COVID-19 has transformed teaching processes –  Goolbai Gunasekara

The absolute necessity for curfews and then lockdowns at this critical juncture in global affairs and health has played havoc with education. Schools were among the first institutions to be closed as physical distancing was vital to containing the spread of the virus.

Principals, teachers and parents of children in international schools had to quickly decide how to handle this isolation. The students sit for British exams; and fortunately for them, the UK had formulated a plan to allow students to obtain their qualifications without time being lost.

The principals of these schools collectively opted for online teaching, which is practised in many developed countries especially by their universities.

Online teaching has become necessary today; and for students in international schools, this is easier because access to devices and relevant apps, and teachers who are knowledgeable in their use, are on hand.

And there’s no doubt that the government will institute a similar system if the isolation of pupils becomes necessary for long periods. Certainly, it’s the system of the future.

Parents can be assured that the education of their offspring will continue in what’s going to be a new world of education. I say this because even when life returns to ‘normal’ and the virus has spent itself out, schools and methods of education are never going to be the same.

Future teachers are going to be trained to use smart boards on which to teach. They’re going to use educational apps to reenforce classroom teaching and technology in every aspect of education.

Since I’m not tech savvy, the method of teaching and correcting written work was explained to me briefly. An app can reach over 200 students simultaneously. Parallel classes can often number between 75 and 90 at international schools so every child can be reached.

Of course, computers are needed but smartphones will also be adequate. The teacher can be seen and I believe a conference-like system ensures that everyone understands what’s being taught.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, educationists were already talking of doing away with expensive books and using iPads to access knowledge instead. This was especially good news for law and medical students whose textbooks cost the earth.

Personally, I will always regret the fact that new textbooks may become obsolete. There is nothing as pleasant as opening a new textbook.

The fragrance of these textbooks, as well as new exercise books and atlases, was something I looked forward to at the beginning of an academic year. No novel (even a brand-new one) gave me the same satisfaction as opening those textbooks.

We would accompany our parents to the bookshops of that period (Lake House, Caves and a few others) and hand the server our list. He would run around pulling textbooks, exercise books and drawing books off the shelves, and arranging them into one neat package.

Parents then debated whether we needed a new fountain pen, instrument box, box of paints or indeed, anything other than what was on the booklist. Their theme song was ‘Why isn’t last year’s one good enough?’

But soon, all this won’t be necessary. The state distributes textbooks and it will in the not too distant future begin using technology for all Sri Lankan students irrespective of whether they attend international schools or government schools.

Indeed, the whole world will begin the transformation and one hopes that Sri Lanka’s language policy would have changed sufficiently to enable our students to take advantage of this new and inevitable era.

The curfew has done something else as well. It has forced children to read.

Many don’t even have interesting books in their homes but access to Kindle enables them to read online. Even though this access is limited to a few students, I would consider it a success even if only 50 kids in a school have turned to reading. Hopefully, the number is greater throughout the island.

The world is never going to be the same again. Educationists with vision anticipated it but no one could have foreseen this enforced leap into the technology of education. The last century saw an unprecedented step into the space age, computer age, information age and nuclear age. Never before in history has the world advanced so far and so fast.

Perhaps it has been too fast and students are now scrambling around in a new world of technology.

This will all eventually fall into place. In my followup to this train of thought, I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of this expected new order. All we can do at the moment is to prepare in some way for changes that will have to come.