Capitalizing on the need to switch to distance learning (DL)
Sri Lanka like all countries had to find alternate methods of education when school closure became a necessity during Covid 19.
Many countries in the West & East seamlessly switched to e-learning & online education, since their curricula & syllabuses were already posted on the education websites, and e-learning had been practiced interspersed with face-to-face learning in class, even before Covid.
Good example is Singapore, where once a week, e-learning had been a practice for several grades. So an abrupt and total switch was effortless for them.
What’s the story with Sri Lanka?
We had a smattering of syllabuses on the NIE website, but they were not available in an organized manner. Besides, internet penetration, PC/laptop usage as you know is still less that 40%, so accessing education material through e-learning has always been very challenging. Whilst pockets of socially more advantageous students were able to access content and material through using the internet, the bulk were left high and dry.
Yet, distance learning through other methods could have been made possible: for instance using radio, TV and telephone and postal services – in innovative and creative methods. These could have started early March. MoE started telecasting lessons for O’Level, A’level and Grade 5 students. Not the others. Some schools were selected for the Microsoft google-classroom programs, but again that’s a small number. A significant number of teachers started using WhatsApp/viber to send bulk lesson plans in PDF.
In all these scenarios it was entirely teacher-centered education, where students are spoon fed. There was no opportunity for students to learn on their own, and to creatively put their minds to work.
In the long run however, its imperative to increase possibilities for self-e-learning. Covid I feel is a blessing in disguise to re-think how educational material & content can be made available for self-learning under any circumstance. Floods, rains, and other natural disasters often cause school closure. In fact, the teacher-centered, exam-driven, spoon-feeding that goes on in class needs to be replaced, fast. The prevailing system only shrinks minds, and doesn’t allow their expansion. It promotes rote learning and regurgitation of facts. It doesn’t make way for analysis, problem solving and creative decision making. Our students are bright and yes, we boast of a high literacy. But never do we use that foundation to make our kids world-class.
Please see how in the Northern Province, with sparse internet penetration and resource-poor 12 education zones, how a simple organisation like Yarl IT Hub took education to hundreds of students through technology. And the experience from Estonia. Both given below.
Dr. Tara De Mel