Virtual education through the Teams platform: Is it inclusive?
Author: Katherine Fernández Rojas
Translated into English by Florencia Prieto
The commitment to a virtual education during the pandemic
COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes in unthinkable ways around the world. Were people prepared for all the changes that a pandemic entails? Clearly not, therefore, the health crisis has come to establish virtuality as a way in which people have had to adapt to continue with the daily life to respect rules of distancing and quarantine, however, has the process of adaptation towards virtuality been accessible and equal for all people? Faced with the question, it is necessary to think about those who have been left behind by a digital lifestyle that has been implemented almost compulsorily in the face of a health crisis. This virtual phenomenon has even reached the educational field, so schools and colleges have required learning to opt for online teaching around the world.
Faced with the health crisis, the measures adopted by most of the educational entities was the suspension of classes in face-to-face mode, which involved generating a strategy to continue with the training of students.
Ante la crisis sanitaria, las medidas adoptadas por la mayoría de las entidades educativas fue la suspensión de las clases en modalidad presencial, lo que implicó generar una estrategia para continuar con la formación del estudiantado.
According to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), by mid-May 2020 more than 1,200 million students of all levels of education, worldwide, had stopped having face-to-face classes at school, of them, more than 160 million were students from Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC-UNESCO, 2020, pág. 01)
Due to the suspension of face-to-face classes, educational institutions opted for virtuality as a means to continue with the training of thousands of students, which implied a modality of distance learning through the use of various educational platforms.
The implementation of a virtual education adds a series of challenges not only to guarantee a quality education to the whole student body, understood in the access to the use of the virtual platform and the content provided, but also in providing the necessary inputs and training to the teachers.
The challenge has been complex in the face of a health crisis, thinking about distance education using digital platforms makes us reflect on the challenge that this generates for the inclusion of this type of modality to the entire student population, therefore, it is necessary to think about the digital divide that this modality has generated in equal access for the least favored populations. In this sense, the digital divide affects the guarantee of opportunities and participation for students.
The challenge of the Costa Rican State in the face of virtual education through the Microsoft Teams platform
The Ministry of Public Education (MEP) in Costa Rica is the ministry responsible for "articulating and strengthening the processes of the educational research and evaluation units of policies and programs that make up the education system, based on a continuous improvement in the quality of Costa Rican education" (p.01). In this sense, in the face of a health crisis, the MEP has had to innovate to continue providing quality education to the student body. Therefore, faced with the challenge of continuing with education in virtual mode, the MEP made use of the digital platform called Microsoft Teams.
The tool has some basic functionalities such as a chat, it has the option to generate meetings from a group chat to the possibility of making a videoconference, also calls are part of the options provided by the tool, so people can opt for group calls, and even make call transfers. In addition, the Teams platform has an option enabled so that people can easily find, share, and edit files using apps like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. These and other features are enabled by the platform to ensure quality functionality.
The Teams tool has the necessary functions to carry out a virtual class without any inconvenience, however, is the tool accessible to the entire student body? Does the platform work for the entire population from its diversities? Is teaching through Teams to the student population functional? Is there the possibility of connection for the entire student community? What about people with some kind of disability, is the inclusive tool? How is it guaranteed that the student body is receiving quality learning under a virtual modality?
These and other questions try to show that, although the educational field in Costa Rica has opted for virtuality to continue teaching, there are challenges in which we must work on. Regardless of the platform used, it should be noted that virtual education needs to be thought of beyond a digital instrument as a means of transmitting knowledge.
Reflections about virtual education through the Teams platform
Mother of family
|"The tool is novel and useful (...) but I have had the problem of distraction, if one as a parent is not guiding, they hardly receive the same education as in person"
"(The Teams platform) is not so profitable in school age"
"Education is not of quality" (virtual education through a virtual platform)
"It is not the same that the teacher is seeing them, correcting, guiding (face-to-face) that one as a parent, in my case I work (...) yes it is very difficult for them to learn in that way"
"Saul has a non-significant adaptation and with the virtual classes he did not have it (...) he needs to have a much more dynamic, didactic class, that the teacher is aware, that s/he explains and that s/he explains again, they have teaching methods that virtually get out of hand"
|"The platform is easy to manage"
"You can not record the class, the MEP does not allow it and only those who enter are the ones who receive the class at that time, but those who can not enter are left without the explanation"
"My subject is homeschooling, they are group halves and at the moment I have 150 students, of those only 40 are connected, sometimes it is because they have problems with the internet, or the light goes out in the house, those are the problems that usually occur"
"For some it is difficult to use Teams to send the answered guides then there is also the option to use the WhatsApp"
"The Teams platform is not so inclusive because not everyone can get to enter (...) some are left out of the access"
Can thinking about the right to education in the face of a health crisis be considered an utopia to guarantee quality learning?
Delors (1999) points out the education as a utopia, but a necessary utopia, and "as an indispensable instrument for humanity to progress towards the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice" (p.7). In this sense, the author refers that education is a vital area in the human being and also that it constitutes a space that constantly evolves in search of more fair and equitable societies, hence the concept of education as a necessary utopia and the challenge of States in providing the guarantee of an educational process that adapts to the changes and challenges of the future as is the case of the virtual education before a health crisis. In this way, ensuring education for all people equally, attending to each of the human diversities, is a challenge. In this sense, virtual education to the entire student population can be thought of from a utopian vision, however, to guarantee the right to education it is necessary to address the situation and work on solutions in order to guarantee fair and equal access that promotes quality learning under a virtual modality.
Ensure inclusive, equitable and quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs)
Despite the efforts made by the MEP, it is necessary to continue working on the evaluation of this method and to address the gaps that have not yet been addressed, such as equal access to education for all students and at the same time guarantee a comprehensive learning to the student body taking into account the diversity of its population, that is, students with disabilities, with curricular adequacy, among other conditions, since currently the people benefiting from a virtual tool are those who have connectivity, those who have a computer, with a space to connect, people who do not have a disability, among other situations , therefore it is these people who enjoy a right to an education today.
Regardless of the modality of a virtual education and the platform used to transmit knowledge to the student body, the State must guarantee fair and equal access to the entire student community in order to guarantee a quality education.
List of References
Delors, J. (1999). La educación encierra un tesoro. Paris – Madrid: UNESCO, Santillana.
CEPAL-UNESCO (2020). La educación en tiempos de la pandemia de COVID-19. Informe COVID-19. Recuperado de: https://www.cepal.org/sites/default/files/publica tion/files/45904/S2000510_es.pdf
Ministerio de Educación Pública (MEP). Misión. Gobierno de Costa Rica. Recuperado de: https://www.mep.go.cr/mision#:~:text=Somos%20la%20Red%20de%20investigaci%C3%B3n,calid ad%20de%20la%20educaci%C3%B3n%20costarricense
Katherine Fernandez Rojas, Degree in Gender and Development from the National University of Costa Rica. Bachelor's degree in English from the National University of Costa Rica (UNA). Master's student in Conflict Resolution, Peace and Development at the University for Peace. Specialist in gender issues, human rights, women's political participation, harassment and political violence.
She has worked as a consultant in the Center for Electoral Advisory and Promotion (CAPEL), a specialized program of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH). Project: Regional Observatory of the Association of Electoral Magistrates of the Americas (AMEA) on Parity Democracy and Political Violence, with the support of UN Women. Currently, she works as a consultant with EUROsociaAL+, programme for Social Cohesion in Latin America and the European Union. Project: Regional Observatory of the Association of Electoral Magistrates of the Americas (AMEA) on Parity Democracy and Political Violence.
She is also a consultant for EUROsociAL+ with the project: Promotion of parity and prevention of electoral violence in Peru. The project is promoted by the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) of Peru.