We are living through historical hardships that will shape centuries to come. Most of our past plans are scrapped, we witness the plight of many as businesses go under, families fall apart, loved ones pass away. Yet there is a single threat that puts humanity and their future in great jeopardy, the second lost generation.
On March 11 the first case in my country was announced. A couple of days later, every academic institution was shut. We were thrown completely off-guard into a whole new world of video conference software, online assignments, and connection problems. As a Turkish high schooler; a bewilderingly diverse country where the Orient and the Occident (and naturally their problems) meet, I have observed the points in which schools and governments excelled at or failed spectacularly.
Additionally, during my daily correspondences, I have also listened to the problems of my friends from various spots in the world, thus I dare to speak out on behalf of my fellow virus-victim students.
The value of the internet for human development and welfare cannot be overemphasized, let alone our dependence on it in online education. Speaking with first-hand experience, losing connection to your Zoom class every five minutes is quite exasperating, climbing up hills to access online classes because your village has no internet coverage must be more so. Governments: please invest in the internet network of your countries, deem it as critical as roads or electricity. Coverage on its own is nothing to boast about; make it fast, stable, and cheap.
The central lecture system our Ministry of Education put together is something I admire and benefit from. It should be adopted by the developing world where learning poverty is a chronic problem. I believe with correct teachers, “mass-communicated education” can be even more resourceful than face-to-face, students all over the world didn’t flock to YouTube for no reason, even when the schools were open. One of my most positive experiences this year was the free learning program organized with the partnership of a district government in Istanbul and a global MOOC platform, where I have seen an astonishing number of students from Africa and Latin America, regions with high learning poverty.
After accessibility, the quality of education comes next. Most teachers don’t organize their lectures in a suitable format for online teaching. They are even less engaging than physical lessons. In their defense, our teachers are not supposed to know how to tailor the best lectures for online education, they were caught off-guard just like us.
Researchers on the issue should be deployed by the government to educate the teaching staff in a top-down manner; the lectures should involve much more input from students such as discussions and student presentations.
Most importantly what the students need the most are less stress and more counseling. Keeping schools open only for a couple of weeks more face-to-face education in a region with sky-high cases every day puts them on a downward spiral. So does thrice scheduling and canceling an exam session. With all this uncertainty and the inability to make the most of their time after all the years of a rather linear school life, this generation is insecure, depressed, and indignant.
Forget about everything I said and do this: please listen to the students. For twelve years I’ve seen the opinions of the students brushed off. Everywhere. If doctors listen to their patients before diagnosis, policymakers must hear us before these so-called reforms. This education crisis can only be resolved by cooperating with the people that experience it themselves.
Judge’s Note: Tarik cited the potential power of the internet but also the deep digital divide and challenges of connectivity; the importance of teaching quality and giving students a voice.
This post is one of the three winning entries of the third World Bank Group and Financial Times Blog Writing Competition.