Kaieteur News – Education has not been the same since the pandemic. Except that in Guyana, our government does not seem to appreciate just how lasting will be the present effects on education.
Education will not be the same ever again. The pandemic has shown the world a more transformative path to delivering education, one which the world knew but was reluctant to go along with in the areas of pre-university education.
University education, however, has long taken the leap. Except of course in Guyana, where the University of Guyana has plodded along in making the transition to transformational digital education.
The internet has led to the globalisation of educational services. Virtual classroom is now becoming the new normal, pandemic or no pandemic. This should have been recognised 10 years ago and actions taken by the University to move faster towards online learning and to internationalise its courses. It has now been surpassed even by the infamously slothful University of the West Indies which is now gobbling up our students, compliments of the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL).
Virtual education is the future of education. Children, in the future, will not be required to attend school. Schools will no longer be necessary, except for laboratories and for examinations.
Students will not be required to physically attend classes. They will be instructed from the comfort of their homes. They will not be required to haul huge piles of books in overladen haversacks; they will be provided with downloadable electronic textbooks. They will not require smart classrooms and exercise books; their books will be laptops and electronic tablets.
The digitisation of education will transform teaching. A single teacher will teach one subject to all students of a particular Grade across the country simultaneously. The other teachers will become support staff, providing personalised tutorials to students.
It did not need the pandemic for anyone to realise the changes in the delivery of education. The digitisation of education was already taking root. The pandemic has merely made more apparent the direction of the headwinds of educational change.
Except in Guyana where the vision in education leadership is stuck in the past and has a penchant for piece-meal interventions rather than strategic change management. One education consultant, Dr. Jerry Jailall, has said that presently, the Education Ministry is engaged in “random acts of improvement” as opposed to “a systematic, comprehensive aligned design for school improvement and reform.” It is essentially a ‘Christmas Tree’ approach of ‘let’s hang something here, hang something there,’ and hope it looks good. His characterisation of the situation critical as it is, understates the gravity of the leadership crisis in the Ministry.
The Ministry of Education needs an overhaul. It is operating in the past rather than with an eye to the future.
Digitisation of education will make the construction of new schools redundant. Yet, the Ministry of Education is still investing billions in the construction of new schools. In February of this year, the sod was turned for a school at Prospect, which it is said will benefit 1,000 students. A G$1B school is being built at Westminster, La Parfaite Harmonie, Region Three.
Why make such massive investments when the future of education would not require classroom learning? Children will be learning from home.
Instead of speaking about equality of schools, the focus should be equality of opportunities. The interventions should not be about building new schools but about ensuring that every child has the means to access virtual education.
All of the billions which are being spent to build and rehabilitate schools could have been deployed to ensure that all those students who are present at home – for more than a year – are receiving education.
It was the PPP/C government which boasted that staying at home does not have to mean no learning. Yet, one year after, it is yet to indicate what systems it has put in place to ensure that every child at home is being taught virtually.
Poor children are at a disadvantage during this pandemic because many of them do not have internet service and many of them do not have laptops. They are therefore unable to access the online learning, which is being provided by their teachers – those that are providing online service.
The pandemic has merely hastened the necessity of virtual education. The new normal will require students being taught more from home and more virtually than in the classroom and through traditional means.
The Ministry of Education needs a comprehensive rethink of education. Unless this happens, Guyana will find itself falling further behind the rest of the world.
But this rethink is not going to take place unless there is new thinking in the Ministry of Education; and it is doubtful whether this can happen under the present leadership. The faster the President recognises this, the better it will be for all concerned.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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