In the past few weeks, COVID-19 or, simply put, coronavirus affected 176 countries around the world. Due to the easily contagious condition of the virus, it has affected our daily life routines and operations of many sectors including construction, business, transport, manufacturing and education – in the way how students around the globe are educated at schools and universities. The coronavirus reshaped the world and induced the governments to make significant changes in economic, sociologic, enterprise and education spheres. Specifically, these changes will allow to identify the new techniques and methods, which the education system could shift to from now on and in the long-term perspective.
The coronavirus was first found in China, Wuhan province, when the government made an announcement about the first dozens of infected people on December 31, 2019 [The New York Times, 2020]. One month later, the number of deaths was 17 with more than 550 cases of infection in China [Aljazeera, 2020]. The virus has spread so rapidly across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States, that on March 11, 2020 World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 is a pandemic [Wired, 2020]. By a matter of weeks, the governments of affected counties, especially in Europe, announced that students at schools and universities were sent home and person-lectures will be switched to online learning in order to minimize the close interactions between students and lecturers [Havergal, 2020; The Guardian, 2020]. On March 13, 2020 Kazakhstan reported first two cases of COVID-19 – two Kazakhstani people were positively tested to the pandemic after the flight from Germany to Kazakhstan [Tengrinews, 2020b]. The day before, by the order of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, students at schools were sent home earlier to holidays from March 16 to April 5, while from 16th of March all the lectures at universities will be delivered online [Tengrinews, 2020a]. Overall, according to the OECD, 107 countries have closed schools and universities and more than 862 million of students across the world were affected by the spread of the virus [UNESCO, 2020].
Despite the inconvenience caused by these decisive actions and measures of shutting down schools and universities, it also pushed the education sector by finding new educational innovative methods in online learning. It is difficult to identify the exact impact of COVID-19 to the education systems nationwide. Nevertheless, there will be definitely influence to the online and digital learning methods, which will lead to further innovation.
For a long period of time the lectures worldwide have been conducted in classes with teachers teaching in-person in their classrooms. Due to precautionary measures taken against the spread of coronavirus, this method of teaching in a very short period of time radically changes to online version. This practice could be seen as a possible silver lining in this situation. For instance, in Hong Kong, students started learning through mobile apps [BBC News, 2020]. According to Dai (2020), China broadcasts school classes on public TV for 180 million primary-school students. As for Kazakhstan, universities also transited to online teaching. For example, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University announced on March 17, 2020 that all lectures will be transferred to distance learning with the help of information-education platforms – “Univer 2.0” and “Moodle”. Those platforms provide full access to courses and allow students to attend the lectures ‘online’, to give home assignments and to check the performance of students [KazNU, 2020]. International Kazakh-Turkish University named after Khoja Akhmet Yassawi (IKTU) in Turkistan provide curriculum and lecture materials using PLATONUS and MOODLE for distance learning. All students and staff of IKTU are involved in online learning system through the KazTEP system that has been successfully operated at university for several years [IKTU, 2020].
With modern technology and internet access students can experience online or digital format of education. Currently, even before the pandemic online learning from online courses were complementing the person-lecture studies in many countries. Now due to precautious measures of the coronavirus schools and universities in affected countries are switching to online format to continue teaching, but the quality is heavily dependent to the level of technology, internet access and speed of internet. According to Kemp (2020), only about 60% of world population is online. For developed countries with strong technological and internet infrastructure, switching to online education could be an easy process, while in less developed economies it is harder to adapt to distance teaching. According to the International Telecommunication Union (2019), in less developed countries the share of individuals, who have an access to internet, is around 19%. The study also indicates that 72.2% of people in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region have internet access. In the annual report of Website Tool Tester, Kazakhstan is listed 122nd in the ranking of the highest internet speed, followed by Brunei, Brasilia, Armenia and Latvia. As stated in the report, in order to download 5 Gigabyte video, Kazakhstani user needs two hours and twenty-six minutes [Liter, 2020]. Even though the course materials and assignments are small-sized files, slow internet speed could be an obstacle for students and lecturers, when conducting a video lectures or webinars.
In spite the fact that schools and universities provide necessary educational materials online, some students might not be able to reach it due to different circumstances. Therefore, the responsible authorities should take into consideration the issue that some students might face difficulties on reaching their study materials. For instance, only 65% of Kazakhstan’s population use smartphones [Sputnik Kazakhstan, 2016], while this figure is 94% in South Korea, which ranks 1st in smartphone ownership in the world [Sohn, 2018]. Furthermore, the responsible authorities should take into account that senior lecturers can face difficulties in using modern technology. According to the research of Irsaliyev et al. (2019), Senior teaching staff in schools and universities in Kazakhstan needs to involve more with the educational programs that would teach them how to use platforms like Google Disc, Moodle, E-learning platforms, etc. During the switching to online process competent bodies needs also take into consideration such nuances in order to increase the efficiency of the delivering online education services to student.
The rapid expansion of COVID-19 demonstrates that it is important to build resilience to face various threats in different spheres – from economics to education. The coronavirus is a reminder to the governments and people that we need to be prepared to cope with different situations which could rise in future. Also, as we see in the in the coronavirus situation effects to different sectors in economy and parts of our lives we need to use every opportunity to develop skills of future workforce – students. To develop those skills, it is necessary to modify the educational systems and compliment person-lecture with modern technology and internet. Currently, Kazakhstan is working on to switch to online learning in a country level where certain regions might face difficulties like internet access, speed, access to modern technology and knowledge of teachers how to use it. Therefore, there is a room for Kazakhstan’s government to develop, modify and innovate its educational system in the time of coronavirus.
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Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dautova Ilana holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from KIMEP University (Almaty, Kazakhstan). She has also studied at the Foundation course at Lancaster University (Lancaster, United Kingdom) and on the exchange program at Ewha Womans University (Seoul, South Korea). Previously, she worked as a business development manager at the POSCO International Corporation.