The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in large-scale educational disruptions for school-going children around the world.
Following the closure of schools, around 321 million Indian students were kept away from educational institutions, resulting in widened and accumulated learning gaps, particularly for children coming from marginalized socio-economic backgrounds. The learning crises and curricular deficits were acute for children coming from low-income families who did not have adequate access or knowledge about digital resources.
During the pandemic years, several global organizations and educational institutions developed and employed various innovative educational E-Tools (audio stories/activities, read-aloud/animated learning videos, T.V./Radio episodes, parental guidance handbooks etc.) to ensure continued education for vulnerable students across various states of India.
However, online learning comes with its set of implementation difficulties for both the educators and the students. This blog puts forward identified empirical challenges of conducting online testing and assessment of student learning outcomes. It also elaborates on certain practical strategies which teachers can adapt, educationalists and school social workers for a successful interface between evaluation, education and technology in remote student assessment.
Challenges in Remote Educational Assessment
The first and the most basic challenge was inequitable access to virtual mediums of learning, which significantly widened the digital divide between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ students. Parents from low-income families, who did not even have enough resources for two square meals a day, could hardly afford digital tools like smartphones, computers, and internet connections which could be used exclusively by children for educational purposes. Even if a device was present at home, preference to use it for studying was usually given to the boy child, leaving the girl child to be primarily engaged in household chores and child-care. In such a scenario, when students had limited access to daily classroom teaching, remote assessment of lesson plans remained a far-fetched goal.
The next challenge of remote assessment was technical competencies and comprehension of both teachers and students. On the one hand, teachers, who have been used to the traditional chalk-talk teaching methods for a long time, were compelled to shift to the online mode for education during the pandemic. Many teachers in rural and remote geographies had not used a computer, and there was an attached sense of anxiety in using technology for teaching-learning purposes. On the other hand, it was difficult to make students understand what was being asked in the test and how exactly to answer it. Language barriers, no physical teacher assistance, limited educational qualification of parents, interrupted and differentials in learning patterns made it difficult for students to participate in academic testing processes effectively.
Even when students could access digital tools, attend online classes, and take tests, the limitation of timely submission of assessments still existed. There were challenges related to uploading answer sheets in the given time frame and technical format, and fair and uniform methods of marking tests.
Lastly, teachers' most prominent remote assessment challenges were student accountability, academic integrity, and honesty. With no classroom testing and discussions, teachers did not have direct access to physical and individual monitoring and evaluation of students' learning outcomes. The availability of parents, elder siblings, accessible textbooks and the internet at home opened possibilities of dishonesty and made it difficult for teachers to assess the actual educational progress of students.
Strategies of Remote Educational Assessment
A majority of low-income parents are illiterate or semi-literate, have underpaid hourly jobs and earn minimum wages. Parents with limited educational, financial and technological resources lack the motivation and confidence to become a part of their child’s academic journey. At the same time, many children, especially in tribal and rural areas, are first generation learners. Parents and children from marginalised contexts lack support to navigate the educational materials shared through online mode. Hence, it becomes imperative to accommodate the technical skills of a vulnerable group of parents, particularly from low and disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Educational interventions need to be restructured so as to support parents and families to adapt to the new needs of digital learning.
It cannot be discounted that the risks of cheating increase amongst students without classroom assessments during school closures. Students do not have physical access to their teachers to clear their doubts, and students often feel nervous, anxious and ‘stuck’ during an examination. Hence, it is necessary to relax rigid protocols around academic testing and evolve new and flexible assessment strategies. Students should be asked more conceptual questions in which they cannot simply browse and find answers from various sources. For instance, it advised eliminating multiple-choice and fill-in questions and rather asking students to show the procedure, steps, and principles and justify their chosen methodology.
In a fast-changing and future-facing world, it is significant to reconceptualize educational interventions so as to replace rote learning with creativity and innovation. It is imperative to equip young students with essential life skills that will help build their confidence, become more self-aware, and analyse and make decisions informatively. Hence, it is essential to move away from traditional teaching-learning processes as the focus of assessment should not be rote-based outputs but long-term learning outcomes. Also, with the advent of physical distancing measures and emergency remote teaching, ‘home’ also needs to be reconceptualized as a learning space. Parental involvement in digital learning becomes essential in continued assessments of student learning progress. Online parental workshops can be held for a ‘hard reach vulnerable groups of parents, wherein they can be enabled with low-cost, practical and positive parenting skills and effective strategies of remote assessment.
While on the one hand, COVID19 did result in global school-based disruptions. However, on the other hand, the pandemic also paved the way for multiple new opportunities for introducing and imbibing digital learning platforms. During the last year, as national and international NGOs continued to engage virtually with students of different grades, several strategies for conducting remote online student assessments were conceptualized. As the world gets adjusted to the ‘new normal, the three-pronged model of ‘adapt, evolve, and innovate’ can be followed to implement the alternative educational systems and evaluation strategies.