29th JAMCO Online International Symposium
February 2021 - March 2021
The Potential of Broadcasting and New Media for Supporting Education During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Uses of ICT (Information Communication Technology) to Support School Education during the COVID-19 Pandemi
Historically, the Spanish influenza of 1918 stands out as the benchmark example of a major epidemic that disrupted the global community. Over 500 million people around the world are thought to have contracted the virus and more than 50 million are supposed to have died. As of the time of writing (November, 2020), over 46 million had contracted the novel coronavirus and 1.2 million had died. The gap between these figures and those of the Spanish influenza reflects the advances in knowledge and medical technology of the past century, but we also have to recognize that the spread of COVID-19 has presented us with an unprecedented crisis. The second and third waves of the pandemic have struck and the disease is still spreading as fiercely as ever.
Economic activity has slowed sharply and 1.6 billion of the world’s children have been unable to receive a normal education. Schools have been closed and children compelled to study at home in almost every country. While we wait for the development of a vaccine, with the virus still spreading, everybody is being told to adopt new lifestyle practices to prevent its further transmission, notably by avoiding closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings (the 3 C’s) and making sure to wash their hands thoroughly. For teaching to continue, new hybrid techniques have had to be found in place of the conventional face-to-face teaching methods, and these must combine conventional instruction with diverse media formats. This paper considers, on the basis of my own experience, which educational methods are most effective, while referring also to the specific conditions pertaining to Japan and developing countries.
Initiatives and Issues in Japanese Education
First, what initiatives have been taken in Japanese school education? Schools across Japan were closed from the beginning of March due to the COVID-19 epidemic and children were obliged to stay home. The prolonged period of not being able to go to school raised various concerns, from the disruption of lifestyle rhythms to the denial of adequate learning opportunities. Despite initial high expectations for the use of online lessons while the schools remained closed, Japanese schools were in fact slow to make use of ICT in comparison with the schools of other developed economies, and, with the exception of a few private schools and other progressive institutions, almost all schools in the primary and secondary sectors continued to provide only home-based education using textbooks and other standard teaching materials. Some schools did make use of their school websites to distribute information to pupils by grade and class, and communicate with families about each day’s study requirements by subject, but most only distributed printed materials and encouraged their pupils to study at home.
In its international comparison of the classroom use of digital devices, the PISA2018 survey1 found the time spent using ICT in Japanese school lessons was low. 83.0% reported they hardly ever used digital device in lesson time in a week. We can tell from this that even though schools do have computer rooms fitted with notebook computers, in practice these computers are only rarely used in ordinary lessons. In effect, the fact that schools were not making use of ICT in classroom teaching also made it impossible for them to make the necessary adjustments, or do so quickly, when confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology survey2 on home-based learning during the school closures found all schools made use of textbooks and other paper-based teaching materials. From 10% to under 30% made use of TV broadcasts, lesson streaming, digital texts and other such devices. Only 5% provided live, interactive, online teaching.
Schools that did possess a good ICT environment and which made strong use of ICT were able to provide home-based education without too many problems during the COVID-19 crisis, while schools that made very little use of ICT before the crisis struck responded only with telephone calls and printed materials. Schools with no experience of internet use in regular classes, or the use of digital materials for educational purposes, were incapable of making the sudden switch to online teaching. For this to happen, first, there must be teachers experienced in the use of video-conferencing systems for teaching purposes. Also, the pupils must have the use of a computer and internet access in the home. In reality, few pupils enjoy such an ICT environment in the home. This gives schools pause because an educational divide is going to arise if pupils have unequal access to lessons. The divide has to be bridged by lending Wi-Fi routers to homes and securing sufficient numbers of ICT technicians, but this cannot be done overnight.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is now working vigorously to realize its Giga School project of providing every person with a terminal connected to a high-capacity telecommunications network ahead of schedule. A supplementary budget has been secured for this purpose in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. In developing countries, too, the ICT environment still has to be furnished but much time will be required not only to obtain the equipment but also to use it well. In realizing these objectives, close attention must also be paid to each country’s particular social, cultural and historical situation.
Educational Cooperation with Developing Countries during the COVID-19 Pandemic
How far can Japan’s educational environment be compared with those of developing countries? I have been visiting developing countries for several months each year for educational cooperation purposes, engaging in workshops chiefly concerned with child education, and providing training on ICT use in lessons. These visits to developing countries have been halted for the time being because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it has been necessary to provide the training by video-conferencing instead. I am presently investigating the current possibilities for providing assistance to developing countries in close consultation with researchers and practitioners on the ground, discussing with them about which kinds of educational cooperation are feasible using the internet. I have already been involved in cooperative activities with Bangladesh, the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia and other countries, and will introduce these examples next for my discussion of the optimal shape of educational cooperation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- (1) Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, a grassroots project of JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, provided the framework for assisting an NGO-run school in the capital, Dhaka, for two years from 2017 to 2019. The NGO was running the school for children who were living in poverty. E-learning and face-to-face training was provided to help instructors teach lessons to nurture the children’s imaginations. The school did not have adequate facilities, so the teachers were provided with tablet computers to access the internet-based training sessions. The results were encouraging but the school itself has now been shut since the end of March.
Preparations were underway to resume the project in 2021 but staff could not be dispatched from Japan due to the pandemic and this is currently on hold. Even so, e-learning materials have been distributed and remote training provided via the Zoom video-conferencing system on an experimental basis to discover the most effective ways to provide assistance. But the school has been shut since the end of March and is struggling to pay staff salaries. Some teachers have moved on to other jobs. The situation is not presently conducive to the straightforward provision of training.
- (2) The Philippines
My own involvement in educational assistance to the Philippines began in 1980 with dispatch as an overseas cooperation volunteer. In recent years, assistance has been provided to an orphanage and nearby schools on Mindanao, providing training in the necessary knowledge and technical support for ICT use in teaching. This year, too, amid rising concern about COVID-19, I visited Mindanao in March but could not make school visits due concern that a foreign visitor might bring the virus in.
The internet environment remains insufficient in provincial areas of the Philippines with fewer than half of the population using the internet. Once the schools were closed, study materials were distributed in printed form and the children mostly studied at home. The high cost of printing, however, made it difficult to prepare prints for every pupil. Private schools in major cities did provide online classes but with the result that the economic divide also then sharpened the educational divide.
- (3) Cambodia
Educational support was provided to a teacher-training college in Cambodia in 2018. Students from three Japanese universities participated in a half-year workshop on the introduction of “active learning” to English-language education. I also visited Cambodia in February this year when the schools were still open but concern about COVID-19 was growing.
This activity was conducted under the auspices of Edu-Port Japan, a project for spreading Japan-style education practices to other countries, and involved both the use of digital content and training in “active learning” methods. With the closing of schools due to the pandemic, regular video-conferencing sessions for sharing English-language presentations were held with the cooperation of Japanese students. Big-city schools such as this teacher-training college are able to use the internet and digital content but most provincial schools have no internet connection and many places have no electrical supply, either, so home study using printed materials has become the norm.
- (4) Malaysia
At the request of JICA experts on dispatch to Malaysia, I provided online training on online-lecture design for teaching staff at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (University of Technology Malaysia) and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (University Malaysia Sabah) in August and September this year. Malaysia’s universities, too, have been closed for the pandemic and had to start presenting online courses even without sufficient assistance.
Most university students do possess a personal computer but internet connections have been a significant problem for students going home to provincial areas. In the training session for teaching staff, I introduced an instructional design model for online-only classes. Most of the teachers, however, had no prior experience of teaching online and were struggling to communicate well with students. Instruction on hybrid teaching methods that combine online and face-to-face instruction is now being planned but the teachers are still worried about how to provide online courses effectively. /li>
I have outlined my own experience of providing assistance to developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. University education has, by and large, effected the switch to online teaching but primary and secondary schools, with the exception of some private institutions, are mainly providing only for print- and textbook-based home learning. Schools must, of course, strive to enable their pupils to carry on learning even in the middle of rapid social change, but internet connections and computers cannot be supplied overnight and the problems are not easy. For the present, the questions are how to make the best use of resources the schools have already, and how to make the best use of ICT to sustain learning under the particular circumstances of each developing country. What possibilities are there for ICT use in the developing countries? I wish here to make several proposals based again on my own personal experience.
- (1) Uses of Radio, Television and other Mass Media
Nationwide internet access remains inadequate in developing countries, so it is important to consider the use of radio, TV and other mass media instead. In Japan, too, NHK’s educational channel broadcasts TV programs for schools. The distribution of educational radio and TV programs produced in the local languages has spread in developing countries as well in recent years. Radio and TV provide information in a one-way stream but their effectiveness can be raised when sufficient effort is made to communicate well with teachers.
- (2) Correctly Grasping the State of Internet Access
At the university level, live, interactive online teaching is difficult but internet use is helpful in developing countries, too. In cases where the English language can be used, especially, it is possible to use the materials available on MOOC and other free-to-view study resources, and educational video materials available on such sites as YouTube. Many students also have smartphones and can use them to participate in online classes.
- (3) Lucid Presentation of Educational Content
A large volume of educational material can be accessed via the internet but learners struggle to use it well. Teachers must provide appropriate advice, including dividing large volumes of study material by category and indicating the order in which items should be tackled. Raw internet information is hard to use and lucid distribution is important to make learning more efficient.
- (4) The Smartphone is a Useful Study Tool
Not many people own a notebook computer but many do make everyday use of a smartphone. The smartphone is functioning as an effective study tool during the pandemic. It can be used not only to receive information on the web but also to submit assignments and engage in “active learning” functions, from the shooting of videos to participation in group meetings.
- (5) Nurturing Independent Learning
The need to avoid direct contact with others during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to study at home and made it difficult for pupils to maintain sufficient communication with their teachers and friends. Learners must, therefore, endeavor to plan and pursue their studies independently. Rather than the memorization of conventional schoolwork, pupils should be encouraged to find, plan and work through their own topics.
This paper has considered new directions for educational assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic but the inescapable fact remains, in the present situation, that many children are being left behind in terms of learning opportunities. This will also continue to be the case to some extent or another regardless of how much educational assistance Japan provides. Looking ahead to the post-COVID-19 period, I suggest Japan now needs to search for new modes of cooperation that go beyond the provision of equipment, educational materials and so on.
In Japan, too, ICT in school education is still insufficient, but the pandemic has at least made most teachers aware of the internet’s importance. The ability to communicate without the constraints of place, in particular, has opened up new possibilities for learning. The use of video-conferencing has soared and many in the field of education now understand the opportunities this brings for the flexible co-organization of events not only inside Japan but internationally as well. The number of video-conferences between parties in Japan and developing countries has grown, and the children of Japan and developing countries are engaging in joint net presentation events and producing videos together. In these and other ways, exchanges using familiar ICT devices have lowered various barriers to communication.
The effective use of ICT does depend on cooperation between teachers. My fellow presenters at this symposium, Bert Kimura, Professor Emeritus of the University of Hawaii, and Ferdinand Pitagan of the National Teachers College, have both been organizing training sessions and seminars for teachers for many years. They are the core figures of the community of experts that seeks to make fuller use of ICT in education and, in these circumstances of COVID-19, this community has become a valued source of information for teachers now seeking commence their own activities. Educational assistance that provides equipment and teaching materials is important, but today it is possible for leaders in each country to form their own teacher communities, forge links with Japan, and tackle these challenges globally. The COVID-19 challenge is a crisis for us all, but also an opportunity to introduce ICT widely, raise children’s interest in global issues, and encourage them to engage with the issues by themselves.
Professor Emeritus, Kansai University
Visiting Professor, Osaka University of Economics and Law
Director, FiLC-Forum for i-Learning Creation
Ph.D.（Instructional Systems Technology）, Indiana University (USA)
Has served as a senior high school teacher, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer, JICA International Cooperation Expert, Professor of Kansai University, Visiting Research Fellow of Reading University (UK), Visiting Professor of the University of Hawaii (USA), etc.
International educational development, development communications, study environment design
Gender planning and development : Theory, practice & training (co-translator, Shinhyoron, 1996) https://www.shinhyoron.co.jp/4-7948-0329-x.html
Development Communications: Global networks by global citizens（Akashi Shoten、1999）
Structuralist Paradigms and Study Environment Design（Kansai University Press, 2000）
Participatory Development: For development led by the poor (co-author, Nihon Hyoronsha, 2002）
斎藤文彦編著『参加型開発 -貧しい人々が主役となる開発に向けて-』 (jst.go.jp)
For Students of International Cooperation Theory (co-authored, Sekaisisosha, 2005 / new edition 2016)
International Volunteer as a Lifework (Akashi Shoten, 2005)
Redesigning Japanese Education for the 21st Century (co-author, Toshindo, 2016)
Career expansion from university seminars: Structuralist study environment design for self-discovery (Kitaoji Shobo, 2020）