Inclusion challenges and solutions for fair online education

11 Nov 2020 10:40h - 12:10h

Event report

This session brought experts from China, Russia, and Latin America together to share their experiences with teaching at various levels of education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Panellists emphasised good practices and lessons learned and indicated ways of further improving the delivery of online education.

The panel as a whole recognised that currently an unequal playing field exists among students, with significant differences in the ability to access and use online education. All over the world, students in remote areas face connectivity challenges. In Latin America, less than 50% of households have a computer. In the same region, less than 50% of households have Internet access, compared to 80% for Europe. These limitations are not restricted to developing countries, however; in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, one in ten children has little or no access to technology.

The panel included Mr Yang Liu (Professor, University of Sheffield), Mr Xiaohu Ge (Professor, Huazhong University of Science and Technology), Mr Mikhail Komarov (Professor, National Research University Higher School of Economics), and Ms Elsa Estevez (UNESCO Chair on Knowledge Societies and Digital Governance, Universidad Nacional del Sur).

In considering some of the current challenges from the perspective of students, Liu emphasised the unequal access to the Internet and unequal access to devices. As well, students face background or environmental distractions as they try to learn online. The inherent inequalities in access to and in the experience of online learning might lead to a deepening of the global learning crisis. Komarov also mentioned the question of privacy that may occur, for example, when students are asked to switch on their cameras.

In addressing the lessons we have learned, panellists agreed that from the technical side, Internet networks, such as a university campus network, need rethinking. The time taken to trouble-shoot network and services and service problems could be reduced through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Liu expects a revolution in education after the pandemic as lessons are put in practice. At the same time, Estevez reminded us that online learning also requires innovation in pedagogical methods. While lessons and exams were shifted online in an ad hoc manner, it is now also important to adapt the pedagogy to the online environment.

Based on these lessons, in considering the main difference between online and face-to-face teaching, Estevez emphasised that in the face-to-face paradigm, a strong focus on the teacher as the source of knowledge frequently occurs. This needs to shift as lessons move online, where students should be in the centre. It is clear that the offline classroom environment cannot simply be replicated online.

It is important to realise that the quality of online education is a factor in learning success. The following factors, according to Ge, play a role in sustaining adequate quality of online education: (a) hardware, devices, and network access; (b) teacher quality and teacher training; (c) class management and support for student learning from home. To address this, effective supervision of content and quality; standardised teacher training and evaluation; and research and development of new teaching methods are needed.

It is also significant to consider culture in online learning. Culture plays an important aspect in learning and in the expectations and practices surrounding online learning. Ge emphased the need to build on the principle of multiculturalism. This includes respect for cultural diversity and equality, emphasis on the integration of culture into learning, the pursuit of fairness and justice in online education, and provision of personalised education.