On 12 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a novel corona virus was the cause of a respiratory illness in a cluster of people in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, who had initially come to the attention of the WHO on 31 December 2019. The WHO declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and recognized it as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. As of today, approximately 1.48 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 209 countries and territories, resulting in approximately 88,500 deaths and 329,000 recoveries.
As the COVID-19 corona virus continues to spread, schools around the globe were forced to close as a precautionary measure. Currently, school closures in over a dozen countries due to the COVID-19 outbreak have disrupted the education of at least 290.5 million students worldwide, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Out of the total population of students enrolled in education globally, UNESCO estimates that over 89% are currently out of school because of COVID-19 closures. This represents 1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in school or university, including nearly 743 million girls.
Right to education
International human rights law guarantees the right to education. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted in 1948, proclaims in Article 26: ‘everyone has the right to education’.
Since then, the right to education has been widely recognized and developed by a number of international normative instruments elaborated by the United Nations, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966, CESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989, CRC), and the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960, CADE).
The right to education has also been reaffirmed in other treaties covering specific groups (women and girls, persons with disabilities, migrants, refugees, Indigenous Peoples, etc.) and contexts (education during armed conflicts). It has also been incorporated into various regional treaties and enshrined as a right in the vast majority of national constitutions.
“Emergency situations” affecting education are defined as all situations in which man-made or natural disasters destroy, within a short period of time, the usual conditions of life, care and education facilities for children and therefore disrupt, deny, hinder progress or delay the realization of the right to education. The scale and severity of the COVID-19 outbreak is clearly a serious public health threat and an emergency situation that could justify restrictions on certain rights. For instance, the imposition of quarantine or isolation, limiting freedom of movement. As aforementioned, the severity of the outbreak forced the closure of schools around the globe, which also resulted in restrictions on the right to education.
As the UN lead agency for education, UNESCO plays an active role in promoting lifelong quality education for all people – children, youth, and adults – as a part of emergency response and for long-term recovery.
In order to ensure the right to education and the education system to respond adequately, UNESCO has recommended that the states “adopt a variety of hi-tech, low-tech and no tech solutions to assure the continuity of learning.”
It is observed that in many countries teachers already use online learning platforms to complement normal contact hours in classrooms for homework, classroom exercises and research and many students have access to technological equipment at home. However, not all countries, communities, families or social groups have adequate internet access, and many children live in places with frequent government lead internet shutdown.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, schools around the globe are shifting to online learning in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.
What is online education?
Online education is a type of educational instruction that is delivered via the internet to students using their home computers. During the last decade, online degrees and courses have become a popular alternative for a wide range of non-traditional students, including those who want to continue working full-time or are raising families. Most of the time, online degree programs and courses are offered via the host school’s online learning platform, although some are delivered using alternative technologies.
Although there are subtle dissimilarities, the main difference between online and traditional learning is the fact that online education liberates the student from the usual trappings of on-campus degree programs — including driving to school, planning their schedule around classes, and being physically present for each sequence of their coursework.
The controlling decisions by governments have led millions of students to temporary “home schooling” which has brought a degree of inconvenience. It is interesting to note that the pandemic has changed how millions around the globe are educated. New solutions for education could bring much needed innovation. Given the digital divide, new shifts in education approaches could widen equality gaps.
Improving education is a huge issue for our society. The education system continued to change each time with different governments coming into power. This has been observed in Sri Lanka as well as in many Asian countries. The government of Sri Lanka has invested in online technologies as a means of educational delivery to enhance the quality of programmes and increase access to programmes. Taking a step further during the past few years, the government of Sri Lanka introduced tabs and the concept of ‘Smart Class’ to national schools where technology is utilized to improve teaching, learning and helping Sri Lankan students. Moreover, broadcasting of educational contents on various subjects on several TV channels in Sri Lanka was initiated a decade ago.
With the corona outbreak, China has launched a national online learning platform and started broadcasting primary school classes on public TV to help its 180 million students. China’s traditional schools embraced online learning as coronavirus forced students to stay at home.(South China morning post).
This new cloud based online leaning and broadcasting platform was developed by a group of constituents led by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology China.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology also roped in the three major telecommunications operators – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – and tech companies including Baidu, Alibaba and Huawei to back up the e-learning platform with 7,000 servers and 90 terabytes of bandwidth. This is to ensure that it can run smoothly with up to 50 million students using it at the same time.
It is also reported that even before the launch of the national cloud learning platform, Chinese tech companies including Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei had also stepped forward to offer free online classes for students of different levels in light of the school closures and outbreak situation.
Italy, the country that has been the worst hit by COVID-19 reported that 8.4 million children are out of school before the spring break as the universities and schools are closed across Italy.
However, lessons continue uninterrupted using web –learning to stream classes in schools in the northern region of Italy which has been affected the most by the virus. “The teacher enters a virtual classroom, does the roll call and can see students connected on their devices. They can work in groups, make presentations and show videos.” Italians see this as a turning point in Italian education where there is space to create innovative methods.
Another example is the Hong Kong based forum readtogether.hk, a consortium of over 60 educational organizations, publishers, media and entertainment industry professionals, providing more than 900 educational assets, including videos, book chapters, assessment tools, and counseling services for free. The consortium intends to continue using and maintaining the platform even after COVID-19 has been contained.
The quality of learning is heavily dependent on the level and quality of digital access. Unlike Hong Kong and Italy, where virtual classes are conducted on personal tab, students from less developed countries rely on lessons and assignments via WhatsApp or email. According to statistics only around 60% of the global population is online, therefore digital divide could become more extreme if educational access is dictated by access to the highest technologies. On the other hand, there is a possibility of overcoming such issues with the innovations teachers use during the outbreak as the technology has started to play a bigger role in schools.
Unlike in schools, online education is not new in higher education institutes and universities around the globe. What is interesting is how the universities in certain countries continue extracurricular activities such as martial arts lessons online during the COVID-19 outbreak. University of Edinburgh Karate Club is conducting online training sessions through live Facebook videos. The trainings are scheduled twice a week, Tuesday and Saturday. The Captain makes the session plan like in usual training and participants join the live video, following the session from home. Videos are automatically saved to the Facebook group so those who missed can re-watch and train.
It is apparent that with the sudden corona virus outbreak, the educational innovation is receiving attention and show signs suggesting that it could have a lasting impact on the path of learning innovation and digitization.
 South China Morning post https://www.scmp.com/tech/policy/article/3050940/schools-remaining-closed-during-coronavirus-outbreak-china-launches