5th World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) Symposium
November 16 - November 18various
Theme: The Future is here: Transforming with Urgency Education Systems for Equitable Rights to Quality Learning
Virtually through Zoom
Date: 16-18 November 2022
Hosted by: Cornell University, USA
Co-sponsored by: Institute for African Development (IAD)
Co-hosted by: UNESCO International Bureau of Education, Switzerland
Background and Rationale
The COVID-19 pandemic has been unrelenting for the more than 2 years now, causing severe hardships to people and losses across the globe. The education systems have been disrupted continually with several schools scrambling to adapt to the online mode of learning. The results of this short-term approach to learning have been disastrous in most instances. Neither the teachers nor the school administrators had any prior experience with mainstream online teaching and learning. Therefore, with limited or even no professional support, most of them did what appeared to be the most appropriate choice – continue with the same curriculum, assessments, and teaching methods by using Zoom-type synchronous delivery tools. Yet, this is not a domain that lends itself to improvisation with positive outcome. Thus, while prima-facie it may appear to be an easy adaptation for teachers as well as learners, who can comfortably log into their systems, assuming they exist and function, from their home and continue the teaching-learning process that has existed for centuries. The general perception was to ‘manage’ the period of the pandemic, which was expected to last for a few weeks, or a few months at worst. However, to the chagrin of the academic community and other stakeholders of education systems, this pandemic has lasted unabated for more than two years and has shown little signs of global elimination abruptly. Despite major breakthroughs, vaccines are not providing consistent coverage against the new variants of the virus, which is getting ample time for mutation due to the uncoordinated and incomprehensive approach to vaccination worldwide.
The problems in the newly devised online teaching and learning mode started manifesting in many forms. One of them is about the accessibility of hardware and software required to conduct such teaching-learning sessions. Live streaming of lectures requires sturdy hardware, high-bandwidth Internet, and generally expensive software. This is beyond the reach of a large majority of the world population.
Teachers, who hitherto enjoyed the privacy of physical classrooms, without any interference from parents of students, were left ‘exposed’ to the scrutiny of their teaching in the online mode. The vehement claims about ‘personalized’ attention to each student in the class by the teachers fell flat in most instances. Many parents with literacy capacity, working from home, intently listened to/ watched the online teaching sessions of their wards, only to realize that several teachers were not at par with their expectations. Some of the parents went as far as even complaining to the school management about such issues, which in turn put more pressure on the already stressed-out teachers.
Furthermore, the intermittent reopening of the schools for physical attendance, with constantly changing guidance on vaccination requirements, mask mandates, and quarantine rules for infected teachers and students further exacerbated the situation. While still based on anecdotal accounts, there are news reports from several parts of the world that the teachers have started to switch to other professions and are leaving the teaching profession in droves. The pandemic has exacerbated the already stressful teaching conditions with minimal pay packages for teachers, especially in the developing countries.
The age-old invigilated assessment systems that worked in physical classroom settings, proved difficult to implement in the virtual space. Resistance on part of educators to modify the assessment systems, to be in line with new requirements, when memorization on part of learners is not essential anymore, has further posed a problem for teachers enamored with the so called academic ‘rigor’. Few academics had hitherto paid attention to a whole body of research in online curriculum, assessments, teaching and learning already developed during the last few decades after the advent of the Internet.
Clearly, the future is here in terms of disruptions in the mode of learning and producing knowledge. Thus, the academic community must reinvent curricula, teaching methods, and assessments for quality education for all. According to scientists there is possibility of more pandemics down the line after COVID-19. Comparative educationists must compare what worked and what did not during this tough time of the pandemic. There is a need to devise new educational systems today to get ready for the uncertain future dotted with pandemics and contribute to exploring possibilities for optimal learning. It is hard to acknowledge that we are already in the pandemic age and we must act now rather than wait for the future.