This crisis also offers different opportunities: let’s use the momentum to improve digital infrastructures in education and develop digital learning

This story is part of the United Nations in BiH series of personal accounts highlighting extraordinary work during COVID-19 response and recovery; marking UN75.

My name is Sead Turčalo and I am the Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Sarajevo, as well as an associate professor at the Department of Security and Peace Studies.

The Faculty of Political Sciences, thanks to some of the decisions we made back in October 2019, was partially ready for working in these extraordinary circumstances. At the beginning of the academic year, we decided to introduce two weeks of online classes for students. Since it was a test phase, it implied that teachers only upload weekly materials and assignments online without holding online classes which allowed the teachers and students who have not previously used the online platform, to become more familiar with it.

Thus, we have not been completely caught off guard by the COVID-19 crisis. Right at the beginning of the crisis we became aware how relying on a platform that does not have an integrated video functionality might deprive students of their right to attend their classes in as normal conditions as possible, even under these extraordinary conditions.

We have responded quite fast given the circumstances and needs for implementation of the required legal procedures. We developed our own online platform that provided a whole range of communication avenues with students, including video lectures. The platform has been developed virtually without a testing phase, so there have been certain shortcomings during the midterm exams. These shortcomings, thanks to the suggestions and comments from students and teachers, were addressed before the final exams. One group of students did a SWOT analysis of the entire online teaching process at the Faculty of Political Sciences that turned out helpful as we worked on some improvements.

Personally, the biggest challenge was the organization of online exams, considering that the online platform, due to the extraordinary circumstances in which it was developed and established, never went through the test phase. Furthermore, most of the teachers never had any experience in preparing online exams, nor did students have equal access to internet and other technical equipment. Moreover, there was also the challenge of how to prevent any kind of unethical behaviour during exams and how to ensure that the exam results realistically reflect students’ knowledge.

What became apparent, and where we have a consensus among students and teachers is that online lectures can hardly be an adequate substitute for in-class lectures. There isn’t that kind of quality interaction as during lectures in classrooms. Also, it is evident that in the future, we need to work more on the development of online teaching methods and digital didactics.

It also became apparent that there is a lack of well-developed digital infrastructure in the entire education system and that we also have a serious digital divide within Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was reflected in the lack of equal access to Internet and necessary technology throughout the country, which affected the possibility for participants to receive as close as adequate substitute for their in-class lectures.

As much as it sounds like a platitude, this crisis also offers different opportunities. One is undoubtedly to use the momentum to improve digital infrastructure in education, as well as to develop digital content for formal and informal learning and training.

There is also a recognized  lack of synergy between science and other sectors that could,  if addressed even partially, contribute to post-crisis recovery.

UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization