When schools and higher education institutions were closed two weeks ago because of the deadly Coronavirus that has ravaged the whole world, little or no preparation was made to keep learners and students focused on their books. Only a few schools and higher institutions of higher education quickly organised some learning materials for their learners and students because the announcement to close education institutions was abrupt. There was no warning for educators to put their act together. Even for those who prepared some learning and reading material for their learners, this was done retrospectively by sending these materials to parents through online platforms and giving out hard copies of study materials.
Only a few well-resourced institutions were able to take these contingent measures to keep learners and students busy during this long period of being out of the school setup. It is not an understatement that most learners and students went home without planned study materials to keep them busy during this period. It is also most likely that many are taking this period as an extended holiday in which they do not normally take schoolwork seriously.
Under this situation, parents and guardians should monitor their learners at home in the absence of the schoolteacher. Where there are no planned study materials from schools, which should be, in most cases, parents and guardians must ask their learners to study different subjects every day. Some may argue that parents are not educationists, hence they may use wrong methods in instructing the children. Assisting learners to come up with a study timetable and monitoring its observance is not teaching. Some parents in other countries are already doing it. They give each other turns to monitor their children’s work and even go to the extent of marking the work in cases of enlightened and educated parents. Also, other members of the family can assist with the monitoring of this exercise daily.
I am not suggesting that people take the strict school approach; this may not be conducive, and it might be detrimental to the cognitive development of learners, especially those in early childhood. Surely, assisting them to read their English and vernacular books will keep their minds busy and focused on schoolwork during this long period. For older learners, in upper primary and high school, the situation is better, as they will understand why they are being asked to focus on their books.
If the coronavirus situation worsens, the whole world will be forced to experiment with what is called home-schooling or home-based learning, and that will spell disaster for established schools – both public and private. However, research on the school-at-home approach indicates that most parents who prefer it at the beginning end up sending their children to the formal school system as they find that home-schooling is not as fulfilling as the formal school system. But in our case, we are saying it is a temporary measure, although we are not sure how long it will take for the situation to normalise.
My advice for students at higher education institutions is that they should take this time to work hard in their degree programmes on their own and with their lecturers and supervisors where situations permit. They should use whatever means to get suitable study materials to keep focused on their disciplines during this period. It is pleasing to note that some institutions are using online learning management systems and other platforms for lecturers to reach their students until face-to-face teaching resumes when the situation normalises. While this is highly commendable, the limiting factor of this approach is that it depends on internet connectivity, which is problematic in other parts of the country, especially in remote rural areas. In developed countries, some programmes are offered online and they are accessible in other continents. Even locally, some higher education institutions have been running online degree programmes successfully for years now. What we need to do is to empower our students by seeing to it that all of them have laptops and mobile internet connectivity so that they can access their online course materials wherever they are.
With all the above and other learning alternatives being suggested to get education to learners and students during lockdowns in many countries worldwide, a few questions arise. Is this the beginning of the home-schooling or school-at-home approach? Are the traditional schools going to close in the end? Are our universities and other higher education institutions fully prepared to mount remote online teaching in all their degree programmes? Are our students themselves fully prepared for remote online teaching?
Whatever answers we get from the above questions, it seems it is not going to be business as usual in our education systems. Some transformations in our traditional methods of providing education are inevitable. We must be prepared for changes in future.
*Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. These are his views.