Like in most parts of the world, all the schools in the Sultanate of Oman have opened after a hiatus of almost two years. The decision was welcomed by parents, though some with scepticism, as they were happy with the prospect of their children returning to outdoor life and classroom environment.
At the school, children appeared to be excited and blissful talking to each other even though they were enveloped by preventive measures with strict adherence to the Covid-19 protocol. Getting back to school was extremely emotional for all of them!
No doubt, face-to-face interaction creates a stronger bond and that is what the children started experiencing once again. After all, the classroom provides for an equalising environment among all those who study in it!
The closure of schools was a decision taken towards the end of March 2020 when we were navigating a sea of ignorance about the coronavirus pandemic. As schools remained closed, countries started figuring out about action plans, and various modes of remote learning appeared nearly everywhere.
The sudden and unexpected shift away from the classroom to the adoption of online learning has put educationists, parents and children in a dilemma about imparting education from primary to high school.
Although thousands of children were not able to get access to the new hybrid model of education, it changed the mode of teaching and learning despite contentions that the move was unplanned and rapid with insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation.
While online learning offered unprecedented opportunities for children who would otherwise have had limited access to education during the pandemic, for educators, it presented a new paradigm in which dynamic courses could be developed.
No denying the fact that the online classes helped learn new software and apps but, after a while, they became quite monotonous.
No doubt, online learning has a lot of strength with its ability to maintain the most impactful elements of in-person programmes. It helps both teachers and students learn new software and apps even though they become quite monotonous in a period of time.
At the same time, look at its weakness as is in the case of the privileged and underprivileged.
An online class could never have replicated the school milieu even if it enabled learning of a new kind. Even though blackboard teaching can be addressed through the proxy of an online screen, there is no replacing practical learning enabled through school.
We have learned the hard way that education, at its core, is about human interaction. Can we ignore the smile on the faces of our children when they meet their friends and teachers on the campus? Schools, no doubt, provide a space for social interaction. After all, face-to-face interaction creates a stronger bond!
This was evident on the faces of children and teachers when I met them in a school last week when they started attending in-person classes. It is summed up in the words of a student, “It is nice to be back to school after so many months. We are thrilled to meet our classmates and teachers”.
Now for parents, getting their children back to school was a kind of relief as it meant that they can now keep track of their children's screen time and usage of social media. Now with classes in school, they can regulate the time spent on mobile phones and the Internet.
Even as the hybrid model of learning may gradually pave the way for education, the most appropriate space to learn is schools and that children can never grow out of it, how lucrative the tech world may become!