No more nationwide school closures, please!

IT is time we move forward with a targeted approach in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. When it exploded in 2020, students had to study from home and teachers migrated their lessons online. It was necessary at that time as we were concerned about the spread of the disease.

Two years on, and thanks to scientists, medical experts, virologists, health professionals, etc, we now understand what we need to do to stay safe from the virus. For instance, improving ventilation and air circulation is crucial to prevent the concentration of virus particles in enclosed spaces.

We should also continue to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and wash hands regularly. Furthermore, more and more of our students are being vaccinated. With these measures becoming part of our daily routine, it is time to allow students to go to school without major disruptions to their schedules and activities.

Although it can’t be denied that virtual learning has become an integral part of our education system and stakeholders need to adapt accordingly, we must not be blind to some of its shortfalls.

Lack of engagement: Any parent with schoolgoing children would have seen the lack of engagement in online school sessions. I have seen my two children doing their live video sessions with cameras and microphones off every day. Only the teachers talked throughout the lessons. Due to poor or weak Internet connection, they are not able to sustain a live video session with the cameras on.

Some students may be logged in but they could be on YouTube, gaming or chatting during the lessons. As a teacher myself, I have had parents complaining that their children were browsing the Internet while lessons were ongoing. One cannot expect working parents to sit by their children and supervise them throughout the day.

While some students may be disciplined and driven, others could be easily distracted. This ultimately affects their grades and overall academic performance.

Lack of social interaction: This problem is becoming very evident the longer our students continue to do their learning online. Although one can point out that the methods of communication have evolved, students still need to acquire the skills for social interaction such as taking turns, active listening, asking follow-up questions to show interest, and conflict resolution.

During online learning sessions, it is all too easy to switch off the camera and mute oneself. I have had students who muted themselves when they were unable to answer a question or chose not to participate in an online discussion. Some even pretended their connection was disrupted. After some time, seasoned teachers can tell the difference between genuine difficulties and just an errant student playing online truant.

When students started to trickle back to school for face-to-face learning early this month, they had to relearn the art of conversation without resorting to a device every few seconds. They had to relearn how to engage with one other in an activity and not look for an escape route. It was so refreshing to see them coming out of their shells. Furthermore, the students themselves reported that they were happier returning to physical classes as they could interact with their friends, attend extracurricular activities and have events to look forward to.

While the fight with Covid-19 is far from over, we also need to ensure that our students continue to be nurtured. Shutting them at home for long periods of time is certainly NOT the best solution. Therefore, as long as the necessary precautions and safety measures are being taken, it is hoped that the authorities will employ a more targeted approach in dealing with the virus instead of a blanket approach. As far as possible, no more long-term nationwide school closures, please!



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