This week, students and teachers around the world celebrated the International Day of Education. In light of this year’s theme, “Changing course, Transforming Education,” students at the Aga Khan Academies shared their experiences on the significant shifts in almost every aspect of their learning.

Over the past two years, educational institutions worldwide have migrated to online environments with varying degrees of success. Educators and students have rapidly adapted to the changing circumstances and engaged in a process of digital transformation.

“While there are several setbacks of online education, flexibility is one of the prime benefits,” says Aksha Hemnani, from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad. “Due to online schooling, I had ample time to devote to my interests like playing musical instruments, and was also able to gain an internship at a hospital.”

Since classes were online, Aksha could continue her studies and manage her time as a physician's intern at the hospital - a busy job during an ongoing pandemic. “This wouldn't have been possible if the schools were not closed,” she continued.

The students coped with drastic changes in this stressful time and reached out to help those in need. “Before the pandemic, we used to visit orphanages as part of our enrichment activities. With the spread of the virus at its peak, we couldn't physically go to places, so instead, we conducted an art-based session for the Rainbow Girls Home, an orphanage, through a Zoom call,” said Aksha.

“We talked about mental health, meditation, and also guided them on how to keep going in a time of sheer anxiety and pain,” added Aksha.

When asked about her digital transformation experience, Simran Charaniya of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, said that “the transition from physical to online education was a challenge for the students and teachers.”

“Initially, we faced many connectivity issues, missing one-on-one interactions, and the fun we had in group activities. But the teachers did a great job in ensuring that the learning process was innovative.”

They accessed engaging platforms such as Kahoot quizzes and online learning games, while teachers ensured that group discussions were interactive.

“With different online clubs in place, despite being far away from each other, we were still able to engage and interact. I really enjoyed the yoga club,” said Simran.

Noah Wanjohi from the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa shared his experience in getting acquainted with remote education. “Initially we faced a lot of uncertainties in terms of what we would be learning, will the exams be conducted or not,” he said.

“There was a lack of motivation amidst all the confusion. But slowly and steadily, we all became habituated. With the Academies being closed down, I got to spend a lot of time with my family,” continued Noah. “Whenever I lost my focus on my studies, my mother used to sit beside me, help me regain my confidence, and push me always to do better.”

Students were also given periodic breaks from the screen in the form of offline days. They were assigned self-study tasks to complete at their own pace and get some respite from back-to-back online classes.

“In the beginning, it was very difficult to adjust ourselves to this form of schooling,” said Tanaz Abani from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad. “We missed the classrooms and teachers teaching on the blackboard. There is definitely a lot of difference in how the enrichment activities and cultural fests are conducted virtually now.”

Despite not being able to interact in person, students still made efforts to connect virtually via several clubs.

“The cooking club is my favourite,” said Tanaz. “Any student from Grade 6 - Grade 10 can be a part of this club. Students take turns every week and teach something new to everyone else. We all cook together and later send pictures of our dishes too.”

When asked about improvements that could be made, Tanaz said, “The best way to educate is to support each other. Most of the teachers have come a long way to adapt to new methods. The students can develop some innovative ideas and help their teachers be more technologically advanced, as learning goes both ways.”

As stated in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s vision for the Aga Khan Academies, “The best way to manage change, whether positive or negative, is to prepare for it and that there is no greater form of preparation for change than investments in education.”