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Technology, Connections, Learning:Education After the Pandemic

2020-12-15
Esther Tseng /photo byKent Chuang /tr. byJonathan Barnard
 
Around the world, the Covid pandemic has caused an upsurge in online learning. With the virus well under control, Taiwan is one of the few nations in the world to have been holding regular classes in school classrooms without interruption.
Around the world, the Covid pandemic has caused an upsurge in online learning. With the virus well under control, Taiwan is one of the few nations in the world to have been holding regular classes in school classrooms without interruption. 
 
Around the world, the Covid pandemic has caused an upsurge in online learning. With the virus well under control, Taiwan is one of the few nations in the world to have been holding regular classes in school classrooms without interruption. Universities have even opened new courses for students who have—at least for now—been forced to scuttle plans to study overseas. These offer them real face-to-face interactions with faculty and other students. But whether students are taking classes online or in tradi­tional classroom settings, educational professionals on the front lines firmly believe that cultivating character and self-study skills is better than dryly conveying received knowledge. Digital education should overlook neither the importance of person-to-person interactions nor the differences among students, for the people-focused character of education has not changed.
 
Under the hot autumn sun, Tan Kok Kwa, a physical education instructor at National Tsing Hua University who hails from Malaysia and was once a player on their national soccer team, is leading a dozen or so students in workouts. Dripping sweat, his charges are running and jumping around traffic cones. With the pandemic preventing students from pursuing courses of study abroad, they have been forced to study in Taiwan. NTHU’s Center for Continuing Education has specially set up the Weigong Academy to offer students flexible courses in a variety of academic and professional fields. Enrolled students can also take physical education classes.

There are at least a billion students in the world whose educations have been disrupted by the Covid pandemic. Taiwan is one of the few nations where classes in regular classrooms have not been interrupted. Consequently, this year’s International Conference on Educational Innovation, held in Taiwan and sponsored by Taiwan’s Parenting World magazine, attracted more in-person attendees—above 1000—than any other educational conference anywhere in the world in 2020. Invited experts in educational innovation connected remotely to discuss educational change and challenges in the Covid era.
 
Salman Kahn, founder of the US-based Kahn Academy, made his first appearance at the International Conference on Education Innovation this year, speaking remotely to the audience in Taiwan.
Salman Kahn, founder of the US-based Kahn Academy, made his first appearance at the International Conference on Education Innovation this year, speaking remotely to the audience in Taiwan.

Technology’s increasing impact

During the pandemic, online study has become essential. Andreas Schleicher is director for education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and head of its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Speaking at the conference via the Internet, he noted that 1.5 billion students around the world were “locked out of their schools” by the pandemic. He reminded attendees that “learning is not a place but an activity.”

Although digital access gaps have exacerbated the unfair distribution of educational resources, “We have seen more social and technological change in education over the last six months than in probably the [previous] six years,” noted Schleicher. In the post-Covid world, it has become normal to combine distance education with on-site education.

“Technology can greatly amplify and scale innovative teaching.” Technology does not replace teachers, but it can boost innovation. With the increasing use of ­tech­nologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and blockchain in instruction, self-study, and edu­ca­tional assessments, the design of many curricula and educational programs will have to change. The secret to success in education, in his view, will no longer lie in conveying large amounts of knowledge, but rather in teachers’ ability to encourage students over the course of their studies to develop and uncover their own dreams and passions and to foster transdisciplinary skills like those of scientists and historians, so that they can set their own educational goals, design experiments, identify problems and find solutions, all while becoming independent learners. Personal­ization is a future trend of education.
 
While most of the world’s schools are facing the dilemma of either keeping students out of school or potentially increasing Covid transmission, Taiwan’s students can attend classes with peace of mind.
While most of the world’s schools are facing the dilemma of either keeping students out of school or potentially increasing Covid transmission, Taiwan’s students can attend classes with peace of mind.

Redefining learning and schools

Kuo Bor-chen, director-general of the Department of Information and Technology Education at the Ministry of Education, who is responsible for building its “Adaptive Learning” network, points out that growth in online learning is an established international trend that has only gained steam with the pandemic. Recent domestic and foreign research shows that access to online educational resources can effectively improve academic performance among lagging students.

Making use of online curricula, the Junyi Academy, which aims to supplement in-classroom instruction to help bridge learning gaps and is seeking to “fight the pandemic without suspending learning,” had amassed a total of 2.38 million registered users by September of 2020. During the pandemic, the number of new registrations and active users both broke annual records set in 2019, with users accessing learning modules more than 1 million times.

In light of the coming 5G era, Junyi Academy CEO Ray Lu cites the organization’s “2B3R4C” concept: “2B represents basic values and character. I believe that in facing an increasingly complex society, it is ever more important to have a strong base of core beliefs. The biggest difference between people and machines is found in these core values. For instance, what I like most about the six Kist Schools established by the Chengzhi Education Foundation is that they weight character development at 51% and study at 49%.” Secondly, only by strengthening the foundational “3R” skills—reading, writing and arithmetic—is it possible to lay the groundwork for lifelong learning.

PISA now includes an optional assessment of cre­ativ­ity, which has four items: written creativity, visual creativity, and creativity at solving both social and scient­ific problems. (These are the “4C” mentioned above.) When the entire world is on the lookout for these skills, how should we make the best use of online education to supplement basic knowledge? And how should we use project-based learning and other educational methods to cultivate diverse skills in students? 
 
Professor Huang Yi-long, head of the Weigong Academy at National Tsing Hua University, emphasizes that the academy has brought together students who had been accepted for study at some of the world’s 100 most prestigious universities. Weigong bears witness to the nation’s concern for these young people.
Professor Huang Yi-long, head of the Weigong Academy at National Tsing Hua University, emphasizes that the academy has brought together students who had been accepted for study at some of the world’s 100 most prestigious universities. Weigong bears witness to the nation’s concern for these young people.

Two-way interaction

The Junyi educational platform was able to launch in 2012 because it had obtained rights to use the materials of the US-based Kahn Academy, which is the world’s largest learning platform for primary and secondary students and has more than 100 million registered student users in 190 nations. Its founder Salman Kahn gave a speech to the International Conference on Educational Innovation for the first time this year. Appearing remotely from his home in San Francisco, he pointed out that at least 5‡10% of American students lack good Internet connections and computers, hindering their ability to learn remotely. Consequently, he truly wishes that the United States and other nations could have handled the pandemic as well as Taiwan.

Kahn points out that whether instruction is online or face to face, the strongest teachers can motivate and connect with students. What is more, they teach to the individual learner’s level, and when students fall behind, they leverage technology to help them bridge the learning gap and design appropriate self-study methods.

Kahn believes in learning by doing, particularly for remote courses. Teachers cannot simply finish teaching their classes; they must be able to foster greater interactivity, encouraging students to speak up when they have questions and splitting classes into teams to do assign­ments. Remote classes give students more responsibility for their own learning.
 
The Weigong Academy has arranged physical education classes for students whose plans to study abroad were disrupted, helping them gain the stamina to attend foreign classes online through the night. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)
The Weigong Academy has arranged physical education classes for students whose plans to study abroad were disrupted, helping them gain the stamina to attend foreign classes online through the night. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)

Connections among people

Taiwan’s teachers and students are lucky, having almost entirely escaped disrupted classes or school closures due to the pandemic. Yet some Taiwanese students had planned to study abroad—and even paid tuition for those programs—only to be barred entry by those foreign countries or to find that only online instruction was available.

Professor Huang Yi-long, head of the Weigong Academy at National Tsing Hua University, says, “Many students feel that they’ve really missed out because the pandemic has prevented them from studying abroad. But if you think about it, enrolling at the Weigong Academy has become a special life event: Students who were headed to 43 educational institutions in seven nations have been brought together to study in the same place due to the pandemic. Later they will be able to visit each other at their campuses overseas and give each other encouragement.”

Josh Zhang, who had planned on enjoying his freshman year at Purdue University in the United States, is living in the dorms at NTHU. From midnight until 9 a.m. Taiwan time, he takes online American courses in chemistry, and during the day he takes engineering courses at NTHU. It makes for a full schedule. Maggie Wang prepared to study in Canada when she was at National Hsinchu Girls Senior High School. In addition to handling her coursework for high school, she also prepped for the tests needed to enter American and Canadian universities. It was a big deal to be accepted to study abroad, but then the pandemic hit, and she was forced to stay in Taiwan. She says that at first she was quite upset about it, but now she has discovered that while she has sacrificed in some ways she has bene­fited in others, particularly by meeting students at the Weigong Academy from so many different fields. Having real interaction with students and faculty is something else she has gained.

Huang Yi-long says that programs like the Weigong Academy may well provide new lasting models for foreign study. The pandemic has brought many unwanted changes, but it has also brought new possibilities for learning and education.

 
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama
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