The Latin Patriarchate studies Covid impact on schools
by Dario Salvi

The changes caused by the pandemic in education will not 'disappear'. Online classes, a necessity in the early stages, are now "part of the educational environment". But families and teachers much prefer in person classes, which allows for better pupil development especially at a young age. Fr. Twal: learning 'from experience' by valuing alternative methods. 

Milan (AsiaNews) - Virtual learning -  seen by some as a resource in guaranteeing schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic , by others as an obstacle to learning for weaker groups -  is now "part of the educational reality" which in all likelihood ' will never fully disappear", especially in today's 'ever-changing world'. This is what emerges from a study conducted by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on the Catholic schools in Jordan presented by Fr. Imad Twal, formerly in charge of the country's institutes. The priest, who has years of experience as a teacher in various educational sectors as who is currently pastor to Fuheis parish, adds that while in person classes are essential, faced with the possibility of new  emergencies linked to diseases, epidemics or changing conditions "we must learn from experience" and also value a new way of teaching, "so that this type of education becomes a real, concrete alternative to studying in classrooms".

Students and the health crisis 

From the spring of 2020, with the first closures and nations gradually tending to isolate themselves in an attempt to stop the new coronavirus,Fr Twal recalls, "the 'deserted' schools began to introduce 'virtual learning classes to allow students to finish the year'. The courses entailed a "radical change" in teaching methods and in the pedagogical means available, with a "heavy impact" on most classes and on the graduation years of 2020 and 2021. And it is precisely the extent of this impact that lies at the heart of the Latin Patriarchate's study published in Arabic and English, which covers 7,984 students in Jordan alone and examines the period 2020 and 2021, pending the outcomes for the academic year 2022.

"While our schools have to follow the policies of the Ministry of Education, without having a say in the format of future courses," the priest concludes, "the results could be useful in raising awareness among parents and teachers about the impact of these different methodologies. Not least because this is not a study that only affirms 'the results of analyses on the different methods of education', but at the same time highlights 'possible explanations' and provides 'potential answers' to reduce in the future 'the impact that the health crisis has had on our students'. Pupils at all levels are among those most affected by the restrictions and changes imposed by the pandemic, while more and more families have struggled to assert their children's right to study. Distance learning has revealed submerged but long-standing problems, such as the difficulty in finding the necessary equipment from computers to an effective Internet connection, as well as making it more difficult for parents to follow the educational path. The lack of interaction, especially for the youngest children, manifested criticalities in the socialisation process and in the formation of personal identity. 

Target group, participants and results

The reasearchers investigated three different scenarios: in person classes, with the return to the schools, albeit with health precautions, including the compulsory wearing of masks; distance learning, with online platforms and the use of electronic tools such as computers and tablets; finally, the so-called 'mixed' model, which combines the two previous types, albeit with combinations and timings that may vary both to meet the needs of the institutions and according to the epidemiological situation at the time. Respondents include parents of pupils, school staff, teachers, pedagogues and priests of the Patriarchate. There were 1,630 respondents, the majority of whom were parents (91.41% of the total, plus other categories such as teachers and students), with an adherence rate of 20.4% of the entire sample surveyed. As for gender, we find 43.37% males and 56.73% females. The geographical origin is different, with a division into three macro-areas: north, centre (Amman), south. 

On a scale of 1 to 5 (the maximum), in-person education scored 4.61, making it the formula most appreciated by the respondents; this was followed by the mixed system, with a rating of 3.17; and finally e-learning, with a figure of 2.87. Hence, school attendance is confirmed as the most appreciated and essential solution for the student's development both in terms of notion and of human, social and relational growth. Families with younger children consider school in presence more important, while parents of older students also seem to appreciate e-learning or the mixed system. 

In percentage terms, on the other hand, 85% of the respondents (1382) prefer face-to-face, a meagre 5% (equal to 90 votes) opt for distance teaching and the remaining 10% (158) are in favour of a mixed system that alternates - according to need - presence and remote.

Among the factors determining the choice are the cost of e-learning equipment, the possibility of social relations, the awareness of an increasing gap in the case of remote teaching, the risk of feeding forms of laziness and relying on the Internet as a source of knowledge instead of teachers and books. Geographically, it is the richer and more developed regions of the country that willingly accept distance learning or the blended model. Finally, the criterion remains valid that through interaction and presence, creativity can best be developed, which is somewhat more tarnished when studying at home.

Future directions

Without prejudice to certain established aspects, especially in terms of health, such as personal hygiene and the use of masks in case of need, the authors propose some points for improvement in the future: first and foremost, the need to compensate students for educational losses by focusing on the criticalities that have arisen in each subject and in each grade; to help boys and girls not to rely on others to carry out assigned tasks, exchanging evidence and suggesting answers, relying on the Internet for superficial knowledge, lacking the effort needed to get to the bottom of things; using the net as an additional source of knowledge, in which students are 'critical researchers' and teachers 'mentors and advisors'; strengthening independence and a personal method of study, entrusting increasing degrees of responsibility; improving relations between schools and parents, overcoming the harmful effects of lockdowns, involving them in extracurricular activities; rebuilding the relationship between students and teachers, between students and schools and between students and students.