Covid 19 is the perfect opportunity to test the concept of online classroom; students are being locked out of the traditional classroom and can only learnt from home.

But is an online school adequate replacement for physical one?

As a parent to two kids, I would say that to some extent, online classroom works. Students can derive some benefits from online classroom, provided that the following conditions are fulfilled:

  1. They have the discipline to follow through the lectures and not being distracted by noises. In a physical classroom, there is usually one source of attention demand: the teacher. But when you are studying online, it’s very easy to get carried away by surrounding chattering, funny cat videos and just plain old daydreaming.
  2. The internet connection is stable enough to ensure smooth content delivery. Sadly in Malaysia, even in this 5G age, this is still not a given.
  3. They can still do homework and submit it electronically. Current tablets and laptops are good for consuming educational videos, but not good at pen-and-paper style content creation. Boox Nova 2 with Wacom pen seems to fill this void, but the user experience is simply not as good as traditional pen and paper ( try to write out mathematical derivations and equations on both medium and you will see what I mean).

But there are other aspects of physical classroom that online counterpart can never replace. School is no longer just a place to impart information and knowledge, in fact, the primary values of school lies elsewhere.

Attending schools is more important to certify who you are, rather than to just impart the knowledge on you that might be useful later in job market. To the employer, “I graduated from Harvard University” is a better employment signal than “I graduated from XXYY school”. How much you actually learn in school is a lot less important than who you know. Sad, but true. This definitely diminishes the importance of school as an institution to impart knowledge.

If I am dedicated enough, I can get exactly the same knowledge as an MIT undergraduate via MIT Open Course ( maybe even surpass them as I am more dedicated). But does that actually mean that I am as employable as a real, traditional MIT graduate? You know the answer.

Furthermore, school is a social place, where face-to-face interaction plays a pivotal role in student development. You haven’t really grow up until you leave home and start to interact, collaborate or compete with your peers. How do you talk so that your friends will listen? How can you pick up the subtle physical cues when your friends aren’t really on the same page as you propose a novel idea? How do you know whether a girl is infatuated with you, or not? All of these interaction, or “training”, can happen online, but they are definitely richer and more varied in an offline world.

When you go out to society to work, you are expected ( but not taught) to read people thoughts accurately and pick up the subtle signal. It’s definitely very hard to do that if you come from an online world, whereby the real intention is hidden behind an additional layer of mask.

And not to mention the good old brotherhood /sisterhood bond, which takes a lot of face-to-face interaction to get there. The experience of pulling an all-nighter together in a library is definitely more memorable than studying online, together. Likewise, cramping in a cheap mamak restaurant and watching World Cup together at 3am is a lot more fun than playing Mobile Legend together in each’s own room ( Disagree? Write in the comments!), because your emotions and shouts are amplified many times over by your friends and foes ( depending on which team you support). What about travelling and adventuring together with coursemates in real life and real time? Touring the world via Google Maps just can’t compare, not even remotely close.

kindlemalaysia.com started out as an online store. Initially we envisioned it as a pure online store with no offline presence. But later we found that business doesn’t really work that way; we needed to be present offline to establish our legitimacy. And kindle fans– despite that they are bookish ad seem otherworldly– want to socialize with like minded thinkers and readers. So we have this Kindle Fan Gathering that we can meet and talk together. The gathering is one of the nicest experience I’ve ever had with the whole kindle enterprise, besides being able to devour books and knowledge.

So, despite all the talks that education is going to change due to Covid 19, I surely hope that it won’t. Because if it does, we ( or rather, our children) are going to lose most of the benefits we can derive from it.

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