Education and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is a big hurdle for the education system. This article aims at providing guidance to officials, institutional heads, and teachers on how to address the crisis. What preparations should institutes consider making in the short period available, and how do they handle students’ needs by field and level of study? Reassuring parents and students is an essential aspect of institutional response.

This viewpoint guides state officials, institutional heads, and teachers who must manage the educational implications of this crisis. It addresses:

  • Preparations systems could create
  • Requirements of students at different stages and levels
  • Reassurance to parents and students
  • Simple methods to remote learning
  • Curricula
  • Assessment
  • After COVID-19
  • Useful resources

Preparations

Many governments had little to do other than playing catch-up to the exponential spread of the coronavirus, so establishments had no time to make any preparations for a remote-teaching scheme. In hindsight, preparations could have involved:

Making sure that students carried books home, etc., needed for studying while at home.

Tying up loose ends; e.g., finishing reports and test results. In the northern hemisphere, the majority of schoolteachers were predicting year-end grade exams for submission with students’ applications to tertiary schools. The predictions teachers made may have varied depending on whether they made their submissions before or after formal suspension of education, creating unnecessary anxiety for themselves and their students as well.

Staff training and preparation: arrangements for protecting; distribution of work between different departments; ways for teachers to collectively stay in touch for mutual support; and brief updates on learning tech already familiar. Most institutions already had plans set aside to make use of technology in education, but the outbreak of the virus means that the changes intended to happen over the coming months and/or years had to be executed in a matter of days.

Different Students, Different Needs

The coronavirus pandemic has distorted the lives of many students in various ways, including their course and level of study and the point they had reached in their respective programmes. Those coming to the twilight of one stage of their education and shifting to another, like those transitioning from tertiary education to employment or school to tertiary education, face similar challenges. They won’t be able to finish their school assessment and curriculum in the normal way, and most of them got torn from their social circle almost overnight. Chances are that students transitioning to tertiary education later in the year are unlikely to take offers that see them sitting for their end-year school exams (e.g., the International Baccalaureate) in a later session.

Even those who had their programmes cut-short will remain anxious until there are clear specifications of how their assessment schemes and courses will be reverted after the crisis ends. Most of the coronavirus cohort of students will worry about the long-term disadvantages, compared to previous students who studied ‘normally’ when they progress to a different study level or enter the job market. There have been statements from tertiary establishments saying that they will use ‘compassionate’ ways during their admission criteria, but that isn’t reassuring. Some schools, especially those who have special educational needs students, also need gift aid in order to help their students in this difficult time.

Although remote learning strategies will differ between tertiary education and elementary (primary) school, the needs of the skills-sector (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) will require special attention. The graduates from such institutions will play an integral role in the recovery of the economy. Delivering the practical training they need through distance learning is very much possible but will require special arrangements to be made. For TVETs in developing countries, the Commonwealth of Learning is a useful resource.

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