Connected... but disconnected
COVID-19 and online teachingThursday, March 18, 2021
It has been a year since the first case of the novel coronavirus was imported to our shores and we have seen the effects it has had on most sectors of our lives. The Government took some brave initiatives at the start, such as closing down schools physically and implementing work-from-home orders — efforts that were not even considered by many developed countries which had already recorded numerous cases of the virus. However, we have seen, over time, that due to indiscipline and irresponsibility of some citizens, as well as reduced assertiveness from the Government, the cases have risen significantly over the past few weeks. It is as if the coronavirus is having anniversary parties. Thankfully, however, we have finally started to receive doses of the vaccine, despite the discrepancies that surround its administration.
Concerning the education of our nation's students, it continues to be a process of trial and error, in which schools are open for certain levels of learners, particularly those taking terminal examinations, but are closed again once a staff member or student tests positive for the novel coronavirus. Whilst it is a wise decision to reopen schools for this category of students, especially in relation to access, equality, and equity, it would be necessary to assess how both students and teachers have been living the online experience.
Wherever and whenever there is a constraint, teachers are asked to be creative. Many educators around the world had to quickly adjust to online teaching and familiarise themselves with the various learning platforms and interactive pedagogies. Some had to invest in digital devices and equipment to ensure that their learners get the best experience possible.
Although our work is not always acknowledged, we still make the sacrifices because we know the future of our country and the world depends on a solid education. Despite the many investments made through public-private partnerships to secure learning devices for both staff and students, there still remains a considerable number of our nation's children who either do not have one of these devices or do not have Internet access. We see children around daily in our communities doing things that children do — playing and having no sense of care. It is like an extended holiday for them.
What is sad is that there are parents who are not working but they seem unbothered if their child(ren) get(s) a good education. One could argue, though, that some of these parents do not even possess the basic educational competencies to assist their children. But basic oversight has to be given.
However, not much thought is given to those students who are actually connected, but are disconnected at the same time. One of the challenges that teachers are facing is that many students show up online but do not participate. The situation becomes even more difficult if students are not obliged to turn on their cameras on platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Can you imagine the heartache when we spend a considerable amount of time making interesting lesson plans, but students barely participate? Can you think of a foreign language class in which repetition and oral practice is mandatory? There are many days when we finish with dry throats and severe headaches.
A growing practice is for students to sign into their online classes, turn off their cameras, mute their mics, and then go back to bed or to do some household activities. When the teacher calls their names, they can often hear what they have been doing behind the screen. For some other students, they only turn up to class when they are notified of an evaluation. Additionally, some are blatant enough to come online and tell the teacher that they have connectivity issues as an excuse not to participate. How can teachers verify if there is any truth to this?
Interestingly, one should note that some teachers have this same attitude. They contact their department heads to inform them that there are having connectivity problems when, in fact, they just do not feel like showing up for classes on a particular day. In addition, some teachers provide little to no feedback. They simply log into the course space and put the students into groups, then they return towards the end of the session.
Teachers and students are not just digitally disconnected, they are mentally, cognitively, socially, emotionally, etc, disconnected. It is a lot harder for some students to grasp certain concepts through online learning. They are tired of being confined at home; they miss their friends; they miss real interactions. It is the very same experience for teachers. They miss collaborating in-person with their colleagues.
The COVID-19 context has also made it particularly difficult for many new teachers who, in addition to doing their pedagogical duties, have to familiarise themselves with a new school climate and culture. As everyone is busy; they are often left in the wilderness as there is limited support and supervision from their senior colleagues online.
It is evident that we are getting more and more tired of the current set-up. Understandably, we do not have much of a choice currently, in terms of returning to normality; however, we hope the situation will be drastically improved for the next academic year.
Oneil Madden is a PhD candidate in didactics and linguistics at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France. He is also president of the Association of Jamaican Nationals in France. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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