Ways the coronavirus pandemic could reshape education

  • The coronavirus pandemic has changed how millions around the globe are educated.
  • New solutions for education could bring much needed innovation.
  • Given the digital divide, new shifts in education approaches could widen equality gaps.

In a matter of weeks, coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed how students are educated around the world. Those changes give us a glimpse at how education could change for the better – and the worse – in the long term.

With the coronavirus spreading rapidly across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, countries have taken swift and decisive actions to mitigate the development of a full-blown pandemic. In the past two weeks, there have been multiple announcements suspending attendance at schools and universities. As of March 13, the OECD estimated that over 421 million children are affected due to school closures announced or implemented in 39 countries. In addition, another 22 countries have announced partial “localized” closures.

These risk-control decisions have led millions of students into temporary ‘home-schooling’ situations, especially in some of the most heavily impacted countries, like China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran These changes have certainly caused a degree of inconvenience, but they have also prompted new examples of educational innovation. Although it is too early to judge how reactions to COVID-19 will affect education systems around the world, there are signs suggesting that it could have a lasting impact on the trajectory of learning innovation and digitization. Below, we follow three trends that could hint at future transformations:

Education – nudged and pushed to change – could lead to surprising innovations

The slow pace of change in academic institutions globally is lamentable, with centuries-old, lecture-based approaches to teaching, entrenched institutional biases, and outmoded classrooms. However, COVID-19 has become a catalyst for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time.

To help slow the virus’ spread, students in Hong Kong started to learning at home, in February, via interactive apps. In China, 120 million Chinese got access to learning material through live television broadcasts.

Other simpler – yet no less creative – solutions were implemented around the globe. In one Nigerian school, standard asynchronous online learning tools (such as reading material via Google Classroom), were augmented with synchronous face-to-face video instruction, to help preempt school closures.

Similarly, students at one school in Lebanon began leveraging online learning, even for subjects such as physical education. Students shot and sent over their own videos of athletic training and sports to their teachers as “homework,” pushing students to learn new digital skills. One student’s parent remarked, “while the sports exercise took a few minutes, my son spent three hours shooting, editing and sending the video in the right format to his teacher.”

 

The digital divide could widen

Most schools in affected areas are finding stop-gap solutions to continue teaching, but the quality of learning is heavily dependent on the level and quality of digital access. After all, only around 60% of the globe’s population is online. While virtual classes on personal tablets may be the norm in Hong Kong, for example, many students in less developed economies rely on lessons and assignments sent via WhatsApp or email.

Moreover, the less affluent and digitally savvy individual families are, the further their students are left behind. When classes transition online, these children lose out because of the cost of digital devices and data plans.

Unless access costs decrease and quality of access increase in all countries, the gap in education quality, and thus socioeconomic equality will be further exacerbated. The digital divide could become more extreme if educational access is dictated by access to the latest technologies.


Also published on Medium.

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