The recent closure of campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a challenge that has existed for many years. An education system that assumes the physical presence of teachers and students in the same space at the same time automatically excludes some students and cannot respond easily to circumstances that force closure, whether this is due to a pandemic, conflict, floods, fires or some other disaster. When institutions closed as a result of the pandemic, open universities and open schools could still remain open. This is because distance education (DE) does not require teachers and students to be in the same place at the same time for learning to happen.
Remote learning is an emergency measure, which attempts to replicate the classroom teaching and learning process in an online mode and can also be considered a form of DE. Developments in web technologies and increased access to mobile applications open new possibilities, but solutions must be tailored to specific contexts. In this regard, Commonwealth of Learning has just released “Guidelines on Distance Education during COVID-19” with policy advice and practical tips on the use of distance-education (DE) methods, tools and appropriate technology. This publication has been launched as a COL response to the COVID-19 crisis with the objective to assist stakeholders to use distance learning effectively. The Guidelines have been developed through a consultative process and the key contributions of COL colleagues with critical review and comments on the draft provided by the professors from Athabasca University (Canada), University of South Africa, University of South Pacific (Fiji), Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (India), Royal Roads University (Canada), and Open University (United Kingdom).
The new Guidelines provide practical directions for the use of DE tools and practices to support teaching and learning and offer suggestions on the use of appropriate technology to address the social and pedagogical issues of learning in a crisis situation. The publication provides a road map for decision makers and practitioners to integrate good practices in their specific contexts. It encloses guidelines for governments, educational institutions, academic and support staff, students and student bodies, parents as well as for quality assurance/accreditation and academic recognition bodies. These Guidelines are generic and need to be adapted for different situations. DE can be applied effectively in secondary, post-secondary and technical education contexts. The Guidelines may be used along with resources and toolkits available from COL’s institutional repository (http://oasis.col.org) and elsewhere.