The education sector remains the biggest casualty during this trying Coronavirus epidemic time. Media has exposed the challenges of thousands of teachers who have lost their jobs, livelihood and are pushed to the fringes of society. But not much has been written about the myriad of struggles faced by the learners. Perhaps, they are unable to articulate their problems and are unable to offer solutions to those in charge of their education.
Our children have stayed at home for most of this year. Online or virtual education is just a novel idea rather than a practical and affordable education. This modern method of education may be good for the grown-up and mature learners rather than for those who are still in primary or even in the secondary level of education. At the wake of Coronavirus induced lockdown, digital or online learning came handy.
Though it can be a good alternative to classroom learning, many other emerging problems have not been paid attention to and their solutions explored. One such issue is the remoteness of relationships which is unhealthy for learning.
The question is very simple, ‘Can a slow learner or even an average performer who struggles to learn in a class through a concrete physical environment learn and grasp complex theories in a remote person-less teaching environment?’ Education is real, not virtual. Education will always remain a ‘relationship of exchange’, rather than just imparting a set of knowledge or skill.
On 9th September, the Department of Education in the Vatican issued a thought-provoking document on the challenges of education during Covid-19, highlighting the importance of relationship, communal sharing, need for cooperation between the Church (and other Faith-Organisation) and the government in respective nations.
Thus, it insists on making education inclusive for all sections of the society, and places caution on difficulties posed by distance learning and more emphasis on technology rather than the human person. As the history of education has shown, the Christian thought and practice places the human person central in all questions; the Church invites all stakeholders to place the human person (here the young learner) at the centre of the teaching and learning process.
It insists on relationships rather than any other concern. Despite the world’s educational system taking a battering under the Covid-19 pandemic with distance learning, the Vatican reaffirms the direct and interpersonal relationship of exchange and dialogue between teachers and students as indispensable for the learning process.
In its letter, the Vatican department of education notes that although digital platforms have allowed for education to continue, they have also brought to light “a marked disparity in educational and technological opportunities.” They also note that several millions of children will not be able to access education in the coming years, increasing the existing educational gap.
Besides, the document is very concerned about the importance of in-person learning and interaction with the students and teachers which it considers “indispensable for the formation of the person and a critical understanding of reality.” While we adapt to remote learning through digital platforms and keeping physical distancing, we should keep in mind the real objectives and values of education, that is bringing people together and learning to interact and building a human family, because in classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories, we grow together and build a sense of identity in relationships.
Relationships which are vital in education cannot find sufficient home in the interaction mediated by a screen or in the impersonal connections of the digital network. The document has wisely noted that “…in the perspective of future school and academic planning, albeit amidst uncertainties and concerns, those responsible for society are called to give greater importance to education in all its formal and informal dimensions by coordinating efforts to support and ensure, in these difficult times, the educational commitment of all.”
The “Circular Letter to Schools, Universities and Educational Institutions” brings out the mission of the Catholic educational institutions, especially, during this time of Coronavirus epidemic. The Vatican instructs that while the focus may be on distance learning to control the spread of the epidemic, the educational gap within society should be removed. The document insists that education and relationship go hand in hand. It affirms that the process of psycho-pedagogical growth cannot take place without a personal encounter with others.
While appreciating the teachers for their selfless service, the Vatican calls for a robust continuing-formation program for teachers that can meet the needs of our time without losing the synthesis of faith, culture and life. Thus, while learning through digital screens, the focus should be on the Human Person. The purpose of education is to place each person at the service of others, promoting a common good and overcoming divisions of all kind. More than ever before, for this period of the epidemic, we need a strong commitment to form a community of network which will form an educational alliance whose team effort aims at renewing the passion for a more open and inclusive education.
It is time to look forward with courage and hope because our foundation is in Christ – the way, the truth, and the life. If Covid-19 leaves behind greater education disparity between the rich and poor, the gap may never be filled in the future.
By Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB
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