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Covid-19 tests self-learning skills of students today





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Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the status quo of the contemporary society on several fronts.

Its impact has been felt across almost every aspect of life, including healthcare services, economics, entertainment industry and sports, work and family life, and in religious and educational practices.

Amidst these global disruptions, the winners have been the contemporary twins, Information Technology (IT) and internet.

On the education front, the immediate focus has been on providing an emergency response, to keep the learning going remotely via the internet.

If our investment of resources right now just targets a stop gap measure, we might miss an opportunity to make a systemic change to education.

Covid-19 has thrust us by force, as it were, into how education ought to be carried out in the 21st century.


Already, educationalists had invited institutions offering primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education to measure up to the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Those institutions that were in the process of adapting their systems have also coped effectively with the present coronavirus-induced crisis.

I am not suggesting that remote teaching and learning is going to be the new norm across every age and level of the learner even after the Covid-19 epoch.

We can foresee that younger learners will need more face-to-face learning environment, which will be gradually withdrawn as they grow into a habit of life-long learning.

This threshold should be crossed by the time they enter into the job market. A constant through the different stages of learning will be a set of self-learning skills assisted by IT.

The employers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution demand an intellectual agility from fresh graduates, because as machines begin to learn, many traditional jobs will become obsolete.

Intellectual agility is the ability to adapt one’s knowledge and skills to new unforeseen environments, and to acquire new competencies quickly, in order to function efficiently in any related environment.

That is why, way back in 1996, UNESCO had proposed that education in the 21st century had to be built on four pillars: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.

For want of space I focus here on the first pillar. What necessitates the movement from knowing and learning, to learning to know?

The internet has opened up the floodgates of information. Those who can access the internet have access to an ocean of information: they can also generate knowledge and share it instantaneously.

Since human knowledge tends to build on itself, with the access to a medium that makes it grow at an ever-accelerating speed, today’s knowledge has become exponentially cumulative.

What would it be like in the year 2100? Or even by 2050? We cannot fathom the possibilities.

One thing is clear, schools can never exhaust imparting to the learners all the knowledge that is available out there.


Education has to move from mere learning to learning to know; from imparting information to information literacy; from being content-centred to be methodology-focused.

For sure, some basic set of knowledge has to be given – which would be used only as a sample to demonstrate to learners how to access similar consistent knowledge.

Consider this scenario. A teacher walks into a Grade 4 classroom with a list of countries and its capital cities.

And the learners are expected to memorise this list and answer a quiz in the next class. Which is the capital city of Russia? Moscow. The capital city of Brazil? Brasilia.

Well, this is content-centred learning. The next day, a child is going to ask the teacher for the capital of Argentina.

In this model, the teacher pretends to be the source of knowledge. And self-learning is curtailed. On the contrary, consider another scenario.

The teacher comes into the class with a political map of the world and demonstrates to the learners how to find the capital cities from the map.

Here, the learners are likely to find for themselves not only the capital city of Brazil, but also Argentina. This is methodology-focused learning.

Fast track this into the world of Information Technology and the World Wide Web (WWW).

If the classroom is equipped with access to the internet for both teachers and students, then it is enough for the teacher to ask the right question, the students will be able to find the answer for themselves.

Then the teacher can accompany the learners to another level of learning – from focus on core concepts to threshold concepts, such as: the functions of capital cities.

The teacher can even show the exceptional cases such as South Africa, where the Judiciary, the Executive and the legislature are situated in different cities; the mix-up between major cities and capital cities, et cetera.

In a classroom set-up, this whole exercise can be carried out in a collaborative process.

Then there will be a surprise: the next day a particular student might spontaneously start a discussion on the historical instances and the politics of shifting capital cities.

What has happened here? The focus on learning to know, using IT, has facilitated self-learning. This will also apply to skills, besides knowledge.

It is the ability for self-learning that Covid-19 has not only challenged the learners to, but also provided an opportunity for.

The author is a Catholic priest and holds a PhD in psychology.

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