Since its outbreak in late November 2019, COVID-19 virus has wreaked havoc across the world, and like any other critical sector, the education sector has been hit hard. The students, institutions like schools, colleges, and universities have been deeply impacted. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), over 800 million learners from around the world have been affected.
As part of the struggle to stop the scope of the coronavirus, common spaces like schools, colleges, and facilities had shut down so that people could stay at home and limit additional spread.
Several schools decided to continue their normal classes on online platforms. This involved the usage of online tools, such as video conferencing, that allowed educators and students to not only attend but also conduct sessions over the internet. Another way that students continued their education during the pandemic is through online education, which uses online applications which replace instructors with helpful, instructional material so students can learn on their own. An example of online education would be recorded videos or online sessions, which are made available to students to use on their own time, instead of meeting face to face with the teacher and other students. The switch to technology-related platforms concerned many students because they might’ve not had a computer to engage in online education. For this, some schools gave out computers to support students who did not have one. However, the overnight switch to technology was hard to cope with at first for students and teachers alike who had to learn how to adapt to the sudden change from normal classes to online classes.
While there are some advantages due to lock down and stay-at-home measures such as spending more family time, performing more indoor hobbies, and focusing on your diet, the disadvantages that impacted the students were greater than the advantages. Issues such as boredom and loneliness, fewer outdoor activities, exercise time, fewer social gatherings, and no extracurricular activities are just a few to name.
Just sitting at home for so long has increased the sense of loneliness, and the fear of when things would get back to how they were almost two years ago, has caused anxiety among students as well. The Omicron Virus has affected all areas of life.
Although grown-up school children can understand the purpose of these preventive measures, younger kids cannot understand why things have to be this way, leading to a lot of tantrums and acting out. Older kids are forced to spend more time babysitting their younger siblings to help out their parents at home. This, in return, causes more stress among siblings and family members. In cases like these, parents are forced to entertain the younger kids round the clock, putting enormous pressure on them. Some parents who have to balance work and family are forced to distract younger kids with more screen time.
In light of the pandemic, learning as a whole abruptly moved online to limit the spread of the coronavirus. From what’s been seen, remote learning comes with many difficulties and challenges, such as not engaging in class or physically participating in physical activities. The most students miss during this social distancing is hanging out with our friends and doing group projects. In addition, some kids miss the physical presence of getting help from the school to do their homework and even classwork. On the brighter side, the transition to technological platforms has given new opportunities to teachers and students to try out different kinds of education. The different ways of imparting education, such as video conferencing, which made online interaction possible, help students learn more conveniently; so, they can be less stressed and more focused. Therefore, we believe online learning was necessary to maintain social distancing and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With vaccinations in place, the world greeted the gradual opening of public sectors and schools after almost ten months of shut down. However, governments imposed regulations on wearing masks in public and maintained social distancing. With COVID-19 becoming a household name, omicron followed suit, people started to go back into the world, adapting to the new norms of life. However, it did not take long for a new variant to emerge as people resumed engagements.
Omicron, the SARS-CoV-2 variant which is responsible for a cluster of cases in South Africa, was first reported in November of 2021 and is now spreading worldwide, is the most heavily mutated variant to emerge so far and carries mutations that are similar to changes seen in the earlier variants of concern associated with enhanced transmissibility and partial resistance to the vaccine-induced immunity. To slow down the spread of this variant, the UK government has announced that masks are again to become compulsory on public transport and in shops and schools.
The new variant might again return education institutions to the possibility of planning learning and teaching through remote synchronous or asynchronous modes and possibly continue the mask mandates into the spring, summer, and fall of 2022.
The outbreak of Omicron has yet again affected all aspects of human activities globally, ranging from education, research, sports, entertainment, transportation, worship, social gathering/interactions, economy, businesses, and politics. Indeed, the entire world is in distress due to the new variant threats. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is challenging to bear, and the education sector remains one of the worst-hit by the Omicron outbreak yet again.
Parents and educators have raised concerns over the government planning not to shut institutions this time around and instead urge parents to get their children vaccinated who are above the age of 12.
Amidst all that is going on in terms of the virus, it is clear that the world of education has forever changed. New modes of learning and teaching are here to stay and remain a challenge to navigate effectively. As human beings, we will continue to adapt to the new ways of the world to move on, making our way through the hindrances that come our way. We have yet to see how learning and teaching will evolve and hope that the long-term effects of digital learning will only open up new prospects in the world of artificial intelligence.