Learning in light of crisis


Bangkok – The global pandamic of COVID 19 has hit the world in a way nobody has foreseen, let alone prepared to respond. It shakes the core of humanity – no matter how far we have progressed scientifically, we are a speck of dust in the universe trying to understand nature and be a part of it rather than “own it”.

The lock down disrupts everyone’s lives and also destroys many lives. Six weeks on, at least 30 million of American are registered unemployed. That happens in the world richest country and this is just the figure we know. What about the ones we don’t? what about the rest of us?

Enough has been said in every news outlet of how bad everyone is hit, hard. While most of the world are trying to survive this crisis, many great minds across the globe have put their thought and intellect together of how best we can respond to this pandemic in a way that ensure our survival. Scientists, researchers, business leaders and politicians have given their fare share of two cents on the topic.

The most worrisome unintended consequence of this crisis is the prospect of students’ learning, their trajectory and their growth. When the traditional school is closed and no teachers can deliver in front of the class, education as we know it faces the kind of challenges that never happened since the first mass education was created a couple centuries ago. 

To respond to such calamity, the world has jumped on the global bandwagon of online learning as the perfect panacea to address this. One can argue that this crisis creates the window of opportunity that reinforces the importance of online learning and the potent role technology plays in modern day education.

Rightly so.

Children with smart phones, tablets and laptops can access the world of unlimited knowledge through myriad of websites and applications making available for free and for fee, while they remain at home.

Students of the twenty-first century are required to not just be literate, but digital literate. This crisis proves that without the access to technology and ability to use it, children will be left behind in their learning.

But millions are being left behind as we speak. When we look at the reality of rampant poverty and inequality across the globe, it is evident that access to smart phone and technological gadget is not equal. One can not take for granted that everyone “has gotten one”.

We wish.

This crisis creates the wake up call for governments across the globe to take the issue of digital divide seriously. The question is in Ministries of Education everywhere is how to ensure that every student at least as an equal access to tool that will ensure they have a chance at learning.

Providing a smart phone, a tablet, a computer was what tech optimist thought in the end of 2000s when One Laptop Per Child was launched. With “access” – everything will be fine.

We hope.

But access is only the beginning of learning, not the end of it.

Students with access to technology now do not maximize its use for learning – rather – they are mostly spent for conspicuous consumption and entertainment. Of coursedigital literacy is a byproduct of intensive training, conducive environment and close proximity of mentorship from parents and teachers.

It takes time to master the use of technology. It takes patience.

The global pandemic reminded us of the post-modernist thought on learning. How can we be “students” in the age of uncertainty? When knowledge is not absolute, when everyone makes sense of their own meaning and when new idea is disrupting the status quo on a minute by minute basis.

The book by Professor Ronald Barnett: A Will to Learn provides a solace and straightforward answer to learning. In light of this crisis, the most important thing, perhaps, is not just a click in the smart phone. The most important thing for students of all ages is the vision to “focus” and “the will to learn”.

Learning can happen in every place, at all time. In the locked down, learning can happen when parents and children have a conversation and engage with each other. Learning can happen from the books inside the house – assuming they are. Learning can happen from existing resources around us – from listening to stories of the neighbours in the refugee camps.

The small screen of the smart phone can link us up to the world, but perhaps the lock down is giving us the much needed solitude to learn from within. It is a good time to revise what we have studied, theories we have heard and idea we have learned previously.

Making the dots.

Learning is not about regurgitating what has been said. That is just the entry point. Learning is a constant engagement with idea, repeatedly. Again and again. Through such engagement, can one rise above what was told, said and written to actually – think for themselves.

An independent mind.

Lock down or not, the clock is ticking and only those who notice and adapt to change – can survive.

This is not about being Darwinism.

This is just a matter of fact.

The sooner the students know that they can start learning – with or without the crisis – only then can we wither this change in the age of uncertainty in style.

Rattana Lao
Rattana Lao
Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.


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