The outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted among other things by shutting down schools across the world. Globally, over about 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom.
In view of this, the structure of education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching and learning are undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.
While some countries are at different levels in their COVID-19 infection rates worldwide, there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in many different countries who are affected by school closures due to the pandemic.
With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the world, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning would continue to persist post-pandemic, and how such a change would impact the global education landscape. Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global educational technology investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025.
Whatever form it takes; whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.
In line with the significant demand, many online learning platforms are offering free access to their services to provide a diversity of teaching and learning tools to support e-learning activities. In the same way, many companies are also bolstering capabilities to provide one-stop shop technologies for teachers and students.
For instance, some e-learning suites developed are able to offer teachers and students unlimited video conferencing time, chat groups, video meetings, voting ,document sharing, auto-translation capabilities, real-time co-editing of project work, and smart calendar scheduling, amongst other features.
While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation will result in a poor user experience that is not conducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new blended model of education will emerge, with significant benefits.
“I am of the firm believe that the integration of information technologies and systems in education would be further accelerated and that e-learning would eventually become an integral part of educational system, where countries that are not prepared towards this change would lag behind in their school systems”, Mr. George Akom stated.
For those who do have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective in a number of ways. Some research indicates that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom.
This mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.
Since studies have shown that children extensively use their senses to learn, making learning fun and effective through the use of technology is crucial, adding that, clever integration of games has demonstrated higher engagement and increased motivation towards learning, especially among younger students, making them truly fall in love with learning.
In spite of these and other numerous benefits from e- learning, there are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries.
While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widen the digital divide. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of online learning differs amongst age groups. The general consensus on children, especially younger ones, is that a structured environment is required, because young children are more easily distracted. To get the full benefit of online learning, there needs to be a concerted effort to provide this structure and go beyond replicating a physical class/lecture through video capabilities, instead, using a range of collaboration tools and engagement methods that promote “inclusion, personalization and intelligence”, Mr. Akom added.
It is clear that this pandemic has utterly disrupted an education system that many assert was already losing its relevance due to how schools continue to focus on traditional academic skills and rote learning, rather than on skills such as critical thinking and adaptability, which will be more important for success in the future. With this, it is therefore imperative to find out how the idea of moving to online learning becomes the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of educating students. While some are worried that the hasty nature of the transition online may have hindered this goal, others plan to make e-learning part of their ‘new normal’ after experiencing the benefits first-hand of the use of e-learning approaches. What has been made clear through this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across borders, companies, and all parts of society. If online learning technology can play a role here, it is incumbent upon all of us to explore its full potential for future benefit to our nation and the world at large. Mr. Akom re-echoed that, the main challenges facing Ghanaian schools especially at the Pre-Tertiary level are the deficiencies we have in the areas of ICT infrastructure, digital divide and skills on the part of both teachers and learners. He indicated that poor ‘e- readiness’ in our schools has become a bane for future e-learning activities at the Pre-Tertiary level. E-readiness is the measure of the ability of institutions, establishments or a nation to support the implementation of information and communication technologies and systems without difficulty. The key focus of e-readiness is the technology itself and the users. With the technology, it is expected that the entire infrastructure which is in place including other devices that would be required for the implementation of such a technology like e-learning is always at its best. On the other hand, the users are also expected to have the required skills and devices to access the system. Mr. George Akom who is also an Assistant Registrar of the Ghana Communication Technology University posited that, for Ghana to achieve the full potential of e-learning in the present and the future, the ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4D) agenda should be focused on solving the challenges of infrastructure in our schools, digital divide among school going children, and skill deficiencies among learners and teachers in our schools especially at the Pre-Tertiary level.