Question Four: Education
‘Anthropological Responses to COVID-19’ will comprise six questions, each lasting a fortnight. These are posted on a website created by University College London’s Centre for Digital Anthropology.
The responses to this fourth topic can be found by clicking on the map at https://anthrocovid.com/4-2/
Some of the key points and themes emerging from these posts are as follows:
The shift to online has made the digital divide between those with good access to online platforms and those without, that much wider. In turn, this exacerbates differences in access to education, for example, for children with learning disabilities, or the gulf between those in private and state education.
No one feels that online education can fully replicate offline. There are whole areas of practice whether in laboratories or requiring sensory engagements that have become impossible. Many groups report that constant attention to screens is tiring. More positive is the ingenuity of attempts to compensate and the increase in free online materials.
There is an acute awareness that this particular year group will have missed key life stage examinations and there is simply no clear idea about how this differential legacy will play out in the longer term
In some countries, such as India, it has become clear that using ubiquitous apps, that parents are also familiar with such as WhatsApp will be more effective in helping people retain links with education than bespoke educational platforms or materials.
Anthropology has its own difficulties as those planning to carry out ethnography are now unable to do so. For advice on how to conduct ethnography entirely online see, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSiTrYB-0so
Anthropological posts that are not directed to these questions can also be found at https://anthrocovid.com/digital-ethnographies/ and from posts from UCL Medical Anthropology at https://medanthucl.com/.
What are individual contributions telling us about education online following social isolation?
Argentina – Ximena Díaz Alarcón starts from our common experience that basically all education has gone online. That this creates an effective digital divide, those with good internet access get better educated and those without lose out. That having everything screen-based can cause some people to feel disconnected and demotivated. Also, the question of whether students without grades are being degraded, On the other hand using multiple media such as WhatsApp may help.
Brazil – Marina Frid, who has been working with 18 informants, notes the problems affecting a teacher of low-income children who do not have internet access or can’t afford the constant access required for education. Others have a variety of means for accessing the various online material and parents are often also involved, sometimes lending their own devices to their children who cannot access the material on a computer. University lecturers had little time to prepare their content and pupils have difficulty adjusting. In general, the effect of the pandemic in Brazil has been to exacerbate inequalities.
India (1) – Richard Thornton working with an education NGO notes that it was the familiar everyday use of WhatsApp that worked for education, especially as teachers were undertrained in more specialist resources, and the government has come in to support that. This more equal environment is one in which pupils (and increasingly parents at home more with their kids) feel more comfortable giving feedback as to what works for them. For the same reason, they are trying to create more mobile-friendly resources.
India (2) – Prateek Khandelwal working in Rajasthan takes the case study of a pupil and a teacher. Moving to digital teaching has exacerbated prior to inequalities. These include the gap between private education which switched to online more readily as against state education, but also the problem of families who can’t afford smartphones for every child to get WhatsApp access and worry about security measures. Teachers have also found that they are shifted from one platform to another because of security concerns
Ireland (1)– Pauline Garvey notes that education has been one of the most profiled and controversial casualties of Covid-19. It is the topic that has fractured the general consensus about the national response, with considerable anxiety about proposed alternatives to the all-important school leaving certificate and a realisation that there is no idea of how the legacy of this rupture will play out.
Ireland (2) – Maria Nolan looks at how teachers responded to the shock of having to move online and the need to support each other in working out how best to do this. Many, but not all, had some experience with online teaching and some coped better than others. Children with special educational needs faced particular problems. Use was made of designated platforms such as Google Classroom but lots of new frustrations emerged in making online teaching work and keeping pupils engaged. They hope to establish a more streamline system for the future, but obviously also hope that there will soon be a return to face-to-face teaching.
Italy – Sofia Venturoli was involved in the sudden shift to online-only teaching while also having to remain home with her children. The result included maintaining some continuity but also recognising that breaking the ritual frame of traditional teaching can allow for other forms of pedagogy and interaction to emerge collectively. At the same time, other boundaries became clearer and there should be caution in seeing online teaching as a simple cost-cutting solution for universities.
Japan – Julia Nagai reports on the struggle of moving classes online in a country that had lagged behind in using such technologies. Some subjects such as cookery are particularly difficult to replicate. She highlights the particular problems for children with special needs, such as those with hearing difficulties, where demand for school places has already outstripped supply. The dependence upon online threatens to exacerbate inequalities between such groups and others.
The Netherlands – Rebekha Adriana works with Indonesian students in the Netherlands where the first major issue is whether to return home, given fears of being locked into one or other country. The universities have tried to make provision both for teaching and also some social activities but there are many kinds of learning such as lab-based which cannot be replicated. There is some compensation in that more educational material is appearing online for free.
United Kingdom – Maria Larrain noted how her practice in osteopathy was curtailed because of the relative sensory paucity of online and that this would apply to other tactile disciplines such as teaching about fashion. In general, teachers have had to let go of elements that are simply not reproducible and concentrate instead on aspects that seem compatible with online. While generally, students find online quite tiring, there is also considerable ingenuity in attempts to compensate.
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