The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education
Azzeddine Bencherab is a former faculty member at the City University College of Ajman, UAE, and former consultant in an American Curriculum based school in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He has been teaching English for more than 30 years. He has long experience in ELT instruction at the High Schools and Colleges levels and has presented extensively in events organized by TESOL Arabia. He has published several articles that appeared in international magazines and conducted more than 60 workshops. His interests include teacher development and developing skills.
In a bid to control the spread of COVID-19, governments of all countries decided to close all educational institutions as per March 2020 impacting in this way over one billion students worldwide according to UNSECO’s report (2020) and teachers as well.
Overnight, teachers were required to move from physical classrooms to virtual ones. The transition from physical teaching to online teaching made teachers reshape their way of teaching, their lesson plans and ensure that their materials are accessible to their students through different tools depending on their age, level and location.
This paper will discuss the impact of confinement on education, the challenges facing distance learning and suggest some strategies to grapple with the crisis.
Faced with an unprecedented crisis and an invisible enemy, all educational institutions: universities, colleges and schools across the world have cancelled all events such as lectures, workshops, conferences and exams to protect students and staff members from the highly infectious disease and avoid the spread of the virus. The closures of educational institutions had an impact on over 80% of the school-goers population (UNESCO. 2020) compelling faculty members to shift from physical classrooms to online teaching platforms in order to make students keep on learning. Distance learning was seen as the most viable option to reduce the damages caused by educational institutions closures. However, the transition to distance learning adopted by the ministry of education in all affected countries had to grapple with the serious challenges on the part of both teachers and students. Luckily, thanks to the worldwide solidarity, technology and sharing information values of professionals, teachers are gradually managing to a certain extent to administer instruction teaching using whatever means at hand.
Covid-19 was identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, by the end of December 2019 after China reported some cases of pneumonia to spread later to other parts of China (Chahrour M, Assi et al. 2020). On January 12, 2020, China publicly shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19. To reduce the risk of further transmission, the authorities decided to lockdown the city on January 23, 2020 (Xiang YT et al. 2019). The first death outside China was recorded in Thailand, January 13. Since then, the virus started to spread at an alarming rate to compel World Health Organization characterize COVID-19 as a pandemic by March 11 sending billions of people to lockdown. As of July 1, 2020, according to statistica.com, the outbreak of COVID-19 had been confirmed in 210 countries or territories affecting 10,599,620 people worldwide, and with a number of 514,298 deaths.
Impact of COVID- 19 on education
The Impact of COVID-19 on Education COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of educational institutions at all levels along with scheduled events in 192 countries worldwide with 91.4% of the total number of enrolled students (UNESCO, 2020) with more prominence in Africa.
The decision to close schools, colleges and universities in order to contain the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the educational systems globally, leading to the cessation of face to face type of teaching. As an alternative to physical classrooms, UNESCO recommended the use of distance learning programs and platforms that can be used by teachers to reach their students and minimize the sequels of education’s disruption and ensure teaching/ learning continuity (UNESCO, 2020).
As of 29 April, 2020, 1.3 billion students were still affected by school and university closures that impacted profoundly on their academic achievements, on their national exams and thesis submission. For teachers the impact was and still is of professional nature: shifting to online teaching, cancelled workshops, regional/national/international conferences.
Key points to consider for distance learning
Prior to embarking on distance learning or educational platforms, some elements need to be considered. Teachers should:
- ensure that in these times of crisis they can be reached by their students via Facebook, skype, email, e-learning platform devised by the institution or whatever means.
- be aware of the resources availability at hand for each student.
- inform students of the instructional objectives to be attained.
- expose students to differentiated instruction as well as aligning assignments, or exercises to students’ needs, levels and age.
- take time to reflect on what has been administered to students as reflective teaching is the foundation of effective teaching. In this time of crisis, information about teachers’ instruction can be obtained by sharing information with peers and listening to students’ views.
In response to COVID- 19 pandemic, distance learning has been implemented in more than 180 countries as a remedy to minimize the damages caused by closures and confinement and to avoid the disruption of curriculum, many countries introduced technology-based teaching to ensure the continuity of learning while at home. Indeed, in many countries, the ministries of higher education urged faculty members to post lectures, assignments and resources at the university website as an attempt to make students keep on learning. Although, online teaching is not novel in developed countries, its implementation in developing countries can turn quite difficult, not to say utopian. Of some reasons, few challenges are listed here below:
- In most of these countries (developing), the basic infrastructure is absent (low connectivity, frequent electricity cuts…).
- Many faculty members are techno-savvy.
- Many students do not have internet facilities or a laptop.
- With no real exams in a physical classroom, faculty members are uncertain on how students should be assessed.
- In some countries, Algeria as a case in point, teaching online is having serious consequences on students, especially in foreign languages because it is not a medium of communication outside the university setting. As a result, English language students are very likely to lose all what has been acquired during the semester preceding the pandemic.
- Assessing online courses like “oral communication” makes assessment next to impossible, especially those living in remote places.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, educators turned to technology and online teaching. However, many issues sprang up:
- Educational material is not accessible everywhere
- Digital content in education is not accessible
- Students no longer have access to educational assistants
- Online learning platforms are not accessible
- Teleconferencing tools non-existent or inaccessible for all students.
To grapple with these challenges, all professionals involved in the educational sector are required more than ever before to turn to a more collaborative approach in order to support students in need. Failure to help them will put them at a disadvantage. Of some strategies to implement collaborative approach:
- Teachers and professionals in the field can share information by staying in touch through online meetings, emails, and other various tools to develop teaching materials.
- Teachers should ensure that their students have equal access to technologies and that the materials (PowerPoint presentations or documents) sent to students bear differentiated instruction.
- Teachers should offer free online assistive technology resources. In this period of crisis, many publishing houses are already offering teaching products free of charge along with free lectures, workshops and resources.
- Teachers should adapt their way of assessing their students and find alternatives (e-portfolios, project work, PowerPoint presentations…
Distance learning tools
The list of educational applications, platforms and resources below aim to help parents, teachers, schools and school administrators facilitate student learning and provide social care and interaction during periods of school closure. Most of the solutions curated are free and many cater to multiple languages. While these solutions do not carry UNESCO’s explicit endorsement, they tend to have a wide reach, a strong user-base and evidence of impact. They are categorized based on distance learning needs, but most of them offer functionalities across multiple categories (see appendix on how to use each tool through a video).
1. Web conferencing
Web conferencing is a tool that brings people to interact in a virtual meeting room. It can be used for meetings, recording lectures, or for any other purpose. In a web conference, participants can share webcams, show presentation slides, or use a whiteboard with tools like pointers, zooming, highlighting as if they are in a live class.
Web conferencing can be used to support interactive learning or student-centered teaching in a team-oriented, virtual environment. The advantage of web conference sessions is that the sessions can be recorded and reviewed for feedback.
Prezi is an online presentation program that offers storage of a presentation in the cloud. The attendees are faced with a canvas instead of slides for creating your presentation. This means that they can see the entire presentation at once instead of in discrete segments.
Padlet is a great tool to use for collaborative group projects, as it eliminates the need to schedule time in advance for the group members to meet face-to-face. Students are able to work freely on their group assignments at their own convenience while still observing every change or contribution made by group members as soon as they are made without scheduling conflicts and the constraints produced from limiting project work to specified times.
One of the greatest benefits of Padlet for classroom use is the fact that many people can post to the same board at the same time, making it very suitable for collaborative work and the creation of projects.
Edmodo is an educational tool that connects teachers and students, and is assimilated into a social network. In Edmodo, teachers can create online collaborative groups, administer and provide educational materials, measure student performance, and communicate with parents.
Socrative is a system that allows teachers to create exercises or educational games which students can solve using mobile devices, whether smartphones, laptops, or tablets. Teachers can see the results of the activities and, depending on these, modify the subsequent lessons in order to make them more personalized.
TED-Ed is an educational platform that allows creating educational lessons with the collaboration of teachers, students, or animators. This website allows access to information, both for teachers and students with an active participation in the learning process of others.
cK-12 is a platform with an open source interface that allows creating and distributing educational material through the internet, which can be modified and contain videos, audios, and interactive exercises.
EduClipper is a platform that allows teachers and students to share and explore references and educational material. In eduClipper, information found on the internet can be collected and shared with the members of previously created groups. This offers the possibility to manage more effectively the academic content found online, improve research techniques, and have a digital record of what students achieved during the course. Likewise, it provides the opportunity for teachers to organize a virtual class with their students and create a portfolio where all the work carried out is stored.
Zoom is a powerful cloud video conferencing platform that allows people to host meetings with participants. In education, teachers can share lessons, or communicate with their students through the app.
10. Google Classroom
Google Classroom, a free web developed by Google, aims to create, distribute, and grade assignments with the purpose of sharing files between teachers and students. In this platform, students are invited to join a class through a code, or imported from a school domain.
It is true that the Internet has completely transformed the way teaching is administered; however, many people still live in places (rural schools, refugee camps, orphanages, non-formal school systems, and prison systems) with low connectivity or poor online access. Kolibri can help people living in these communities. Kolibri is an app that creates an offline server to deliver educational resources to students.
Nearpod is an all in one solution for the synchronized use of iPads in the classroom that makes lectures more engaging through interactive multimedia presentations. With Nearpod, teachers can create mobile presentations, engage students in class, assess them in real time and convert them into mobile friendly content while engaging all students to convert them into active classroom participants.
13. Write & Improve
Write & Improve tool was developed at the University of Cambridge to mark English Writing accurately immediately. After a writing task, the tool shows them their common mistakes and the parts that may need improvement. Their product is scored on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) scale, from level A1 to C2. It is a very helpful tool to make students work on the task by reviewing and improving their writing.
14. UNEVOC Resources
Resources collected by UNESCO’s International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training for continued learning.
An extensive list of over 600 distance learning solutions from the United Nations agency for refugees.
In this period of lockdown caused by COVID-19, teachers are requested to embrace technology while paying attention to their students learning styles, needs and background in order to offer equal opportunities for students who have no access to Internet. What matters now is to find ways to keep teaching and learning going on by using every online available tool.
Policy makers have also to take into account teachers’ level ability to use technology by supporting them and students’ access to technology by offering offline tools.
The effects of the educational crisis can be mitigated through careful planning, global solidarity and smooth transition to virtual classes.
Name of tool
Write & Improve
Chahrour M, Assi S et al. 2020. A bibliometric analysis of COVID-19 research activity: a call for increased output. Cureus. 2020, 12:e7357. 10.7759/cureus.7357
Xiang YT et al. 2019. Timely mental health care for the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak is urgently needed. Lancet Psychiatry. 2020, 7:28-29.
UNESCO. (2020). Crisis-sensitive educational planning. Paris: UNESCO.
United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (2020). COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response. Retrieved from: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse
Please check the Practical Methodology and English Language Development for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Practical Ideas for Teaching Advanced (C1-C2) Students course at Pilgrims website.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education
Azzeddine Bencherab , Algeria
Adult and Young Language Learners’ Resilience in Times of COVID-19
Emmanuelle Betham, UK