The impacts generated by the Covid-19 pandemic provided new challenges and broke paradigms in the academic community, as well as in Higher and Technological Professional Education in the country.
Thus, when looking at the year that is coming to an end and evaluating the one we will enter, the National Education and Research Network (RNP), in the edition of Forum RNP 2020: Meeting with the Future, proposed a debate among the deans representing the Brazilian Association of the Deans of State and Municipal Universities (Abruem), Rodrigo Zanin, of the National Association of Directors of Federal Higher Education Institutions (Andifes), Edward Madureira, and of the National Council of Institutions of the Federal Network of Professional, Scientific and Technological Education, (Conif), Jadir José Pela, to comment on their experiences, the problems and the opportunities remote education has brought to the academic environment.
Need to review concepts
The pandemic and its consequences led to, what the president of Andifes and dean of Universidade Federal de Goiás (UFG), Edward Madureira, calls “challenges of unpredictability and need to review concepts” for the managers, forcing daily decision-making and without a defined direction. When the in-person activities were suspended at the beginning of the pandemic for 15 days, the expectation was for normalization and a quick return. However, the scenario remains undefined, opening a new field of debate and readjustments, both structural and social.
For Rodrigo Zanin, president of Abruem and dean of the Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso (Unemat), the time of the pandemic meant that, in addition to reviewing concepts, the processes had to be sped up. “We need to move forward in the issue to offer higher education remotely, in 10 years probably”, he comments. What resulted in reorganization of the way to reproduce teaching applied in person before in the online and remote model.
Therefore, the impacts of these physical changes caused by the pandemic were the main challenges faced in education in the federal system, in the technological environment. For the president of Conif and dean of Instituto Federal do Espírito Santon (Ifes), Jadir Pela, in the more 650 campuses in different regions of the country, there is no internet access to continue the education, research and extension. “The main issue is connectivity”, he points out.
Structural, pedagogical and social challenges of remote education
And if the connectivity barrier is one of the most frequent causes in the remote academic environment, as commented by Jadir, for Rodrigo, the problems suffered in the institutions can be classified in different points, such as structural, pedagogical and social. “We created aids for the students, such as chips and financial resources for them to be able to access the internet remotely. The problem is that there are students who live in places without this connectivity and we cannot guarantee this access”, he explains.
In addition to the structures, the pedagogical problems affect both the technical servants and the teachers, and the students. The need to adapt teaching in person to remote education was also one of the big obstacles experienced throughout 2020. “You cannot put 40 students in front of a small screen to have five hour classes, as you do in person. So, you have to rethink and create new culture based on a very strong resistance”, Rodrigo points out.
Therefore, when the challenges are addressed to the social barriers, the economic differences are also noticeable. “When you bring the student into a classroom, there, you supposedly put everyone in the same condition to have access”, Rodrigo emphases.
However, when mentioning the social differences regarding remote education, the difficulties are bigger, “we have students who have laboratories at home, computers, notebooks, but we have students who have a cell phone you can't even call a smartphone, and then we put everyone in the same package. So, we revealed a social diversity, a very big social abyss in our country”.
In an attempt to provide access to quality education, Jadir comments on the investment in training for teachers and students, as well as the aid for the students to be able to use computers, tablets and resources via student assistance.
“Right now we have partnership with RNP to use the chips for our students with income per capita less than one minimum wage. In 2020, the most important thing was what we relearned. The pandemic has put us in a situation to relearn many issues in our network as institutions”, he completes.
What to expect from the post-pandemic education?
"We will not have any kind of return to the previous stage," Edward comments. For him, the future of the post-pandemic education will be guided by the new normal. “We will enter a new normal, but with the very strong presence of these instruments in our daily lives, because they enable time flexibility, they enable developing collaborative work, not imagining that there will be a substitution of the in-person with the remote, that will not happen. But we will start to move very strongly towards a hybrid education system, where the technologies, the remote activities will coexist with the necessary in-person activities”.
In general, 2020 marked the new possibilities of education, research and extension in a collaborative format. Where, despite the difficulties, the network created by several institutions has enabled a shared environment, with the possibility to gather skills to develop new ways of acting.
“And I already see that our institutional and system boundaries, whether physical, regulatory or any other kind, will disappear, we will be able to start thinking about the national system of higher and technological education. Anyway, the possibilities for institutional interaction and integration are endless and I think that, with that, the one to win will be the Brazilian education”, Edward completes.
As for what can be expected for education in 2021, Rodrigo analyzes a change of the era. “We will certainly have a new model of education after the pandemic. We are probably undergoing an era change, but how we are going to accept, equate and solve the challenges that have become huge for our institutions, is a big challenge that we will not be able to solve individually”.
Do you want to know more? Check out the debate on our YouTube Channel.