While temporary school closures as a result of health and other crises are not new unfortunately, the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay
Among worries which have appeared in people’s minds because of the protective measures against COVID-19, this one stands out. In the past few weeks, educators have been concerned with a question of the influence of the coronavirus on education, and more specifically, how to transfer the academic activities into the digital world and make them work. The availability of resources, the role of the teacher in the education process, and the role of the parent in the new digital order should be taken into account. Has anything been done in this area before?
One of the European Commission'strategies is called “Shaping Europe’s digital future”. ICT (Information and communications technology) in education is one of the points which has been under the Commission’s control in this regard since the beginning of 2018. A lot has been done but is it enough in light of the current situation? Let’s take a look at the data provided by the Commission at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. We will take a look at several factors: connectivity, virtual learning availability, teacher’s role and we will finish it with thoughts on the volunteer's role.
The first component on which we will focus is the connectivity to a school email system. According to the data, on average 42% of the school students have access to the school email system. Where 29% of primary school students, 43% and 56% of middle school students and high school students accordingly have an email address. Creating a school email system and using email is one of the most important steps in adopting the digitalization of the educational system. And if we are to apply the data to the current situation, roughly 50% of students don’t have access to education whatsoever. According to the statistics, the following countries have the lowest percentages in this factor (below 40%): Germany, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Cyprus, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Poland. With the transition to the digital learning space due to the pandemic, it can be more difficult for these countries to be fully ready to adapt the students to study online.
A virtual learning environment is an element that requires said connectivity and is essential for the learning process. By virtual learning environment, we understand a digital space designed to enhance/replace the learning experience of a student within or outside the school hours. On average, 50% of schools are equipped with a virtual learning environment, with the percentages spread between primary, middle and high schools as follows: 32%, 54%, 65%. Looking at the numbers, we can see the countries with the lowest scores (below 40%) on this factor: Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. This means that students in these countries have fewer opportunities for quality education during the period of the complete transition to digital learning.
And when we have the resources for digital education, it comes down to the teacher’s role in the process of education. Teacher-specific digital competencies have been included in the teacher-training framework and are recommended and/or mandatory to undertake as part of the continuing professional development. But even if the teachers have the necessary skills to provide the educational services in a digital space, what is left to do when the reality shows that there is no mean of doing that? New outside platforms of virtual learning environments have been introduced as well to aid the process of education. What about cases when there’s none available? In this case, only the role of the evaluator is left? And the rest of the roles are just erased from existence? Or do we expect parents to fulfill them temporarily? And do we expect students to start with self-education for this period of time? There are many questions, and the answers to them give us a better idea of what the outcome will be in the end.
There are many forecasts connected to the worry about education since school is not just a place to memorize the provided material. In its report UNESCO states following possible outcomes of school closures:
- the effect on the learning process: the different speed of covering the curriculum; in some cases, we will be able to see the decrease of growth and development; the number of drop-out cases may increase;
- the effect on the students' mental health: anxiety level may be higher than average; some students must stay home alone as their parents must attend work; the essential social contact with peers is reduced due to the isolation, which can be harmful to the future psychological development of the student.
- the effect on the system: schools have to implement e-learning rapidly, for some countries it will mean starting from scratch, which may affect the quality of education; parents are not prepared for homeschooling which influences both points discussed above.
What is the role of the volunteer in this? Or is there a role a volunteer can play in this scenario? A volunteer can suggest assistance to the community where he/she lives. Assistance may range depending on what students actually need. It can be tutoring in one of the school subjects, explaining the topic, helping with the assignments, or just listening to a person, which may seem easy but can be the most difficult task. A volunteer can reach out to the community and simply suggest his or her involvement. During the time when everyone is looking on the outside, following the news, and just talking about everything that is wrong, perhaps it is time for action and making the world better? Because in this time of uncertainty even the smallest help counts.