustainable development goals, education included.


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