Education paradigms are evolving in the digital age. Even with its current scale of use, technology is still vastly under-utilised; it presents unprecedented transformative potential for how we work, and connect as we step into the future.
If harnessed properly, technology can be the transformative force that defines the future of the education sector. Such a transformation can help us address concerns related to educational reach, access, availability, quality, control, cost and other key aspects.
In the wake of the pandemic, universities and colleges (higher education institutions - HEIs) moved to online education. This sudden and unplanned shift left educational institutions with no time to set things in order. They couldn’t provide the necessary training for students and teachers to familiarise them with online pedagogy and technology. Institutions with ICT/IT & technical training departments were able to make a swifter shift, but those who didn’t have struggled.
Per UNESCO, schools and HEIs were closed in 185 countries on 1 April 2020. The immediate shut down of education institutes affected 1,542,412,000 (~1.54b) learners, constituting 89.4% of enrolled learners. At the beginning of May, some countries experienced decreasing cases and mortalities, leading to the lifting of restrictions. However, on 7 May, schools and higher education institutions were still closed in 177 countries that affected 1,268,164,088 (~1.27b) learners, constituting 72.4% of total enrolled learners. As for India, over 320 million students in Indian schools and colleges got impacted.
A survey was conducted by the international association of universities on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education worldwide. This global survey received inputs from universities across Asia & Pacific, Africa, America, and Europe. The findings are as follows:
- Almost 91% HigherEd institutes have the infrastructure in place to communicate about COVID-19 with their students and staff. Despite this, respondents reported that they faced an immediate challenge in ensuring clear and effective communication streams with staff and students.
- At almost all HigherEd Institutes, the pandemic affected teaching and learning. Almost two-thirds of the institutes reported that classroom teaching had been replaced by distance teaching and learning. This shift came with many challenges, primarily the unavailability of required technical infrastructure, inefficient competencies and unfamiliarity with pedagogies for distance learning, and specific fields of study requirements.
- The report highlights the impact on international student mobility at 89% of HigherEd Institutes. The type of impact is diverse and varies from institution to institution, but it has been negative everywhere.
Moving out of the comfort zone and embracing change was the only solution. EdTechs came to the rescue and made sure that education didn't stop with closed colleges and universities. However, scalability, security, unpreparedness, unavailability of required resources, training, unfamiliarity, and many other concerns came to the surface as key challenges. In a way, the pandemic was a wake-up call and illustrated our current education delivery system's loopholes, even at institutes that considered themselves “future-ready” or “tech-savvy”.
Internet based learning solutions played a key role in keeping education going uninterrupted. In the last one year, many web tools and platforms have come up, catering to the evolving learning and teaching needs. However, with colleges shut down for over a year, we require modern products that are all scalable, cost effective, yet compatible with each other.