By Dr. Zaw Tun
WE are now living in the tug-of war Age, in the sense that while we are enticed by the new opportunities, we are faced with the emerging challenges. To use Thornbury's (2019) terms, "in 1990s, and thereafter, the English language teaching proliferated big before them, absolute global, massive by the turn of the twenty-first century." However, according to English UK's report "Impact of COVID-19 on the English Language Teaching Sector in the UK" (2020), the pandemic hit in early February, and there was no chance for face-to-face teaching starting from 20 March 2020. As the unprecedented changes had taken place, many students had to pack up for their return journey home. Many courses offered for scholarships were cancelled or postponed.
During the COVID crisis, since face to face teaching is out of the question, online learning like a synchronous Zoom Web Conference System has to be the last resort we have to seek for so that teachers would not go unemployed while learners would not go idle, but continue learning during this long break. In the post-COVID crisis, since the New Normal context in which this teaching-learning process takes place can make a strong impact on all sectors, the overall impact may be considered by the researchers focusing on the local context, which would be feedback to other stakeholders, including the language policy makers. Despite its drawbacks of lack of social interaction through personal contacts, one of the advantages of online learning is flexibility: you can learn anywhere at any time. But this flexibility is challenged by the ease of access: Is the Internet access guaranteed to all parts of our country? To exploit this advantage of flexibility of online learning, the language teachers need to consider how to get "socialized language learning" springboard from the rigid frame of learning of textbook and "grammar mcnuggets" to use the terms of Thornbury (1999) because we do not want to produce the glued-tothe-screen generations.
The research findings of Dwi Rahayu (2020) in Pamulang University, Indonesia, show that 62 students make positive responses to three factors of online activities: communication, lesson material and study process. On the other hand, students prefer the traditional face-to-face learning in terms of communication and materials, compared with the e-learning.
It goes without saying that research should come in pre-, while-and post-Covid crisis. In other words, we must at least be prepared with Plan A, Plan B, etc., to face the unpredictable. At this point, I would like to take the opportunity of giving a brief account of the activities and case studies in primary and higher education during and post COVID crisis in Myanmar.
Unlike many other countries, Myanmar had remained unaffected by the first wave of the pandemic for some time until to the return of migrant workers. Universities were then holding examinations. Fortunately, the postgraduate examinations finished just in time, but students taking the undergraduate examinations had to sit for two more papers when it was announced that all institutions under the Ministry of Education, including private schools and international schools, were closed. When the first wave of the pandemic was almost over, measures were taken to re-open the schools in line with the directives of the Ministry of Sports and Health. However, especially with the flights from Sittwe to Yangon, came the second wave with a much faster spread at a higher mortality rate. Because online teaching and learning was never expected in the context of the teaching-learning process, the institutions under the Ministry of Education were not ready to face the new situation, and had to be closed again.
Higher education level
During the COVID- crisis, Zoom meetings were conducted at the administrative level over how to tackle the New Normal situations, and workshops were provided for the teaching staff of universities. For instance, Digital literacy: Learning Management System, sponsored by the Rectors' Committee, Zoom Webinar for Leadership and Management in Higher Education by Prof. Dr Aung Tun Thet and pedagogy lectures by the Department of Educational Theories, Sagaing University of Education. However, it must be pointed out that in the post-COVID-19 crisis, a tracer study be made on the effectiveness of these training courses paving the way to the combination of pedagogy and practice in online learning.
Impact on jobs
As a case study of an international school in Mandalay has pointed out, COVID-19 crisis has made a strong negative impact on jobs. Many institutions suffered the issues of redundancies. On the other hand, since the staff have to follow the Stay-at-Home rules under the directives of the Ministry of Sports and Health, a considerable number of teaching staff had left their jobs and picked up their own online teaching to three or four students. As a result, a private international school in Mandalay suffers a dearth of language teachers to continue running the school. Such challenges may come over again if, God forbid it, the pandemic would repeat itself. It is suggested that as a project of post-Covid crisis, schools should start training the teaching staff on how to conduct online classes and exploit the effectiveness of online teaching, as suggested by an instructor trainer Lokethar (2020): "It is true that training the teachers on modern technology and teaching methods would address the issue of the current deficiencies in the teaching-learning process."
(TO BE CONTINUED)