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Ayan Aliyeva: “Experiment Failure: only a few private schools are able to cope with the transition to online education”


The pandemic of a new type of coronavirus (Covid-19) has surprised educational institutions all over the world - schools and universities have, or tried to switch to distance learning as an emergency mode. However, it is evident that it is almost impossible to organize high-quality online education in such a short space of time, since the development and implementation of various new technologies and staff expertise and training requires considerable financial costs, and of course, time. The whole world is facing this problem and the Azerbaijani education system is not dissimilar and is not at all ready to offer quality distance learning at this point in time.


Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, most all schools have switched to some form of online education. This has seen a great deal of bewilderment and panic in both parents and students as in the first place and a very important factor that very few people in our country can boast of a stable Internet connection. Even if there is a computer at home, there is often only one which now has to be shared between several children with the added demand that many parents themselves need the computer to work remotely during lockdown. Let alone parents having to suddenly become distance learning mentors to help guide their children through their online lessons, which many are struggling to do.


Simultaneously teachers also had to urgently begin mastering hitherto unknown Internet services, having no idea how to teach children something through a webcam, and most importantly, how to maintain discipline in the "classroom" consisting of windows on the computer screen.


This service immediately became under pressure with school chats boiling over with questions and the emotions of parents, desperate to cope with the inconvenience and trying to understand the intricacies of previously unseen Internet platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, and Skype.


The academic year is now over and many have breathed a sigh of relief, but, as practice now shows, the development of high-quality online education in our country is now a simply necessity. Can distance learning replace full-time education, and what is needed in order to get a full and high-quality education online in Azerbaijan?


With these questions, we turned to, Ayan Aliyeva, the winner of the prestigious Alumni Awards 2019 for her contribution to the educational field and the promotion of inclusive education in Azerbaijan and other countries, the CEO of A-Level Education Group, an expert in education abroad:-


The situation with the coronavirus has exposed one rather serious problem in Azerbaijan: in comparison with other countries, distance education is practically not developed in our country. Now, in a hurry, school teachers are mastering Internet programs in order to conduct classes online. What problems do students and teachers face in this situation?


Now is the time to sum up the school year, which unexpectedly found itself in such a critical situation. No one expected that from the middle of the school year all education would become distance education. In fact, the situation exposed a serious problem not only in Azerbaijan, but also throughout the world, despite the fact that European countries and America (I am now in the United States), were more prepared for online education, for the reason that, as I have repeatedly written in my previous articles and statuses in social networks, there is a choice here. The parent can choose homeschooling, which is based on online lessons.


Summing up everything that has happened since March in the education system around the world, I would like to say that, mostly, the world has failed. Even developed countries have not coped with distance learning on a large scale, and many systems recognize this. The biggest problem is that, technically, neither the teachers nor the government was equipped enough. In America, it happened as follows: teachers from ordinary general education schools were forced to hastily adapt the curriculum to the online mode.


Even developed countries were not ready for the transition to online education. If we call it an experiment, then it has failed. In fact, over the past six months, the children have not learned anything. Moreover, this is a big problem in the educational system of the whole world.


In America, where my son was finishing first grade online at a very good school, huge problems arose. These first-graders went to online lessons, there are, let’s say, 20 people in the class; can you imagine a screen with 20 squares, and the teacher is the twenty-first square? Efficiency in primary grades is zero. This would only work if it were mini-classes. That is, so that the student clearly sees only the teacher and, at most, two additional windows.


The teachers were actually forced to do it in a week, quickly; they were given some basics about using the Zoom program, and they just heroically, somehow, due to motivation and a sense of duty, started operation. There was no efficiency whatsoever. For one simple reason: there was absolutely no preparation, no education system, no quality technology, no quality of communication and no teacher training.


It has shown that even very best educator who has excellent command of his or her subject may not be able to transmit that subject remotely. For the reason that the teacher does not know how to use these platforms and not know how to let these children into the classroom. This requires special training - highly qualified and expensive training. In addition, the curriculum program must be fully adapted to online platforms and their require format. In this we immediately forget about paper books, everything goes into electronic format. Accordingly, children also need to be trained.


That is, the transition to distance learning requires large financial investments?

-Certainly. Online education requires expensive platforms, high technologies, high quality IT training for teachers, they need to know, in elementary terms, how to use these platforms, and the various tools they need.

Recently I read in some article that online education is not effective because it is cheap.


No, everything is exactly the opposite, it is all about investment; private schools have more finance ability, they have more resources to conduct training resulting in much better distance education provision. In fact, only private schools have coped with the transition to online education.


It is important to understand that such is the gulf in the preparation and use of online learning that even those advanced teachers who made PowerPoint presentations for their lessons, probably setting themselves ahead in course delivery in normal times, are still not 100% prepared to teach using e-books.


Online education as it stands currently is not effective because, firstly, no one has developed it on a large scale. Secondly, it is very expensive, because it requires high-speed Internet and special equipment. In addition, it is necessary to organize highly qualified IT training for teachers, adapt the curriculum to suit the distance-learning mode, and organize a competent transition from paper textbooks to electronic ones.


This is all possible, but, unfortunately, all over the world, even in developed countries, no one was ready to switch to this expensive platform on such a large scale so quickly.


We are now considering the situation only from the teachers’ side. However, as practice has shown, students also have many problems with adaptation in learning online...



-A huge disadvantage is that distance learning contributes to the terrible division of students along economic lines. Take, for example, schools in the capital. Yes, we can say that 60-70% of children have computers. Although this is not the case. For full-fledged learning online, you need constant access to the Internet, access to computers. Many do not have computers; the children were using telephones. The phone is a small screen; it reduces the picture even more, and destroys contact with the teacher. This is if we talk about one-on-one classes, but if, for example, we take a class with 20 students, it turns out that there is no realistic operation at all.


This is in the capital, if we talk about the regions of our country, then, most likely, only a few could afford distance learning. The pandemic has limited access to education for children from low-income families.


And how were things in America?


All parents have been written letters. They were asked which of the students needed computers, who had problems with Internet access. However, even there the offer was limited - the request could only be made within 4 working days.


I was so busy with my work online that I did not have time to ask for a computer for my child and he was left without one. I had to go and buy him a separate computer, because both of my computers and phones were busy with my online work; I myself am also in education, I teach and coach, and I had to do the same as and the rest of the teachers, sit and compose these curricula and somehow provide a learning and support service.


Unfortunately, not all countries, like America, can afford to write an email and say - people, if you don't have a computer, if you don't have the resources, then the state or school will help you. Again, this did not last long, and many did not have time to submit applications, or submitted them a little later, when the computers were already out. Not everyone received a computer. That’s the situation in America, it's not worth talking about developing countries at all as this is well beyond limits.


And what about the pupils of schools where families have several children, there are no telephones, no computers, and no resources at all? It turns out that education for them turns into something inaccessible.


Again, online education in schools is effective only when classes are conducted either individually or in a group of 2-3 people. That is why I can say that at the moment only a few private schools (including A-Level) cope with distance learning, since only they have both the technical and human resources in order to conduct high-quality individual lessons.


This is if we talk about schools. But, as far as I know, many universities abroad have long and rather successfully switched to distance learning ...


With university lectures, things are different. First, students are more aware as this is not the first, second grade, and not even a high school. Online education in higher educational institutions, in the presence of professional teachers, can be considered much more effective, of course, if the students are sufficiently motivated. With the lectures being recorded, students can also listen to them several times.


Assessment happens in the same way, since students who study in foreign universities, let’s say, our students, or British, American students, in normal times they receive lectures in person, at the university, listen to lectures, but write assignments at home. This is, approximately, five thousand words on some specific topic so what is the difference between studying in person and writing these five thousand words at home, or studying online, listening to the same lectures recorded by the same professor, and doing the same task in the same five thousand words in the same way at home as those students who see this professor physically?


Can online education be as prestigious as full-time education? To what extent is a document on distance graduation quoted?


In developed countries today, a bachelor's, master's, or even a doctoral degree obtained online is no different from an ordinary one. Of course, if the training took place at a university, the program of which is accredited by all direct bodies, both academic and state. Basically, it is not even written in the diploma whether you completed the training online, mixed, or full-time. The same diploma is issued. In the West, it has been 10 years since they switched to such a system. Even If before, it was indicated in the diploma whether the student had completed online or full-time education, today it is not written anywhere.


However, some countries still do not recognize online education degrees and Azerbaijan, unfortunately, does not accept these online diplomas either, so somewhat lagging behind compared to developed countries with more flexible learning and accreditation systems


Today, top universities like Harvard University have online programs, not the bachelor's or master's programs, but certain professional diplomas. Although these are already available Azerbaijan still refuses to accept online education qualifications even in this time of the pandemic and perhaps it is time for urgent reconsideration of this situation – the world of education, business and work has changed due to the pandemic and this will continue forth worldwide in new and different formats?


Azerbaijan should therefore seriously reconsider its positions and start accepting diplomas from online universities. If it is very difficult for them to start accepting these degrees and certificates, then they can start with top accredited universities. Just let the labor market develop freely. The people who graduated from universities abroad and returned with these diplomas should be given a chance. Employers should be given the opportunity to judge for themselves, to accept or not to accept a diploma.


As far as I know, blended learning is actively used abroad, even in universities. How productive is it, and is there a need for blended learning in educational institutions of our country?


As for blended education, of course, it is more effective than completely distance education, for one simple reason (I studied myself using such a system) - there you can study online for a week at home, and at the end of the week you study with professors, ask them questions. It is more effective, because, first, this type of education encourages a person to become disciplined; second, contact hours with professors is important, and third, the most important thing in this whole situation is the assessment. The fact that the teacher sees you as a person, sees your temperament, can assess how active you are in discussions - there are extroverted people, who, with distance learning, cannot maintain a discussion, and due to this they lose points, on the other hand, there are people who, on the contrary, can write, but cannot answer in personal contact. At the same time, they can be excellent players in teamwork, when they meet in person at the end of the week, they can make some plans for the team. Teachers evaluate all this, assign points and so on. Anyway, personal contact, at least once every two weeks or once a week, is very important.


These contact hours, especially in primary and secondary school, are very important. Since, after all, we have not completely switched, and we don’t know how many years it will take us to completely switch to online education, so that children can study remotely from scratch. Again, I do not believe this is possible in elementary school because there will still be need for an assistant, either one of the parents, or some other assistant. In high school, even a good student still needs contact hours with a teacher who explains the subject on a personal level.


Then, we must not forget about the performance of children. Every child is different and everyone perceives information differently. Some people need to be explained to three times, some five times, some ten, some visualize, some need illustrations, some need to hear, others understand with gestures. Here the second question arises - there are children with learning difficulties, they can be intellectually developed children, but the level of information perception requires personal contact, personal intervention of the teacher. The perception of information requires a direct explanation of the same material, three times, in different ways, by the method of repetition.


In comparison, blended education for schools will certainly be of better quality than fully distance learning. Personal contact with a teacher can motivate, spur students. Again, this will not give a 100% effect, but it will still bring children together in discipline.


The main problem in online learning is self-discipline. Are there ways to somehow motivate students to distance education?


Motivation is either there or not. The fact is that in any case, whether it is full-time or distance education, the student must be interested. We all know that people are divided into techies, humanitarians and analysts who are comfortable on both sides. You can motivate a student if he is interested in the subject, or if there is some kind of reward. In any case, the parents are responsible for the reward: “Get good grades and we’ll buy you a phone”, “Pass the exams and you’ll get a car”. This is the most incorrect approach in general, both in education and in motivation.


The student must be aware of what he is studying for. If a child sees working parents at home, and they constantly say: look, everything we eat, what we wear, we can afford to take you to the malls, to entertainment centers, all this is the result of hard work. Study and then work. If you want to exist at that social level, you have to learn.


Of course, the approach and the right choice of subjects are important. We understand that all-round excellent students are either children with an analytical mindset, or they are children who are of the humanities or techie type and reach for their second hemisphere. That is, either right is behind left, or left is behind right. This is perfectionism which is not always a good motivation. It is built on fear and insecurities and the desire to be the first, this is a kind of psychological problem. There are some good-graders, more successful in the humanities, but afraid to get a B in technical subjects, because they want to be excellent students; this eventually leads to demotivation.


Are there any advantages to online education?


Whether it is online or full-time education, it makes no difference. Distance education can be turned into learning that is more creative. With the help of technology, and also because schoolchildren and students are very savvy in this, they are interested in it. It all depends on the teacher, as in the old days. How selfless the teacher is, how much he can lure the audience. And here, again, the question of motivation arises. The most important thing in learning is how interesting the subject itself is to the student. Things that demotivate the child should be avoided. If you see that the child is more successful in the humanities, you need to develop this, support him, and support certain subjects with some additional activities. Well, those subjects that are not interesting to him, if he does not enjoy studying something, can be passed "in an average way." There is no need to develop insecurities in a child by instilling in him any of your ambitions. Perfectionists are, in fact, more often the parents. They are trying to impose their ambitions on children. This is not motivation, but demotivation, because nothing good can be achieved by intimidation, fear, and comparison. The worst thing is to compare a child with someone else, because then an insecure person will grow out of him.


Best motivation:


1. Teach your child in a playful way;


2. Support your child in his hobbies;


3. Small rewards, not big rewards;


4. Be interested in what your child has learned in school, not in his grades;


5. Minimize stress.