An education watershed: Days of future past


  • Letters
  • Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

WHILE we focus on the present casualties and problems associated with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there is a realisation that the long-term effects for the world’s youth will be more dire. Education has been a cornerstone of society from Ancient Egypt and the Han Dynasty through to the modern day systems governed by politics.

It remains, along with culture, a pillar of any society. And now, the Covid-19 pandemic has successfully disrupted the sector and made us think about how our children are being educated.

Even before the pandemic, education was undergoing a transformation from teaching to learning, with technology and data helping reshape the roles and interactions between teachers, parents and children. Covid-19 has accelerated this trend.

Students are now empowered to learn “on their own” within a flexible home environment where the technological medium has completely revolutionised the “teaching experience”.

Let me be clear, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the digitalisation of education is a movement that should not be curbed. The role of the educator needs to be reinvented in line with the use of technology and the realisation that children can, and will, learn anything through a few clicks of their phones.

However, education in the broader sense isn’t just about imparting knowledge.

There are social, collaborative and extracurricular aspects to it. The mere presence of peers in a physical setting provides levels of comfort, insight and awareness – all key products of education.

This is particularly relevant to younger children. Brain development from infancy to six years old is particularly heightened.

The renowned Maria Montessori described this as “the absorbent mind”. Now think about how the lack of sensory integration and social interactions has impacted children in the last six to nine months as a result of Covid-19 prevention measures. Does this mean that either the entire learning curve for kids of these ages has been shifted or, worse, the kids may have missed the optimal conditions for learning?

Safety first! I hear you say. There has been no real alternative to the digital education we have seen in recent months and safety can, and should, be the overriding factor.

However, we have reached a critical point in education, particularly for the under 10s. Governments and education bodies need to start preparing for the long-term impact Covid-19 will have on today’s youth.

I personally feel that this is where alternative education approaches may come in handy with young children in the coming months. The Montessori, Waldorf (aka Steiner) and Reggio Emilia methods each has its own approach to preschool education that, in times like these, may represent an alternative for parents struggling to engage and cultivate their children – which is a current problem in Asia, I think.

I’ve seen it successfully done in private schools in Hong Kong, South Korea, and even here in Malaysia as well as in private schools in other Asian countries.

Schools based on these philosophies have found a perfect balance between driving intrapersonal/interpersonal intelligence and navigating children’s emotional need to have a sense of self while understanding others’ desires.

Essentially, this boils down to empathy, something that is often lost in an age of digitalisation. Now if that is not education, then what is?

RISH TANDAPANY

Johor Baru


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