Against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic, education has been transferred on-line
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed society, even if only temporarily, by reducing human interaction to the minimum, which nobody would have thought it was possible before. Just like in a Hollywood disaster movie, most people now stay in their homes, avoid contact with one another, and social life and other activities have been transferred in the virtual realm. On-line reality has become normal reality now, at least in many significant aspects of our lives.
Though blamed before, virtual life is now being invested in, both financially and emotionally. Most likely, this will go beyond the confines imposed by the pandemic, because a new world is shaping up on the horizon. One aspect of this new world is education, which has too been transferred on-line. Teachers and students of all ages, but also parents, are trying a new type of interaction in order to keep the education process running. To some, it's difficult, to others it's 'piece of cake', to some it's impossible to do for financial or technical reasons, to others it's just nothing new, because they had been doing that before, anyway, although at a different pace maybe.
We asked the president of the Romanian Academy, Professor Ioan Aurel Pop, how he saw the future of distance learning:
"I'm looking at this solution as a rescue solution today, when we simply cannot meet face to face with our students and pupils, but this cannot be a long-term solution. School, from its very beginnings, in the Greek and Roman times, has entailed the presence of the educator, of the teacher, who should stand right in front of those who are the recipients of the messages they are trying to convey. Therefore, I don't think this is a solution that should be rendered permanent. I don't think it will become an obligation. It's possible to be used more frequently - because distance learning existed before and it has been used especially in higher education, both in Romania and abroad - some might even prefer it, but, I repeat, my belief is that classical education, where the teacher faces their students, and that emotion that the eye contact can render, are irreplaceable."
The Romanian Education Ministry, though, has taken bold steps towards preparing teachers for one-line teaching, in order to have them ready in case schools will need to be shut again, as it happens during a state of emergency. Therefore, the initial psychological and pedagogical training curricula will include the development of skills needed to integrate technology in the teaching-learning-evaluation process in primary and secondary education. Teachers, pupils and parents already have access to a collection of resources they can use in order to carry on the on-line education process, aggregated on a dedicated portal. The education ministry has also imposed compulsory on-line courses and has called on the parents to provide their children with the necessary means.
Professor Varujan Pambuccian, a mathematician and IT specialist, does not believe either in this type of education becoming a permanent one:
"I believe that, after this crisis period, we will not see a rapid development of this type of education. Because, once the crisis gone, we will get back to our normal, classical paradigm, which will continue. I don't know whether this is good or bad, it's actually a matter of necessity. Which means we need to pay attention and see if this is needed in a certain place, then yes, it should be done. But if such a way is not needed, obviously nobody will want it. However, there is another problem here. Thinking of IT and turning everything into e-something, we've seen countries that pushed it and did that in the wrong direction, I would say. I mean, learning is a social process, learning means discovering together with a guide, in this case the teacher, thinks that society believes children should discover. And this is very important. This thing about discovering together, and learning as a social process, comes from our mental structure as anthropoids, and that has never changed radically. It is here where we need to find solutions in order to bring into the virtual world something similar to what we have in our very well-established cultural DNA. Otherwise, of course, we could be very enthusiastic about it, we can try and push things, but eventually it will all come back to the previous setting, because this is how our brains are built to function."
On the other hand, there are some very concrete problems that arise in relation to this topic, which have been highlighted by civil society representatives, such as access to the internet in the rural areas, parents' and teachers' financial means, supervising children, IT knowledge, logistical support in schools. According to a study, in Romania, Zoom, WhatsApp, Google Classroom and Facebook have been the most popular resources in distance learning during this crisis period, when classes have been suspended. 36% of the participating teachers and headmasters have stated they had to learn how to use the digital tools. Only one in five teachers used a laptop before classes were suspended and 19% used video projectors. Only one in ten used digital sites and platforms and 7% used digital schoolbooks in class. Most frequently, students use the platform for Math, followed by those for Romanian language and foreign languages. (M.Ignatescu)