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Is the screen visible? Am I audible? These are the two questions frequently asked in online classes and meetings. In every class, the first few minutes are spent on ensuring everyone is settled to commence the class. This is a new reality in the post-pandemic world. Similarly, parents are required to make sure their children are well equipped to take classes. It repeats every day. Every single day, students, parents, and educational institutions have to deal with the challenges of online education.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, children will not be able to see their comrades for an indefinite period. Subsequently, it hampers the personality development of students in general, specifically that of playgroup and primary students. Furthermore, online classes impact the mental well-being of students as well. On top of that, students are suffering miserably in Third World countries.
At the same time, there is a massive burden on institutions to cope with the burgeoning expenditure of digital transformation. Parents and students also feel that extra effort is required for online education, which enhances their workload. Apart from that, poor infrastructure further impedes the advancement of education. Thus, there are severe and grave challenges of online education that need the immediate attention of all stakeholders to avert the damage to education.
Adverse Effects of Online Education
Firstly, there is no substitute for physical education. Students are deprived of interacting with their fellows which plays a major part in their personality development and communication skills. Social skills are key to boost the confidence of young kids; they aid in meeting people, making new friends, and engaging in positive discourse. Therefore, digital education affects the social skills of a student.
Besides physical interaction, it has also affected the psychological and mental well-being of students. Pitfalls of COVID-19 have already made life difficult for people and online education has further added to their woes. As per the Healthy Minds Study (HMS), a nationwide survey conducted in the US, “83 percent of students have complained about mental health”. Students find it challenging to carry out all the activities on their own as previously group discussions helped their cause. Nowadays, virtual contact is the only possible mode of communication that cannot substitute face-to-face contact.
In addition to this, many underdeveloped nations are facing the wrath of COVID-19 due to the paucity of the digital infrastructure required for online education. For instance, countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, and many African states, lack access to technology and digital apparatus.
Consequently, students have been forced to drop out of school. According to a recent study by the World Bank, 930,000 students may permanently drop out of schools in Pakistan. Thereby, the scantiness of resources is a major stumbling block in the progress of education in developing nations.
Similarly, illiteracy and unemployment have further aggravated due to the non-availability of the digital infrastructure needed to continue online education. As a result, students neglect education which automatically reduces the chances of employment. The Truman Center reports, “9 percent of the world today is illiterate”.
It further states that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has ascertained that “there are more than 770 million people around the world who cannot read or write”. Therefore, unemployment and illiteracy are more likely to increase with the shift to online education.
Furthermore, online classes have increased the workload of parents. Since young kids need assistance and the monitoring of parents to take online classes, it has increased the responsibility of parents. Working women had to leave their jobs as children now spend all their time at home. Similarly, women’s unemployment has aggravated significantly. Therefore, it is a dilemma for parents to manage work-life balance with increasing economic costs.
On the other hand, for educational institutions, the transition to online education has brought significant monetary roadblocks and challenges. Due to online education, institutions need to train and develop teachers, make modifications in the curriculum to meet the needs of online education, and pay the cost of their premises even with online classes.
In fact, schools and colleges have been forced to lay off their staff to compensate for rising costs. On top of that, the state has asked educational institutes to lower their tuition fees to provide some relief to parents. For example, a 20 percent tuition fee reduction has been proposed by the government of Pakistan after COVID-19 erupted. Hence, the cost of operations has increased for schools and colleges.
Challenges Faced by the World
There are a plethora of challenges faced by the world in the spread of online education. First and foremost, the availability of infrastructure is a gargantuan task, especially at a time when even the most advanced and developed nations are battling the challenge of online education. While developing countries were already lagging in the education sector, online education has further added to their woes.
In a country like Pakistan, the education budget is limited to a measly 2 percent of the state’s GDP and only 18% of the total population of Pakistan has smartphones. Moreover, the Pew Research Center found that only 24 percent of people in India own smartphones in 2018. Since then, this number has increased by 7%. Therefore, In a nutshell, infrastructure is a major bottleneck towards online education.
|States||Smartphone Ownership %|
In addition to this, international students are also facing challenges due to the non-availability of online education in some countries. International students go abroad to get some exposure, but online education has hampered their plans. Similarly, many universities in developing or underdeveloped countries, do not have the infrastructure required for online education, which will ultimately enhance the stay of international students and the cost of their living.
This will further aggravate their challenges in finding jobs after a delay in their degrees. In fact, some students are facing visa issues due to the extension of their programs. Moreover, many students were compelled to cancel their plan of going abroad due to visa delays. Last year in Pakistan, 4000 students risked the chance to study abroad due to visa approvals being delayed.
Furthermore, the advent of online education has affected cultural exchange between countries. Many students would travel to different countries to learn under renowned institutions. As a result, this helped their home countries to use their expertise in different fields; however, online education has put a stop to it for a while. On top of that, countries earn handsomely from students’ cultural exchange which would not be possible owing to COVID-19 and digital education. Consequently, it would further dent their economic prospects.
Besides the challenges of international students, women would also face the heat of digital education. There has been a huge debate going across the globe on gender inequality and with a shift to online education, women’s empowerment will be shaken. Physical education allowed women to travel locally and internationally to explore, learn and progress.
However, online education entails that women’s education will suffer in general but more specifically in developing countries. In countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic, female literacy is already low; with online education, women would lose the opportunity to gain an education due to the paucity of infrastructure.
More importantly, every country faces an elephantine task of training and developing the faculty and students for online platforms. Digital education not only needs digital apparatus but also skilled manpower for effective delivery. The developing countries rank at the bottom when it comes to the human development index. Pakistan ranks 154th among 189 states on the Human Development Index (HDI). It shows the grim and grave state of many developing countries to mitigate the surmounting challenge of digital education.
Moreover, owing to COVID-19, there is a surge in poverty and unemployment. As a result, it means a lack of resources available to continue education. It can be seen that all the nations including the developed and underdeveloped were compelled to provide stimulus packages to revive and supply the dwindling economy. However, since the major focus has been on saving lives and livelihoods, education and learning have been compromised. Consequently, as per a World Bank report, “COVID-19 threatens to push 72 million more children into learning poverty”.
Practical and Doable Solutions to Address Grave and Severe Challenges of Online Education
Moving forward, workable and doable solutions are needed to fill the gaps of online education and to overcome the challenges it presents. For that, the role of global institutions is of paramount importance. For instance, the World Bank and the United Nations should continue their role in spreading education in poor countries. The organizations of the UN, such as UNICEF and UNESCO, need to be more vigilant and play their role actively by making sure children do not drop out due to poverty.
Furthermore, initiatives such as the World Bank’s global education policy are key to supporting countries and offering their expertise. Similarly, the onus lies on the G20 countries to support poor nations by providing financial assistance and debt suspension. It would aid developing nations in investing in their education system.
The recent measures taken by G20 states to defer loan payments is a positive step. However, further support to the education system is required to ameliorate the performance in digital education. All in all, the assistance of the major powers is necessary for the progress of digital education.
Adding to this, financial support should be given to parents and students in their respective countries to encourage them not to neglect education in times of adversity. Therefore, stimulus packages should include stipends for students as they cannot continue their part-time jobs owing to lockdowns and social distancing curbs.
On top of that, the availability of cheaper internet is crucial, particularly, in developing nations. Programs such as the TECH4All initiative—introduced by the deputy chairman of Huawei, Ken Hu, to help the world in reducing the digital divide—can ensure that every individual of the state has access to education.
Undoubtedly, the spread of COVID-19 has become the Achilles heel for every nation and brought the world to its knees. Hence, it has also exposed vulnerabilities in the education system. Although online education Is the need of the hour and is the best possible alternative to continuing education, it comes with its challenges.
It has taken a mental toll on students due to the anxiety and fear caused by COVID-19, let alone by online education. Moreover, not meeting their classmates for an indefinite period has almost taken the fun out of the lives of the students. On the other hand, educational institutes are finding it hard to bear the exorbitant cost of digital infrastructure.
The Third World countries were already fighting hard with poverty and literacy crises, now with a shift to online education, they, along with the leadership of the rest of the states, are finding it hard to spread the web of online education. Nonetheless, all is not doom and gloom if sincere and collective efforts are taken.
Notwithstanding severe bottlenecks, online education has come a long way and made people realize the value of human interaction. It compelled the whole world to mull over fragile skeletons in their bodies. As Antonio Guterres stated that inequality defines our time but, “We are in this together, and we will get through this together”.
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