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COVID-19 and Dental Education – The new normal and the path forward

COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation which has affected almost all the dimensions of life. Like many domains of daily routine, education is an important aspect too. Dental institutes all around the world are suffering from the consequences of the pandemic.

By Dr Sumaiya Hasan

While this continues, there are positive outcomes of this situation also. The intelligence of humankind has uncovered solutions to close the loopholes in the education system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Challenges and Solutions in Teaching and Learning

 While continuity of dental education is essential, it is also necessary to effectively follow the guidelines of ‘social distancing’ to protect students, faculty, staff and patients. Apart from implementing strict cross infection control protocols in clinics and OPDs, this is how the dental community is coping up with the situation.

1. Closure of colleges and universities has resulted in conduction of online classes through software such as Zoom, WebEx etc. Although such applications are a useful mode of communication, some students may face a lack of technology such as an appropriate internet connection. On the other hand, some faculty members may find it challenging to communicate their point when it comes to the whiteboard.

2. While dental institutes in some countries have shut down completely, others are following social distancing in their pre-clinical laboratories. The reason can be the aspect which cannot be covered through online sessions since simulation with mannequins is very difficult to teach online considering the time, workforce, and technology needed for instruction. Even if available at institutes for the instructor, the students may lack the appropriate technology at home.

3. Dental exams so far, have either been delayed or cancelled. Some institutes are conducting assessments with strict social distancing rules. However, soon, it may be crucial to design an evaluation for the ‘graduating dental students’. Similar disruption has occurred in schedules of residency programs too. Residency programs may have to assess the residents based on clinical care accomplished until the start of the pandemic and certify the ‘graduating residents’. One way out is to have peer reviews of their clinical work along with a panel of supervising faculty.

4. Since the initiation of ‘lockdown’ due to the pandemic, several dental organisations and associations have conducted free dental webinars. Extra points can be allotted to dental students for participating in online seminars, journal clubs and case-based discussions. Such should be included in the regular dental curriculum. Some international dental schools have even offered a diploma certificate to the regular participants of their webinars (after the particular organisation of a specific curriculum and assessment of the participants’ knowledge).

Conclusion

Apart from coping up with the current situation, dental schools should focus on re-evaluating their protocols and include a strategy in case of future pandemics. Evaluating competency-based education, the inclusion of distance learning in the dental curriculum, investment in technology to improve clinical skills and in faculty training for teaching through technology are the need of time.

-The author is a contributing writer for Dental News Pakistan and can be reached at sumaiya.hasan3@gmail.com.

June 6, 2020

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