Are both teachers and students equipped with the necessary pedagogical and technical skills to shift from in-class to virtual education?
Rabat – The coronavirus emerged as a sudden, multidimensional crisis that has changed all aspects of life. Within the new normal, protecting human life has become more important than anything else.
The shift comes with behavioral necessities such as wearing masks, frequently washing our hands, and maintaining social distance. However, the most important element of necessary behavioral changes in the new normal is to work and study from home.
Declared a public health emergency at the international level, authorities took rapid “coronian” as an emergency strategy to face the COVID-19 crisis. The lockdown measure has affected many aspects of life, rendering many elements of day-to-day routines meaningless and delaying most activities.
However, because we want to survive and keep pace with competition worldwide, addressing one element could not wait: Learning. Online learning was soon thought of as a means of managing the situation.
The pandemic has forced both teachers and students to leave their classrooms and change their traditional methods of teaching and learning. Distance learning is no longer a choice, but a necessity.
Computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets have substituted the boards and chalk, a new reality that imposed itself overnight. However, are we really prepared to host such an unprecedented experience? Are we pedagogically and structurally equipped to adapt to this type of crisis?
Advantages of distance learning
Even before the pandemic hit, distance learning was gaining more and more attention, especially with the rapid development of information and communication technology (ICT). Distance learning changes the traditional image of education.
Distance courses are also different from traditional or face-to-face courses, in that they allow students to become active participants who have to construct their own meaning and knowledge, find solutions, and rely on their own ability to find, identify, evaluate, and reflect on information.
It is a method of learning with its own advantages, offering helpful tools that enable students to learn and communicate in a more flexible way and develop critical thinking skills. It also helps put students at ease, no longer thinking of time and space as major barriers that may impede their learning.
Distance learning can also provide students with more opportunities to learn, particularly those who have missed the chance for whatever reason, be it social, financial, or even political. Distance learning could thus serve as a means of democratizing education by allowing students to have access to learning opportunities under all circumstances.
Taking into account all these advantages, many students may voluntarily opt for education via distance learning. However, COVID-19 does not give the Moroccan Ministry of National Education, teachers, and students the honor of choosing this mode of teaching and learning, nor the time to prepare technically and pedagogically.
Morocco resorted to distance learning as a means to ensure the continuity of the learning process when no other option was available. It was adopted as part of a national strategy during an exceptional period.
However, are things really as easy as they appear? Are both teachers and students equipped with the necessary pedagogical and technical skills to shift from in-class to virtual education? Do they have access to ICT tools on an equal basis? Are they able to develop an ICT culture that allows them to use technology effectively and positively?
Fragility of distance learning
All these questions draw our attention to the fragility of the teaching and learning process in its new digital form.
If fragility in certain societies raises issues related to enjoying basic human rights, now, in the COVID-19 era, it is touching upon a basic right in virtually all countries: The right to education.
Understanding fragility is not an easy task since the concept remains fuzzy and indefinite. We are dealing with a vague concept that is difficult to define. This difficulty, according to many researchers, springs from the fact that fragility is a multidimensional concept. It is a concept that includes social, financial, political, and sociological aspects.
Fragility, in certain societies, occurs when members of a community are unable to enjoy basic rights and therefore lose their feeling of security. The situation becomes even worse when social injustice and inequitable opportunities are permanent and inequalities persist.
For distance learning to take place successfully, a number of conditions should be met. However, these conditions are very difficult to satisfy within a severe situation of fragility such as that now affecting the majority of Moroccan families. If these families can afford a technological device, there is no guarantee that all members of the family can have access to it, especially in those families that have more than one child.
Such families now face the challenge of trying to manage a situation in which children of different grade levels have to attend online courses at the same time. Problems of Internet connectivity add to this, since not all families have Internet access at home. This situation is even worse in rural areas where it is sometimes impossible for families to get connected to the Internet, and thus become more fragile than ever before.
The coronavirus pandemic has created an obvious case of spatial injustice, which in turn widened the gap between those students who could continue their learning through accessing educational platforms, applications, and software, and those who have no other choice except watching the two Moroccan television channels: Assadissa and Arryadia.
Room for improvement in ICT education
Online learning also necessitates the presence of teachers who are able to access, manipulate, and manage ICT, teachers who have the necessary skills that allow them to use ICT comfortably and therefore help their students become responsible users of ICT.
Lack of training that would enable Moroccan teachers to acquire and develop such skills has emerged as a major problem during the coronavirus era.
We are faced with a situation where teachers have the information but lack the skills to pass it on to their students through the use of ICT. The need to train teachers to use ICT for pedagogical and interactive purposes has become a necessity so that teachers can keep up with the digital revolution.
The coronavirus era has also revealed the existence of a new form of fragility: The absence of an ICT culture based on exploiting the potential of ICT to serve learning purposes. Students who are accustomed to using ICT for entertainment, chatting, playing games over the Internet, etc, now have to spend long hours studying in virtual classrooms. The new experience for both teachers and students has become in essence inevitable.
Thus, it is not just a matter of changing the way students used to learn, it is rather a matter of changing fixed cultural and social practices and concepts.
Keeping up with the technological revolution does not necessarily mean having access to ICT tools but rather being able to use them in an effective way that can benefit everyone. This cannot be achieved overnight, particularly during the unprecedented circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 crisis.
The crisis may be an opportunity to reconsider the teaching and learning methods adopted in Moroccan schools, think about generating innovative solutions that help create a balance between virtual learning and classroom learning, and draw conclusions and implications that could lead to equal access to quality education.