It is a well-known fact that the spread of the COVID-19 virus has already affected a huge amount of human activities, especially the ones that require physical interaction. Education has received a huge shock, as of March 12, since twenty-six countries have completely closed schools nationwide, affecting the learning process of almost 376.9 million children and youth who would normally attend schools (Huang et al., n.d.). Nearly 1.2 billion schoolchildren remain affected by school closures until June 5 (Unequal Access to Remote Schooling amid COVID-19 Threatens to Deepen Global Learning Crisis, n.d.). Education specialists all over the world are trying to adapt the education process to the current situation. However, even if all the planned programs can be put to practice with detailed precision, the outcome of this newly formed education can have a huge impact on the children’s holistic education.
Changes in classrooms
Since the physical presence of students in schools and universities could be considered a huge risk for the spread of the COVID-19, education in classrooms should at least be limited or practiced with caution. This has led to integrating new learning processes in the daily schedule for a lot of students. China, reacting quickly, has introduced a new model for educating its young people called “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning”(Huang et al., n.d.), using up-to-date learning theories, with flexible learning being the focal point. Flexible learning is a set of educational approaches and systems concerned with providing learners with increased choice, convenience, and personalization to suit their needs. In particular, flexible learning provides learners with choices about where, when, and how learning occurs, by using a range of technologies to support the teaching and learning process (Huang et al., n.d.). This allows children to choose, through the guidance of their respective teacher, a part of their curriculum, according to their interests, making them responsible and motivated for their own education process. The new integrated education model has an online learning approach while also putting emphasis on improving network capacity from communication companies so as to support all the added internet traffic. Both synchronous and asynchronous environments are being used so that students can be independent and also able to interact with instructors and other students. Lastly, collaboration between schools, enterprises and the government is empowered so that the problem is addressed as effectively as possible.
There is a pivot from offline to online education in a very scientific and well-structured approach, in theory at least. Of course, as expected, this has both advantages and disadvantages for the educational process of the child. Individualized education is something that can be considered very useful, especially in this ever-expanding world of information we live in, if it is well-integrated in the child’s general education. Guided online learning can provide a vast amount of information for the learner in a broad range of subjects. Huge effort is being put into not letting the aspect of community in education fall apart by providing online platforms and tools for communication. However, in poor countries, the lack of technology can pose serious obstacles for children in the lower classes of society. In Georgia, a family cannot provide internet access to all of the children at the same time, causing disturbance in their education (In Georgia, COVID-19 Threatens to Widen the Education Gap | UNICEF, n.d.). Remote learning can be done by alternative ways such as television and radio broadcasts but even in that way, many children cannot have access to the provided material(Unequal Access to Remote Schooling amid COVID-19 Threatens to Deepen Global Learning Crisis, n.d.) and there is a serious question to be posed about the effectiveness of these kind of educative processes. They can only provide information for the receiver without any added educational value.
Importance of classroom in education
In every level of education, from elementary school to university, classroom has proven to be of vital importance for the learning of the individual (Tinto, 1997)(Allwright, 1984)(Sharan, 1980)(Wood, 2008). In elementary school, there is substantial evidence on learning through collaborative play(Wood, 2008) which is reinforced by motivational theories about education(Corno & Mandinach, 1983). In university, the classroom lies at the center of the educational activity structure of institutions of higher education; the educational encounters that occur therein are a major feature of student educational experience (Tinto, 1997). Students helping each other with understanding the subject they are being taught have significantly deeper learning experience and consistently more motivation to continue with their studies (Tinto, 1997). Thus, there is a direct relation to the interaction of the students and their learning experience. A classroom can be perceived as a small society, in which students learn much more than just receiving information about their curriculum courses. Their cognitive advancement is not the only thing to be considered. They learn how to interact with other humans, they gradually understand how a community works, they use their senses to explore the world and their surroundings, they get competitive in a positive way resulting in greater motivation for individually studying their courses. Most modern teaching methods place the teacher in a mediator position rather than that of a traditional authoritarian transmitter of information (Sharan, 1980)(Slavin, 2009)(Allwright, 1984)(Taylor et al., 1997). Interaction and communication between every person in the classroom seems to be focal to a person’s holistic development.
Of course, the individual aspect of learning is not to be ignored, as, obviously, the learning experience only takes part in the subject’s mind. Every experience someone perceives is personal and should primarily be considered as such. However, the significance and the amount of experiences is highly intertwined with the person’s interaction with other humans. This is exactly the point of human-to-human education. Classrooms integrate all of these important aspects into an environment suitable for education.
Online classroom critique
An online classroom would consist of students and a facilitator, which is usually the teacher, having synchronous screen-to-screen communication (Hiltz, 1995). Users are able to communicate either orally or in written form. As mentioned before, platforms and tools for online communication are constantly being created in order to help students and teachers interact while not letting the aspect of the community fall apart. New technologies such as 3D and augmented reality environments help simulate the real world, with 3D educational presentations considered to be more effective than 2D ones (de Boer IR, Wesselink PR, Vervoorn JM). The closest approximation of our world technology can support, the better the educational outcome seems to be.
Nevertheless, this is the focal point of this article. An online classroom is only a simulation of a classroom. Students cannot experience the interaction with all their senses. Sight and hearing fall under technical imperfections, touch is still very limited with the current technology achievements, smell and taste are non-existent. Electromagnetic fields and energy fluctuations a human presence can create in space are non-existent too. Psychological perception of one’s environment or a person’s thought process induces characteristic electrical impulses in the brain. These signals travel throughout the central, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, creating the unique electromagnetic field of the organism that can radiate out of the body and is termed ‘Aura’ or ‘Bio-energy field’ (Prakash et al., 2015). This is not a factor to be ignored by a holistic analysis. Thus, from a holistic approach, the environment of an online classroom highly differs from an offline one. Even if technological advancements allow humanity to entirely simulate reality, from a philosophical point of view, this would move the individual away from the objective reality of our world. We would have actively created an experience similar to Plato’s cave. The real world experience would be substituted by projections of experience in the mind, with the help of technology. One-sided approaches like this do not provide deep, holistic knowledge a human can use to shape their view of the world and actively criticize information so as to adopt and create ideas, which is the pinnacle of human understanding of knowledge, according to Bloom’s taxonomy(Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956). Knowledge does not exist only in the mind. Both the human body and its connection with the mind are carriers of knowledge and experience. This can be justified by the behaviorist approach in learning, which argues that learning is a process of forming reflexes on external stimuli (Sadowski, 2009). These reflexes, naturally, are both mental and body reflexes, creating one whole, human reflex. In online classrooms, these kinds of reflexes are formed mainly in the mind, since the body is usually uninvolved in this kind of educational process. Ultimately, only offline classrooms can provide the real world environment needed for the shaping of an individual in such a holistic way.
To conclude, the global phenomenon of COVID-19 has already created a new reality for the planet which makes education much harder than it used to be. Scientists and educators are constantly working on making educational material and guidance accessible to as many children and young people as possible, with the use of existing and emerging technologies. This is the existing situation and the whole world must adapt to it, rather than reject it. However, it must be understood that this may not be the path to follow, especially for education.
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