INTERNATIONAL

Point Of View From Iran:
A Loss of a Hundred Million Academic Years Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Zahid Hussain Khan, MD, FCCM
Professor, Department of Anesthesiology & Critical Care
Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Farzaneh Keneshlou, MD
Neuroanesthesiology Fellow, Department of Anesthesiology & Critical Care
Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Zahid Hussain Khan, MD, FCCM
Farzaneh Keneshlou, MD

Besides inflicting a lethal blow to world economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc to all academic centers ranging from schools, colleges, universities, and research institutions. It is now a little more than a year that centers of learning have been closed to prevent the spread of infection and curtail the deaths of people.

Virtual learning has almost replaced the classical and didactic learning methods to combat the inevitable deficit of transferring knowledge at these academic centers. We would forego to write in detail about the pros and cons of virtual learning and traditional learning methods because of want of space. Still, we would, however, touch on the alarming issues related to the pandemic. There are problems at every level of education right from kindergarten which has and will be non-existent for a considerable amount of time, learning gap could widen, funding affected, and not to mention, the psychological problems for all parties involved.

It has been widely claimed that the pandemic will undeniably continue to disrupt medical education and training and, thus, inflict a great loss on the students studying at these centers of learning. In their cross-sectional survey conducted on medical students, Alsoufi et al. (1). could find that 54.8% of the respondents believed that e-learning could not be used for interactive discussion.

It is painful and agonizing to find the portals of all teaching centers, including colleges and universities closed. Although one academic year appears to have been wasted so far in reality, and cumulatively, there has been a tragic loss of a hundred million academic years because approximately a hundred million students or perhaps more have been affected worldwide. It looks that each student loses an academic year. Still, if we figure out that the entire strength of students affected is a hundred million, unfortunately, we have lost a hundred million academic years, which is an unprecedented loss.

At present, actual classes are non-existent. Instead, virtual classes are being conducted for students stationed in their hometowns near their schools or colleges or located thousands of miles away from their hometowns. Such classes lack that traditional eye contact and interaction, which has been the mode of learning for centuries.

The entire world faces a dark milestone as the tentacles of COVID-19 continue to spread with all the more vigor and staggering speed. Dost et al. (2) have suggested that medical school’s better resort to teaching formats such as team-based / problem-based learning. Of course, online teaching platforms allow students to digest information quickly, but they need to discuss the material with peers. Unfortunately, we have entered the second year of the pandemic with no sight of its waning, and for that matter, are in the process of losing another one hundred million academic years!

Although vaccination has been started in many countries, achieving herd immunity is a far-fetched, and perhaps, utopian dream. The emerging new variants have further complicated the crisis, and physicians and epidemiologists are at a crossroads about the eventual status of the pandemic. With little hope in sight, we are witnessing the decadence of teaching because we fear that virtual learning would not serve as a substitute for the classical learning methods in the long run. It appears as if our institutions of learning are sinking into an abyss. Some years from now, we would allude to the present COVID-19 pandemic with pain because it has shattered the very fabrics of our teaching institutions.

References

  1. Alsoufi A, Alsuychili A, Msherghi A, et al. Impact of COVID -19 pandemic on medical education: Medical students ' knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding electronic learning. PLoS One 2020; 15: e 0242905.
  2. Dost S, Hossain A, Shehab M, Abdelwahed A, Al-Nusair L. Perceptions of medical students towards online teaching during the COVID – 19 pandemics: a national cross-sectional survey of 2721 UK medical students. BMJ Open. 2020; 10: e 042378.

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