Learning Online: Problems and Solutions
Blog post by UNICEF Young Reporters Matej Milosievski (16), Dorisa Zemon (16), Jana Stojkovska (17) and Kristijan Popovski (17)
Like in many countries, in the fight against COVID-19, schools in North Macedonia have closed and learning is taking place online. The amount of content, online assessment, much of it without adequate instructions, are just some of the problems that young people face in this new learning environment. The Ministry of Education and Science in cooperation with UNICEF and other partners created a new online-learning platform called EDUINO, where pre-primary and primary school students can continue their education through video lessons, resources and a variety of games. In addition an educational program called TV Classroom is being broadcast on the national television. The primary and secondary schools have also started holding online classes through various digital platforms. All of these are good efforts, but - do all students have the means to attend online classes and what can we say about the actual quality of education in this online environment? These are some different perspectives and views on how we can make it work.
The truth is, for many students, online learning is only a formality and not a real substitute for regular teaching. Some teachers only share material to students without teaching it. Online testing is sometimes based on the principle of “work it out yourself”. Students are not acquiring real, long-lasting knowledge. And some students don’t have the opportunity to leave their home during the two hours allowed during the curfew because they have to sit in online classes. Some students don’t even have proper equipment to attend online classes. They don’t have electronic devices such as computers, telephones and cameras. The number of these devices in households is often limited which can be very inconvenient for online appointments, classes, and meetings that take place simultaneously. Also, some teachers don’t consider the fact that during online testing, the student may lose the internet connection. Unfortunately, if this happens, the student gets graded based on the number of questions answered and recorded in the system before the connection was lost. Students also face problems managing their own time as a result of online teaching.
Online learning is new, unknown and different for students, teachers and parents. It’s especially difficult for lower grade students. Parents of these young learners more often have to spend most of their time, helping their children navigate through platforms, working with them on homework and explaining the curriculum. This is true of parents who work from home, but what about those children whose parents go to work? How can these parents help their children? With this online learning, they need to find more time, concentration and focus to support their children to learn and master the subjects. Those parents who don’t have IT skills face greater problems, and need to seek help from relatives, friends, colleagues, etc. Parents and students from vulnerable communities also face difficulties, as many don’t have the means to provide their children a computer or smartphone to attend classes.
For now, everyone is going on as if the most important thing is to teach what is the remaining curriculum, to get the final grades and to finish the school year formally. But is it really necessary for students? Is that the right way to deal with this new situation?
Certainly not! In this big picture, perhaps the biggest burden is put on teachers. They are in a situation where they are unprepared and without proper support. Criteria and guidelines imposed by the institutions are not sufficient to deal with the situation effectively. Existing assessment criteria that include tests and examinations are not suitable for digital learning. No teacher can assess with certainty whether the homework assigned to students is written independently and assigning separate homework to each individual student is simply an overload and difficulty.
Teachers need serious preparation to use online tools and platforms. They are not all ready for the new situation, which further opens the issues with our overall education. We are all aware that if we want to improve the quality of education, we need to better use digital technologies, but we also need to provide appropriate support and training to teachers to support the quality of instruction.
When asked about their experience with learning online teachers say: “Most of the students are attending the classes and fulfil their homework but now we can’t tell whether they completed the tasks independently or if it was a group effort. As teachers, we found ourselves unprepared . It is really challenging since we never had any training on distance learning.”
Our views and suggestions
It is obvious that the situation affects everyone, and everyone needs to come together so that we can overcome the pandemic. However, we must not allow the situation to compromise the quality of learning for those whose hands the future of our country lies. That’s why we, as young reporters, while considering the issue we were researching, are giving our own opinions and suggestions for improving online learning:
- Systemic solutions from the Ministry of Education and Science and the Bureau for Development of Education should develop a well-designed platform with a specific given curriculum, as well as a fair and effective way of assessment.
- Vulnerable families should be supported so that they have the means to acquire equipment and skills to be able to support their children learn online.
- Students and young people should be consulted. Future decisions should also take into consideration how students feel, their views, their conditions and needs. Students should have access to materials without feeling discriminated against, left to feel helpless when they have questions, or unheard when they have an opinion or request.
- Students should not be assessed with numerical grades rather descriptively.
- As the situation evolves, a more purposeful approach is definitely required, by including representatives from multiple areas in evaluating and sharing their experiences about what worked well and what didn’t. It should consider the problems and solutions faced by students, parents and teachers.
- Achieve compromise, because only together and with joint forces we can get the best results out of this whole situation.
Blogs written by UNICEF Young Reporters are part of a UNICEF volunteer initiative to give young people the space to share their own views on topics important to them. The work of the Young Reporters during COVID-19 pandemic is partly funded by USAID.