Blogging Competitions: Student Experiences in Lockdown Learning

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While the coronavirus has been painful for families, employers and governments, some of the heaviest – and often hidden – burdens have fallen on children driven from classrooms around the world.

For example, FT’s Free Schools Access Program, in partnership with the World Bank, asked students around the world for their experiences and advice to policy makers on how to improve learning.

More than 420 students from 62 countries responded, describing challenges ranging from parents losing their jobs to accessing food and caring for their younger siblings.

They expressed mixed views on technology as a substitute for in-person teaching. Some pointed to variations in access to digital devices, the Internet and electricity; others need a different pace when learning online, given the lack of social interaction and stimulation from their peers.

The winner, Shirin Rajesh, 16, of the Perungudi branch of the Indian Public School in Chennai, India, wrote forcefully about the downsides of digital learning, including the lack of adjustment of the curriculum. She also advocated for greater recognition of student mental health and the need for interactive classroom activities. His blog is reproduced below.

Among the two finalists, Tarik Hakan Akcin, 16, from Kabatas Ertek High School in Istanbul, Turkey, highlighted the power of the Internet but also the problems of the deep digital divide and the challenges of connectivity. He also stressed the importance of quality teaching and giving students a voice.

The second finalist, Najya Gause, 16, from the Amsterdam International School in the Netherlands, argued for a shift in the role of teachers to facilitators and the need for more personalized learning.

Among other much appreciated contributions, Arushi Menon from India has written movingly about how she helps other children learn and the need to put young people first as catalysts for change. And Piniel Viriri from Zimbabwe described the importance of giving all students access to learning, including through radio and textbooks to help those without digital access.

Online Learning: The Education Trojan Horse

Winning blog by Shirin Rajesh, 16, Chennai, India

The world as we know it has changed forever. The Covid-19 virus continues to disrupt learning globally, forcing the alternative to ‘in-person’ lessons: online education. Whether it’s Google Meet or Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Classroom, the one thing we all agree on is that we’re missing the “good old days” of face-to-face interaction.

As learning platforms have moved from physical to digital, nothing else has changed. The quarks and chemical bonds we learned on whiteboards are now taught using virtuals and the workload is heavier than ever. Although the interactive element was missing, as a 12th grader we never had a lot of it anyway! It makes me wonder, if the only major distinction is the platform, why has our learning experience been so different? Why is attendance dropping and why are scores dropping?

In my opinion, the answer lies in the environment and approach to teaching, coupled with its reception. No one was prepared for the challenges that the pandemic posed to us. It is difficult to tackle the endless list of assignments, especially with adolescent mental health issues which are at an all time high.

Administration can be more flexible with deadlines and workload based on student feedback to allow for a less stressful learning experience. Our school, for example, has set up a tentative schedule so that we can space out our tasks so we don’t have the hassle of scheduling and time management hassles.

Yet schools have not lowered their curriculum expectations much, and “ineffective” learning becomes detrimental to students in the long run. Nowadays, many virtual classes choose lectures and slide reading, because not all traditional teaching methods can be adopted. I prefer less conventional approaches like class activities, debates and discussions rather than homework. As interactivity is the way to go, these alternatives can be replaced by a more meaningful, effective and fun learning space.

It is important to recognize that teachers only contribute 50% of the e-learning equation without profit. I learned this at a conference I led where presenting my work on the alphabets screen felt like my efforts were being crippled. There was silence in attempting a discussion (the analogy “talking to a wall” seemed to describe the situation perfectly). As a student, I know it’s all too easy to scroll through the Instagram while our teachers aren’t watching, but what are the consequences of these actions?

I sympathize with teachers and students around the world and recognize that online learning is not a long-term alternative in a post-Covid world. As someone who would be classified as an extreme introvert, I’m always amazed at how much small interactions have actually impacted my perspective on learning in general! Sadly, all we can do at the moment is try to find the silver lining and make sure we put our effort into ensuring that our future is not in jeopardy.



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