The emergency of digital platforms, tools and highly specialised gadgets made the process of acquiring knowledge, skills and experiences in schools to be presumably less affected by natural catastrophic elements such as floods, outbreaks and pandemics.
This is because it does not necessarily require both teachers and learners to meet in a traditional face-to-face classroom. We are now talking about virtual classrooms, where both teachers and learners can meet anytime and anywhere.
To do that, they need to have access to proper and reliable Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and should be able to afford the costs involved. However, opponents to e-schooling claim that physical interaction, which is viewed as a basic necessity by human species is minimised.
New platforms, applications and gadgets are emerging daily. Educational leaders and politicians would like schools to capitalise on these to reduce the costs and also to serve as alternative teaching and learning tools during outbreaks such as Covid-19.
However, most of our leaders only concentrate on internal factors that are likely to affect the provision of educational services online and disregards external factors that are capable of crippling the outcomes of teaching and learning.
E-learning should not only focus on class attendances, submission of assignments or completion of exercises, writing of online assessments and ensuring that all materials involved are moderated and monitored to ensure that effective transitioning of education is completed and products from this industry are relevant to their industry and communities.
The following externalities are critical when a government, school or leaders are making decisions with regards to e-teaching and e-learning: a) Online safety: considering the wellbeing of both learners and teachers when they are online is very important. On these platforms, both learners and teachers are likely to face humiliation, victimisation, cyberbullying that can derail them from their educational process and become threatened and narrow-minded as they will develop a digital fear of opening or accessing these platforms or application.
It is very important to note that, citizens tend to treat these platforms as a legal-free environment where they can say anything they wanted to say in an offline environment. Teachers and learners can be exposed to romance, insults, grudges-vomiting, human rights violations and others.
Therefore, before you decide on e-teaching and e-learning route, make sure that you put in place preventative mechanisms that can protect and defend the humanity of both learners and teachers. b) Internet/mobile Addiction: This is the most neglected element in the provision of e-learning services. Decision-makers often only look at the positive aspect of online education whereby they will only look at the final product of the learning process, i.e. academic performance, completion of syllabi, coverage of stated competencies and staff attendances.
However, the negative aspect is that both learners and teachers can easily get addicted to these platforms, applications or gadgets to an extent that they will not have enough rest, develop eye problems, spending unnecessarily and neglecting their household tasks. Addiction may lead to low output rates in education for both teachers and learners as they may have access to other platforms that are no education related. Hence, digital education is very crucial.
Additionally, this is likely to lead to digital trauma and if pre-counselling training were not provided to both the teachers and learners on how to handle online addiction, this can be catastrophic than anticipated. c) Information overload: online platforms are full of information. Some are genuine, relevant and verified. Some are trivial issues created and shared by those that have hidden agendas online.
If not properly controlled, learners and teachers will have too much in their possessions and this is likely to confuse and deviate their focus. d) Health depression: this can happen especially when both teachers and learners do not have any means of accessing and utilising online teaching and learning platforms.
They can develop high blood pressure, stress-related illnesses or attention disorders. e) Digital Divide: the issue of access to online services and gadgets for e-teaching and e-learning can be disastrous if not managed properly. We are not only looking at access and ability to use but also at the extent to which teachers and learners can acquire knowledge and skills from these platforms or applications.
The digital divide is no longer about access to network connectivity or digital signals. However, we need to extend it to ownership of gadgets, affordances and the operational language of devices. f) Fake News: untruthful, unverified and unreliable information created, shared and discussed on various platforms as if they are true and authentic.
Usually, the perpetrators have hidden agendas and different targets for creating and sharing these on public platforms. Education cannot escape this and can confuse both learners and teachers at various schools and in the end will affect the goal of their education. g) Misinformation: with these people share and discussion fabricated stories that can lead to digital deception or even studying materials that are not relevant and appropriate and where not supposed to be available for public consumption innocently.
Usually, a teacher or a learner can come across certain information related to his/her subject, school, the field of study and due to limited knowledge, he/she will share it with others without knowing that is has a negative effect on their fellows. h) Disinformation: these are statements, documents or information which is purposely manipulated to cause confusion and panic among the stakeholders in a specific field. If not properly tackled, it is likely to derail educational outcomes.
l) Digital Vigilantism: this is slowly emerging, and citizens are now trying to discipline and apply social justice to their fellow citizens that they can see that they transgressed societal norms and their actions are not responsible. However, in the education sector, citizens are using this as an opportunity to shame, discredit and blackmailing teachers and learners. It is on these platforms that citizens expose, reveal and debate very private issues and treating them as revenge platforms to punish those that are not in agreement with them. Without taking cognisance that, this shaming and unregulated disciplining of each other can have a detrimental effect on the education of the children or relatives for the individual that was exposed.
Due to online learning, teachers and learners are likely to meet with their enemies, haters, competitors and those that are willing to destroy their careers or tarnish their images. Therefore, it is very important that when you are implementing or designing an e-learning model you need to deliberate on this issue.
Many learners and teachers around the world dropped out of school or resigned or probably committed suicides due to uncontrolled, irresponsible and unregulated vigilantism actions. k) Digital Evangelism’/social media deception: a situation where citizens access or use digital devices to spread convincing news among their follows or attracting more likes and comments for their benefits. These people are all over on different platforms looking for supporters or followers. They usually want people to join them so that their self-gratification motives can be achieved.
*Dr Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka holds a PhD in Media and Communication from Erasmus University Rotterdam. He writes in his capacity as a researcher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.