Dr Aline El Jurdi
PhD in Educational Sciences
Notre Dame University
Faculty of Humanities
(00961) 70 90 55 73
The 2019-2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted humanity in different aspects and threatened major sectors. Education is among the most influenced sectors as students, educators, child-care centres, and educational institutions have been resorting to diverse measures to cope with this new reality. In response to this pandemic, the education sector all over the world has witnessed institutional closure, distance and digital learning transformation, and many other measures. This research addresses the education state in light of the current pandemic. Hence, this paper aims to discuss the multiple effects of Coronavirus on the education sector and explore the different measures that have been implemented by educational institutions to mediate the effects of this virus. It attempts to present a comprehensive review of related literature and body of research on the matter and explores effects, challenges, and measures. The paper ends with recommendations and practical implications for schools and educational institutions to help them overcome the challenges imposed by this pandemic while still following a student-centred approach to education.
Keywords: Coronavirus, education, distance learning, digital learning
أثر وباء فيروس كورونا على البشرية في جوانب مختلفة وهدد القطاعات الرئيسية في المجتمع. يعد التعليم من بين القطاعات الأكثر تأثراً حيث يلجأ الطلاب والمعلمون ومراكز رعاية الأطفال والمؤسسات التعليمية إلى تدابير متنوعة للتعامل مع هذا الواقع الجديد. استجابة لهذا الوباء ، شهد قطاع التعليم في جميع أنحاء العالم إغلاقًا مؤسسيًا ، والتحول إلى التعليم عن بُعد والتعليم الرقمي ، والعديد من التدابير الأخرى. يتناول هذا البحث حالة التعليم في ضوء الوباء الحالي ويناقش الآثار المتعددة للفيروس على قطاع التعليم ويستكشف التدابير المختلفة التي تم تنفيذها من قبل المؤسسات التعليمية للتعامل مع آثار هذا الفيروس. كما ويقدم البحث مراجعة شاملة للأدبيات والمراجع ذات الصلة ويستكشف الآثار والتحديات والإجراءات المتبعة. يختم البحث بتوصيات ومقترحات عملية للمدارس والمؤسسات التعليمية لمساعدتها على التغلب على التحديات التي يفرضها هذا الوباء مع الاستمرار في اتباع نهج يركز على الطالب في التعليم.
الكلمات الدلالية: وباء الكورونا، التربية والتعليم، التعلم عن بعد، التعلم الرقمي
The 2019-2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has invaded a big number of countries and cities all over the world, impacting diverse fields and sectors and leaving governments and people to suffer the consequences. COVID-19 is a type of Coronaviruses that are single-stranded RNA viruses generally causing respiratory-related diseases (Repici et al., 2020). Following other fatal Coronaviruses of the last decade such as SARS-COV in 2002 and the MERS-COV in 2012, COVID-19 is an infectious disease that started in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and spread rapidly among people (Cascella, Rajnik, Cuomo, Dulebohn, & Napoli, 2020; Repici et al., 2020). The threat level of the disease was rated as “very high” by the World Health Organization (WHO) which identified it as a pandemic with worldwide involvement (Cascella et al., 2020; Repici et al., 2020).
The Coronavirus pandemic has imposed new realities on different fields and sectors, drastically changing aspects of life and well-being. As a result, this pandemic has not only had a profound impact on health and science but has also affected society as a whole. One of the fields that have witnessed evident and rapid challenges due to this pandemic is the field of education. COVID-19 has enforced sudden changes in education, influencing the educational sector worldwide and shaping academia and learning. With more than 1.57 billion learners affected by school closures worldwide and 193 countries employing nationwide school closures, 90% of the world’s student population and educational status are suffering (“COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response,” 2020; UNESCO, 2020). As a result, examining and studying the impacts of this pandemic on the field of education is highly significant as addressing this matter does not only help in understanding the current educational status but also validates the discussion on the multiple measures and strategies that have been taken to battle the devastating effects of this danger. This research also adds value to the body of research on COVID-19, which is still progressing. Hence, this paper addresses the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the educational field, reviews the literature on the matter, and discusses the new reality facing education systems worldwide. It attempts to discuss the effects, challenges, and risks caused by this pandemic, and it, as well, reviews the key measures and strategies implemented worldwide. The paper ends with practical implications and recommendations for schools and educational institutions to help them cope with this pandemic and achieve proper educational goals.
COVID-19 and Education: Challenges and Outcomes
Since its emergence in China in December 2019, COVID-19 has been rapidly spreading across different continents and areas resulting in drastic consequences and damages (Cascella et al., 2020; Repici et al., 2020). The WHO (2020) reported more than 12, 964 809 cases worldwide, including 570, 288 deaths as of July 14, 2020. These alarming figures come to light with devastating consequences. The education sector is among the multiple sectors that have been influenced by this pandemic. This sector has witnessed rapid changes, challenges, and risks that have been experienced by educational institutions globally.
In an attempt to contain and control the spread of Coronavirus, most governments all over the world have temporarily closed schools, universities, child-care centres, and other educational institutions (“COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response,” 2020). As a result, millions of learners and educators have been impacted and left to deal with the enforced situation. School and institutional closures helped in mitigating the spread of the virus; however, this came with myriad consequences on students, teachers, and families resulting in many societal, educational, and economic challenges (“Adverse Consequences of School Closures,” 2020). School closure measures have been taken based on evidence from previous influenza outbreaks that they help contain and reduce, to a certain extent, the social contacts and interactions, leading to the interruption of the virus (Viner et al., 2020). In their article Viner et al. (2020), a systematic review of research regarding the impact of school closures has been presented. The authors note that school and institutional closures help in reducing social contacts; however, such closures would prevent only 2-4 % of deaths (Viner et al., 2020).
Multiple challenges accompany school closures and inflict stress on learners and educators who have been experiencing new educational realities. Delays, curricular modifications, and extensions have been encountered by many educational institutions as the academic program and schedule witnessed many modifications such as cancellation of exams and standardized tests, delays in admissions, and extensions of the academic year (Sahu, 2020). These modifications put learners and educators under pressure and force them to face and deal with different difficulties. In fact, in some countries, especially those that lack technological advancements, students’ performance has been negatively associated with closure measures (“Adverse Consequences of School Closures,” 2020; Sintema, 2020). In a study conducted by Sintema (2020) on schools in Zambia, teachers from a public secondary school were interviewed to share their views on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ performance in STEM subject matters. Results of this study indicated that a drop in students’ performance and pass percentage in national examinations is highly expected if the pandemic was not rapidly contained and school closures continued (Sintema, 2020).
In consequence, schools, colleges, and educational institutions worldwide resorted to distance and remote learning methodologies to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic and cater to students’ academic and educational needs. This shift from face-to-face classrooms to virtual classrooms transformed the overall educational experience and brought learners and educators in direct contact with new encounters. However, even though this fact can help in preventing learners from encountering the drawbacks of this pandemic, schools and educational institutions that do not have adequate resources and technological facilities might suffer to cope with the new situation and achieve the intended outcomes (Morgan, 2020). Hence, the shift to digital education holds within it different challenges.
The Shift to Remote and Online Learning
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic and the closure of educational institutions in different countries across the world, a considerable number of schools, universities, and colleges have shifted to distance or remote learning along with the use of online platforms. In addition, UNESCO (2020) recommended that schools and educational institutions use the remote learning approach as well as open educational resources and digital platforms to offer education. By definition, remote or distance education is a form of education that occurs when the learner and teacher are separated by distance and time and, hence, cannot meet in a traditional classroom setting (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2019). In their book, Simonson et al. (2019) distinguish between two kinds of distance learning, Synchronous and Asynchronous distance learning. While the first term denotes instruction that occurs in different places but at the same time, the latter describes instruction that occurs in different places and at different times (Simonson et al., 2019). What is important to note is that both approaches require the use of technology, media, and online platforms (Simonson et al., 2019).
In this respect, it is important to note that distance learning offers a wide range of benefits and services to teachers and students and many educators consider it to be an effective and convenient approach to delivering instruction when traditional face-to-face education is disturbed. Many studies have noted the effectiveness of distance learning and the benefits it provides for students and teachers (Allen, Mabry, Mattrey, Bourhis, Titsworth, & Burrell, 2020; Basilaia & Kvavadze, 2020; Mulenga & Marban, 2020; Simonson et al., 2019). In two meta-analyses conducted by Russel in 2000 and Allen et al. in 2004, several research studies were examined. Both analyses showed that the approach of distance learning is as effective as that of face-to-face learning and that the difference between the two approaches is insignificant (Allen et al., 2004; Simonson et al., 2019).
In addition, a recent study conducted on the use of distance and digital learning during the COVID-19 pandemic showed positive outcomes in Mathematics implying that such an approach to education during school closures tends to be an effective alternative (Mulenga & Marban, 2020). Another study conducted in Georgia examined the effectiveness of digital learning platforms used in the COVID-19 pandemic, which include Zoom, Google Meet, and EduPage. The study showed positive outcomes and confirmed the success of online transition (Basilaia & Kvavadze, 2020). These studies show that if used properly under clear educational goals and with proper resources and content, distance and digital learning can be convenient alternatives.
In the figure below, Simonson et al. (2019) outline the major components of distance education. These components focus on the role of teachers, technology, and students in achieving the intended learning outcomes.
Figure 1. Components of Distance Education (Simonson et al., 2019)
Challenges and Risks
The effectiveness and convenience of distance learning have not concealed the challenges and difficulties encountered by educators and students during the Coronavirus pandemic. The shift to remote and online learning has led educators to work more to develop conducive learning material and explore the different media platforms and has, as well, put students and parents under pressure, especially those that come from low-income backgrounds (Sahu, 2020). In addition, since this transition in education requires a heavy reliance on technology and media outlets, technical problems and available resources can affect the overall educational process (Sahu, 2020). In this respect, it is important to note that lack of access to media platforms, technology, and other resources in disadvantaged or rural areas might prevent many learners from getting proper education that caters to their needs (“Adverse Consequences of School Closures,” 2020; Morgan, 2020). As a result, this leads to unequal and unfair access to education among learners, a drawback experienced in different countries all over the world during this pandemic (Morgan, 2020).
Another challenge resulting from the use of distance and digital learning is related to educators’ work responsibilities. The new reality imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has obliged teachers and faculty members to prepare new teaching materials, content, and resources that are convenient to the current situation (Sahu, 2020). To cope with such a situation and provide a student-centred approach to education, which centres around learners’ needs and interests, teachers had to utilize new methods of instruction and assessment (Morgan, 2020). These include the use of different software programs and platforms such as PowerPoint presentations, Zoom, WebEx, and recorded sessions. In this respect, it is important to note that in the absence of face-to-face interactions, educators and students should work on establishing a conducive learning environment where they both work actively and collaboratively to achieve intended learning outcomes. Active participation and involvement is the main asset of the student-centred approach where the student transforms from being a passive learner to an active participant in the educational process (Morgan, 2020). In her article Rose (2020) discusses the academic changes and online transition for medical students in times of the Coronavirus pandemic. The author argues that this transition to digital learning has prevented medical students to get in contact with patients and healthy environments and they suggest that educators should make use of digital platforms to work with students on virtual cases and involvement in telehealth environments (Rose, 2020).
Assessment has also been impacted as many schools and universities have suspended and cancelled term examinations and relied more on formative types of assessments such as projects and papers (Sahu, 2020). These new academic measures have been integrated into different disciples and across all levels.
The shift to online learning during the Coronavirus pandemic has also placed a burden on parents and families who have been suffering from the diverse social, health, and economic impacts of this pandemic. Parents have been highly engaged in the online educational process by offering continuous support to their children (Morgan, 2020). A quantitative study conducted in the Czech Republic shows that parents and families have been putting efforts to cope well with the current educational situation and that they have been helping their children by giving them necessary feedback and academic support (Brom, Lukavsky, Greger, Hannemann, Strakova, & Svaricek, 2020). The parents that participated in this study considered the current educational situation as being effective; however, they also noted some difficulties encountered through digital learning and these include technical and content knowledge difficulties (Brom et al., 2020). Though parental involvement might be a pressuring aspect to some parents who are also performing their job tasks from home and dealing with different challenges daily, it is a positive outcome as it makes parents more knowledgeable about their children’s academic performance and educational needs.
Initiatives and Measures to Battle COVID-19
The educational transformation that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic has led schools, universities, and other educational institutions to employ varied measures and apply notable initiatives to battle this pandemic and provide quality education. Educational institutions have played a remarkable role in mitigating the effects and risks of this pandemic. School closures have helped in reducing and limiting social contact and the shift to remote and digital learning has given the student population myriad chances to pursue their educational aims (Viner et al., 2020).
As discussed earlier, the major measure that has been implemented by educational institutions worldwide in response to COVID-19 is the shift to online learning. This shift has enabled educators to resume teaching and allowed learners to achieve their educational aims (Stanger, 2020; UNESCO, 2020). Countries all over the world have been adopting varied guidelines to implement this shift based on their contexts and available resources and facilities. Open resources, online libraries, learning systems, TV broadcasts, recordings, virtual lectures, and other alternatives have been utilized by educational institutions globally (Basilaia & Kvavadze, 2020). In addition, public schools have also received support from global companies such as Microsoft, Zoom, and Google to facilitate the learning process (Basilaia & Kvavadze, 2020).
Moreover, to increase the effectiveness of distance and digital education, many institutions insisted that such education should maintain the element of interaction between faculty and learners. This element is highly important as it engages learners in the educational process and allows instructors to pinpoint any weaknesses or gaps (Simonson et al., 2019). The literature on distance and remote learning confirms that interaction is a vital and primary constituent of this approach (Mahle, 2007; Simonson et al., 2019).
Another important measure taken by schools and universities is that related to assessment. Many institutions have cancelled term and final examinations and have also modified entrance tests (Sahu, 2020; Stanger 2020). Tests and exams are not highly recommended forms of assessment when using remote learning as although the use of technology has facilitated education and distance learning, the assessment aspect is yet to be developed, holding within it many uncertainties and difficulties (Sahu, 2020; Stanger 2020). These include technical-related issues, literacy skills, and teachers’ ability to monitor students’ cheating attempts. In addition, some courses and subject matters cannot be tested in online settings, such as lab and other practical courses (Sahu, 2020).
The grading criteria have also changed due to the prevailing shift. In many universities across the world, the traditional grading criteria have shifted to pass/fail criteria where the student has the freedom to choose a traditional letter grade or a pass/fail grade that does not affect his/her GPA or academic status (Stanger, 2020). This measure has been a universal policy implemented by different universities globally such as Harvard, Middlebury, and others (Stanger, 2020).
Despite the challenges, difficulties, and transformative measures that have been implemented by the education sector globally, the role that educational institutions played during this pandemic remains to be remarkable. Aside from transforming their educational approaches, schools and universities have been offering important initiatives to support learners in specific and people in general. Educational resources and online platforms have been opened for students and educators to facilitate the educational process (Basilaia & Kvavadze, 2020). Also, educational institutions have had pivotal participation in raising awareness regarding the COVID-19 pandemic through university staff and librarians who have been providing awareness campaigns on health and safety measures, support to medical staff, and guidance to faculty members and research teams (Ali & Gatiti, 2020).
Implications and Recommendations for Educational Institutions
The above discussion suggests that the shift to remote and digital learning during the COVID-19 pandemic is inevitable and educational institutions are still using this learning approach to achieve their mission and outcomes. As a result, schools and universities should take into consideration several guidelines and recommendations to ensure the effective delivery of educational content.
First, education should be delivered to all students and students should be given equal opportunities to benefit from instruction. In his article, Morgan (2020) outlines major practices and guidelines that should be incorporated into the educational plan of any educational institution. The author emphasizes the need to cater to students’ needs and to ensure equity for all students, which involves equal access to online material, resources, and technology (Morgan, 2020).
Moreover, continuous interaction and communication between staff, faculty, and students is very important. As a result, academic concerns, expectations, missions, and outcomes should be communicated with students, teachers, and other concerned parties (Morgan, 2020; Sahu, 2020). Proper services such as technical support services, counselling practices, and safety-related services should also be provided by educational institutions (Sahu, 2020). Also, educational institutions should continue to offer necessary guidance to students and teachers on the effective use of remote and digital learning.
Another crucial implication that should be very well noted by educators is providing learners with student-centred education (Morgan, 2020). The burdens and challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should not deviate educators’ attention from offering student-centred education that caters to students’ needs and involves them in the learning process. As a result, teachers should adjust learning methodologies and contents to fit students’ diverse needs and should seek to actively engage them in the educational process. Hence, this entails modifying assessment, content, platforms, and resources to make students more active and involved (Chen, 2010). Consequently, while students should be responsible learners empowering themselves with skills and attitudes to benefit from the new digital experience, teachers should be able to design appropriate educational content, facilitate the learning process, and analyze and evaluate students’ performance (Morgan, 2020).
Finally, teachers and students should make use of the experiences learnt and the skills acquired during this pandemic and employ them in other situations in the future (Basilaia & Kvavadze, 2020). Technical literacy, educational knowledge, and other learnt lessons from this remote approach should be viewed as learning opportunities that can be effectively used in difficult times.
In conclusion, despite the current challenging times and the myriad risks that the world is encountering, life continues to be the most important aspect that people globally are trying to protect. With the COVID-19 pandemic, new encounters and realities come to light. However, persistence, knowledge, and awareness seem to be key skills capable of battling this pandemic. The education sector worldwide has been widely addressing the outcomes and challenges of this pandemic and education has successfully resumed through alternative and remote measures. This paper attempted to discuss the new reality encountered by the education sector during the COVID-19 pandemic and explored different measures, initiatives, and guidelines. Future research should investigate the effects of remote and digital learning during this pandemic on students’ performance and should as well explore teachers’ and students’ perceptions regarding this educational shift.
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