This sudden closure of educational institutions across the globe has led to the growth of online learning platforms, in a bid to maintain some sense of normalcy. Even though two-thirds of countries across the world have fully or partially re-opened schools, most of the lower-income countries aren’t tracking children’s learning or counting remote education as an official ‘school-day’.
The coronavirus crisis and these changes in the education sector are far from over. At this stage, what we can agree and work on are the relevant opportunities which are standing as we face this crisis.
How has the pandemic affected students?
Nearly all students enrolled across all educational levels have had their in-person classes cancelled because of COVID-19. Research has shown that 95% of students are demanding a change in cost of attendance due to online coursework, with 33% high school students stating they would prefer cancelling their admission instead of attending an online college. However, the silver lining is that learning has not stopped, but instead has a new medium: learning management systems and online models.
There are many new concerns that come with shifting from in-person classes to distance learning:
Many students feel unprepared to continue learning this way for an unknown period of time
Concerns about keeping up with coursework, juggling other personal priorities, and being physically isolated from classmates have also taken a toll on the education experience
Losing contact with professors/instructors and the lack of on-campus experience, particularly socializing with classmates, has also affected many students’ mental health
Since the crisis hit the world globally in February/March of 2020, students have developed and gotten over several concerns in the months since the pandemic started.
The flip side is that even though these concerns exist, students are not prepared to return to school, due to fear of contracting COVID-19.
How can surveys help?
In these trying times, where the entire educational experience has transformed, it’s crucial to keep support and communication channels open to help students with their online learning efforts.
This is where surveys come in. The online learning model is still new globally, and it’s essential to measure your successes (and shortcomings). This valuable feedback can help you understand if you’re moving in the right direction.
Teachers, educators, parents, and policy-makers have a shared interest in getting this feedback. To improve services to students and families, you need information at every level to get a data-based picture the situation. This is another place where data collection through surveys can come in handy.
Right now, there are a lot of issues to address, including distance learning approaches and challenges, supporting students with disabilities, staffing and human resources, and health and safety.
Here are a few relevant questions you could use in your education surveys:
How confident are you in your ability to teach remotely?
What are the areas where you need help as a teacher/ educator during this pandemic?
Which online classroom tools do you need most help and support with?
If you don’t or can’t support virtual learning, please tell us why:
How is your institution planning to support students with physical disabilities during the pandemic? Please specify.
By gathering data on relevant pain points, surveys can give school administrators and teachers an easy way to evaluate whether students have access to the right tools, supplies, and structure for distance learning.
If you're in an area where you don't have parents' email addresses (for example, rural areas in some countries), you can enable the offline responses option, and gather the responses yourself.
What can be done to support students further?
Students have been affected at an individual level, as well. There are many who move for better quality education, and the onset of COVID-19 has changed mobility pattern among students. An additional problem that has come up is financial issues due to job losses during the pandemic. This, in turn, is leading to some students being unable to pay their fees.
Here are some of the things that educational institutions can do to ease these students' post-pandemic academic life:
Send timely updates from their schools about the coronavirus and its local situation, either daily or every 2-3 days, could help students gain a better picture regarding their school.
Setting up one-on-one calls with their instructors should be encouraged. The virtual meetings can at least try to compensate for open office hours and chats over coffee.
Social distancing and phased lockdowns, including the sudden adjustment to a new landscape have all taken a toll on students' mental health. It's important to keep this in mind as an educator and administrator, and offer concessions like additional leniency with project deadlines, extensive virtual communication, and tips and tricks for maximizing remote learning, along with support specifically for mental health issues.
It still may be too early to say how students and teachers will handle online learning in the near future, but the impact of COVID-19 on education is here to stay. While remote learning comes with its challenges, a shift to online learning platforms also gives new opportunities for students to try out different modes of education.
It's possible that, once the pandemic settles down, we may see a continued increase in education systems using digital platforms for study aids, as well as students embracing online learning for their higher degree programs.