IN A PREVIOUS treatise on the subject of e-learning, it was pointed out that this approach to education must be located in a specific context and that failure to so do may result in learning objectives not being met and, worse, do more damage which may require subsequent strategic interventions to address.
E-learning must be consistently seen as one approach to the achievement of curriculum outcomes. There are many others which the teacher will deploy based on their own competencies, resources, curriculum content, learning objectives, student age and background knowledge, among other considerations.
Thus, different aspects of the curriculum will require different delivery modalities and, as such, the teacher will engage in an assessment of the differing approaches before determining whether one or a combination of curriculum delivery approaches is appropriate.
Aside from the assumption that the requisite infrastructure (power, device(s), adequate internet) is in place, e-learning also comes in a variety of forms and again the teacher must determine which approach is most suitable.
One of the most common misconceptions being perpetrated by tech companies is that e-learning can replace the teacher. The failure of Bridge Academies in many African countries has proven once again that the teacher in the classroom can and will never be replaced.
Teachers must also possess a specific skill set to successfully engage the use of these e-learning modalities, beginning with a certain level of technological competence. Unfortunately, most of our teachers have not been trained to use this delivery modality, especially at the primary level.
From a historical context it must be remembered that e-learning was initially conceptualised for andragogy – for people who supposedly possess a certain level of self-discipline and motivation to engage in self-directed learning. In quick time, it was harnessed into the repertoire of delivery methodologies of tertiary institutions, slowly filtering down to younger learners as they showed a propensity for screen engagement. However, the younger the learner, the more challenging it is to engage him/her in the remote learning process, mindful of hazards of prolonged screen time exposure.
E-learning assumes that the child can be a student at home, wherein certain aspects of the school environment can be replicated. These include establishment and enforcement of rules, self-regulation, limits of behaviour and the absence of distractions.
Parents are thus required to perform these teacher/school functions which many are unable to, given their temperament, personal commitments, and circumstances (economic, social). Indeed, many parents are exasperated at the mere thought of their children being at home for a prolonged period, let alone perform the function of substitute teacher. Teaching is not as easy as it looks, as many have been finding out.
Younger children will find it more difficult to engage a screen on a continuous basis for a prolonged period and may become distracted/disengaged without the input/guidance of the parent. Parents also must contend with the competing needs of other children in the home.
Additionally, based on the e-learning approach, the parent may also be required to assist the student in a direct way, something that requires time, patience and a certain technological skill set and competence.
The research has consistently shown that these assumptions may only hold for children who come from the higher socio-economic strata, manifested as the inequity gap and is a huge factor in determining student success at schooling.
Critical to the teaching function is the exercise of assessment for and of learning. If skilfully done with prior planning, valid and reliable assessments can be conducted using this methodology. Again, this requires a level of pedagogical competence that many of our teachers do not possess, through no fault of their own; it was never an imperative before, especially at the primary level.
Teaching by its very nature, especially at the secondary and lower levels, is a complex social interaction dynamic, where facial expression and body language are integral to the establishment of a two-way communication bridge between teacher and student.
Classrooms and schools are places that provide social satisfaction which accompanies formal and informal learning. Remote learning can never replace that. Student-student and student-teacher bonding is a vital component to the achievement of desirable modern educational learning objectives. Screen education must be seen in its rightful context – one of many curriculum-delivery options.
Finally, as a precaution to exacerbating the inequity gap, whenever school reopens, all teachers must resume curriculum delivery assuming that no child benefitted from e-learning. There may be need for curriculum and assessment modifications depending on the quantum of lost time.