Online and Offline Study: Pros and Cons as Evaluated by Students and Teachers

Another school year is coming to an end, and we asked students and teachers in Kazakhstan these pressing questions: what is better, online or offline classes? How has the process of learning changed? What are the pros and cons of the old and new modes? What lessons have we learned from online education?
By Aliya Babotay

January 26th, 2022

Aruzhan Akhmetova,

Aruzhan Akhmetova,

student at the Nazarbayev Intellectual School:
My school responded to the changed conditions during the pandemic quite quickly: all students shifted to online classes on platform Microsoft Teams. All offline events were cancelled, including scheduled exams: external summative assessment for the 10th-12th grades and IELTS for students in the 11th grade.

And teachers were not lenient with students. In my opinion, online study affected the quality of knowledge considerably. For example, we could look at reference materials when completing a task for summative assessment, as web cameras did not cover the entire desk. It depended to a great extent on the personal responsibility of students. 

Today, academic honesty is more about personal choice that a requirement for everyone
Classes are 20 minutes long now instead of 40 minutes, and I find it logical given the impact of continual work on computers on eyes. At the beginning of the third term we were offered to choose between combined (online + offline) and online classes. Online classes were held on Microsoft Teams. Some teachers also use Kahoot and other educational platforms to ensure better assimilation of the materials.

I studied online and in a combined mode. I believe that combined classes are the most effective option provided that all precautions are met during the pandemic. Good old offline classes turned out to be irreplaceable, because many students did not have a stable connection to the Internet and technological devices (computers, tablets or smartphones). Going to school also fosters self-discipline. In the classroom, we are emotionally involved and the teacher can see if students have any difficulties with learning. During online classes, the teacher may not notice it, while a student may be to shy to ask questions. It is also useful to review tasks with classmates – they can help, advise or explain. 

During online study it is every man for himself
I am quite self-disciplined, and it is not difficult for me to get up at eight o’clock in the morning, turn on my computer and start my classes. However, during a year of online classes I realised that the presence of classmates around is a good motivation to study more eagerly.

Ademi Kydyrova,

Ademi Kydyrova,

Deputy Director for Research and Methodology, Mathematics Teacher at Secondary School No. 2, village of Karakat (Ryskulov District, Zhambyl Region):
Like others, our school shifted to online learning during the fourth term last year. This shift was both interesting and challenging. The challenges we faced included a poor connection to the Internet in the rural areas, when students were not able to join classes, upload or download homework in time. All homework tasks were uploaded late. We made allowance for this, because a poor connection was not their fault. Large families had only one phone for four or five children, to say nothing of computers and laptops. This made the process of learning quite complicated.

Nevertheless, we tried to share as much knowledge as possible in such conditions. We arranged classes as presentations, video conferences or as audio conferences only when the connection was too poor. We tried various methods to find the best one. We did our best to make explanations and presentations as understandable as possible, because it was harder to assimilate new knowledge during online classes without necessary conditions. 

I think you would agree that taking classes on a phone (which might be the only one for five siblings) with a poor connection to the Internet is not the best learning option
In the classroom, teachers may see if students understand the topic and control them. There was no feedback during online classes, and it was hard to see if children understood everything. I teach mathematics, and it is more convenient for students to write all tasks on the blackboard in front of the whole class, because I can help and explain to them. They learn together with the student who solves a problem on the blackboard.

However, online learning has its advantages. For example, we – students and teachers – learned to use various educational platforms: Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

This year we started offline classes, as we had got used to. Each class is attended by a maximum of fifteen students, and all sanitation and hygiene standards are met. We are glad to shift back to regular education. However, if we have to switch to distance learning again, our teachers are ready. Last year's experience showed us that we could quickly respond to changes.

Maya Kaliyeva,

Maya Kaliyeva,

English Teacher at a school in Nur-Sultan:
I would start my story with the fourth term of the last academic year. It was a chaos. Nobody – children, their parents, teachers and even the school management – knew what to do. I don’t think we should blame anyone, because it was no one’s fault. In this chaos students and teachers loosened up, because national and external exams were cancelled. The fourth term was held under the slogan “Relax”. Summer was a great time for the Ministry of Education and the school management to understand what to do next.

Another challenge faced by teachers was to present the 40-minutes material within 20 minutes during online classes. Children should not sit in front of computers for more than twenty minutes, as they quickly get tired.

We were prepared for this academic year. The impact of the pandemic had its pros and cons. The big disadvantage is that children were much more focused in school during regular education, because they had a daily routine: get up, get ready, have breakfast, come to school and study according to the schedule. Teachers could control them. Another disadvantage is that the level of knowledge dropped during online learning. Children have lost their motivation to learn, they are now in their comfort zone: at home, in their room, and their perception of us as teachers has changed. Less contact with children is one more cons of online classes. Many students are not involved in the class, they do not answer questions. The reasons are manifold: someone is afraid to interrupt, someone's younger brothers or sisters are making noise, and someone simply does not want a lot of attention.

Online classes are comfortable for victims of bullying in school. This is, of course, one of the pros of online learning. Despite this, every child, regardless of whether he is an introvert or an extrovert, needs to communicate with peers. Family relationships have benefited from online learning: children and their parents have grown closer to each other. Teachers have grown closer to their families too.

Unfortunately, our grading system does not allow controlling children. At some universities, the mark consists of several parts: attendance, answers to questions and involvement. We apply summative and formative assessment. This method of assessment does not enable teachers to engage children to the full extent. Students do not receive marks every day, and online classes make them even more relaxed. They may do nothing for the entire term.

Teachers’ motivation also decreased. Like students, teachers struggle with the urge to lie down, watch TV shows, or do household chores. After all, when you work from home, you are more involved in your household’s everyday life. But you also need to prepare for the class. It seems to me that it is too early to talk about the impact of the pandemic; we will see it clearer in a few years.

Ainura Nurmukhametova,

Ainura Nurmukhametova,

Student of Xinjiang Education University, Urumchi, China:
Before the pandemic, I studied internally and twice a year I came home during summer and winter breaks. During the rest of an academic year I lived on campus. In February 2020, when I was supposed to return to study, a pandemic happened.

The university reacted very quickly, since it all started in China. At first, we were told that we would study online temporarily due to quarantine. But in March, the Chinese side banned the entry of foreign students. Since then, students have been studying remotely.

Classes are held on the Chinese platform ding ding, which is similar to Zoom. Teachers prepare presentations and explain the material via video conferences. We do our homework and upload photos of the homework to the same platform. Despite the fact that it is very convenient to study online, there are still some challenges. Technical problems, Internet failures and a poor connection, all this affects the quality of learning. Lack of feedback is another disadvantage. Teachers can only ask a couple of questions during classes and make remarks while checking homework. This semester we were supposed to have an internship and defend our theses. I do not know yet how it will be conducted online.

For me, the essence of getting education abroad is to gain international experience of language immersion. But the pandemic has deprived international students of this opportunity. 

An ongoing contact with native speakers, communication with classmates from other countries, events at the university, meetings with friends, and lectures in the classroom, this is what I miss most
Although we often correspond with teachers and classmates, the Internet does not replace face-to-face contact. In addition, when we went home during winter break, we left most of our belongings (documents and devices) in the dormitory. Teachers can't say anything about this, because there is no one to ask in the dormitory now. They say: “We hope for your patience,” which doesn't really make us feel assured.

pupils, students, teachers, online learning, offline learning
Alina Abdrakhmanova,

Alina Abdrakhmanova,

Founder and Director of the Representative Office of Geneva Business School in Kazakhstan:
Due to the pandemic, we decided to completely revise both the learning model and the curriculum, to expand the network of partners and offer more choices to applicants. For example, some students are already studying HealthCare Management. While in the previous years students preferred MBAs in finance, and oil and gas management, healthcare management became more relevant due to the pandemic. Effective management of a team of doctors or an entire hospital is a skill that all managers in medical institutions need.

In addition to new specialisations, we have launched a start-up IN-VR: a 360-degree camera is installed in the classroom, students may stay in another country, but they will feel as if they attend the class and take part in a discussion thanks to virtual reality. The cameras are located at eye level, and this ensures one hundred percent immersion into virtual reality. Thanks to this start-up students will not be tempted to turn off the microphone during a lecture and do other things, such as household chores. The pilot project was performed at Geneva Business School. The platform is fully ready for operation.

Due to the pandemic, foreign teachers could not come to us. Usually they came every three weeks for a two-day visit as per the schedule. These meetings helped students to solidify knowledge, get to know the teacher better, and have more networking with fellow students, which had a positive effect on learning. Also, on-site modules, events, private lectures and workshops were cancelled.

The biggest disadvantage of distance learning is the lack of the element of the community, networking and atmosphere. Communication between students during a coffee break can give much more than meets the eye, because it is an exchange of information and insights.

Gulbar Dosmailova,

Gulbar Dosmailova,

Founder and Director of DOS EDUCATION GROUP:
We cooperate with universities from 39 countries, mostly the USA, Canada, Germany, Spain, Hungary and Singapore. We have partner universities in each of the countries. The pandemic has affected the entire sector of education - from schools to universities, but the size of the damage depends on the country. European universities were affected to a lesser extent than their peers in the USA, Canada and Asia.

In the 2020-2021 academic year, most universities were quite flexible as regards students: they offered discounts, scholarships and leniency because of the pandemic. For example, if an applicant did not manage to pass IELTS or receive an IELTS certificate in time, universities offered them to pass an internal exam, SAT and TOEFL instead.

Over the past year, creative professions have become more popular, especially everything related to cinema, game design and illustration. In the midst of the pandemic, many teenagers wanted to become nurses, emergency doctors and surgeons. Translation, hotel management and business administration are less popular now. The number of students willing to attend summer and short-term programmes has decreased.

In addition to standard documents required upon admission, a vaccination certificate is also necessary now.

The pandemic will not last forever, so you need to learn the profession you have chosen. You should also take into account your personal requirements: rating, budget, climate, geography, the possibility of obtaining a residence permit or a high annual salary after graduation.

The advantages of different modes of education in other countries, in my opinion, are as follows:

Offline study:
the opportunity to be admitted to a university and receive the coveted long-term visa;
the opportunity to study with foreign students from all over the world;
the opportunity to live in the country of your dreams and travel around Europe, the USA, Canada, etc.
Online study:
the quality of education is unexpectedly high;
saving time and costs for accommodation and meals;
training self-discipline and responsibility;
safety during the pandemic.
At first, many parents were anxious, but the students who had been admitted to universities left to study safely. Today there is steady flow of people wishing to study abroad, while in 2022, I am sure, the number of students of all ages – from children to adults – who want to take advance training courses, will increase rapidly. I advise students to apply this year for the fall intake, and those who were late – for the winter intake from January-February 2022.

Illustrations: Aziza Kireyeva
This project is supported by a grant provided by the U.S. Embassy in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan.

Данный проект реализуется с помощью гранта от Посольства США в Нур-Султане, Казахстан. Мнения, выраженные в материалах, принадлежат их авторам и не обязательно отражают точку зрения Правительства США или Дипломатической Миссии США в Казахстане.


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