Online education and social skills: Do they intertwine?
Education is considered to be the backbone of a country. The purpose of a school is to build competence among our youth, guiding them towards employability. But is that all it does? I believe schools or other offline education plays a massive role in the development of social skills in the youth. The skills that enable human beings to interact with one another effectively and form meaningful relationships.
When children go to school, they are exposed to a variety of worldly challenges and activities that slowly develop maturity in them as they grow. They learn about people and their general behaviors, what is appropriate under what circumstances and what isn’t, and a range of other abilities that are not all taught by their guardians or their curriculum. For example, neither my parents, nor my teachers taught me how to make friends. It was something I had to learn through trial and error. And I like to believe that the ability to make friends is an important feature to possess, as it may indicate one’s ability to make a positive impression on people, a skill that may come in handy during professional life.
Now, online education has offered an undeniably exceptional solution to the current situation. It allows us to be socially distant while keeping the learning going during this pandemic. Otherwise, students may have had to go through an entire year without school, and who knows what butterfly effect it could have had on the future. Alternatively, students might have been forced to return to school while the pandemic was still at peak, which not only would’ve put the children’s lives at risk but also the lives of their loved ones. Besides the obvious benefit, there are other advantages that online education has to offer. Like an escape from Dhaka’s unforgiving traffic. However, can it really be considered an equally effective alternative of the physical school that we are used to?
Attending an online class is very different from an offline one. There is minimal interaction between classmates, or even between students and teachers, making it difficult to form meaningful relationships. To give you a rough idea, when a student enters a classroom filled with a fresh batch of students, and has to sit beside a random classmate, there is a unique opportunity to strike up a conversation and put his or her social skills to test. This scenario most likely would not exist during an online class, as there is no sitting beside a stranger. No asking for a pencil. You enter an online space, attend the lecture under your own supervision, with no incentive to talk to other attendees, until or unless the teacher assigns some group work.
Some may argue that the young people can still engage with each other online through social media and that online social skills are important too. And I fully agree. Students can, in fact, communicate online and enhance their social skills. However, interpersonal skills online may differ from interpersonal skills offline, and while both are important, one may be good at one but not the other. For instance, it is much easier to be polished while texting. One has all the time one needs to think about what he's going to write and what impression of him he wants the other person to have. In a face to face conversation, however, you don’t get the time to think before speaking, and thus have no other choice but to be yourself. Besides, what one says during a conversation is just one aspect of social skills. Body language is another major part of social skills that has no involvement during an online conversation, unless it’s a video call. And we all know, people do not typically engage in video calls unless they are already close to each other.
At the end of the day, online education is the rice in the middle of a famine. It’s filling the gap of education in these trying times. And comparing online education to offline may be like comparing apples to oranges. Perhaps, they don’t need to compete with one another. Instead, they should both exist side by side in order to ensure quality education throughout the country. But it is important to discuss the pros and cons, if we are to improve the current system. And in my opinion, the aspect of social skills is worth having a conversation over.