The COVID-19 pandemic has battered education systems around the world, affecting over 1.5 billion students – close to 90% of the world’s student population, according to UNICEF.
With most governments imposing a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the global pandemic, educational institutions across the world were forced to close down and students were forced to remain at home. The crisis continued even after months and there was no end in sight. But schools can’t be kept shut forever; education has to continue. This has led education stakeholders to think about alternative ways of providing education to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning. As a result, most countries rushed to online distance education using online platforms, e-learning, and ICTs, etc. which set off an unplanned and rapid shift in the education sector.
To support education community, and most importantly to ensure that learning never stops, education technology companies from across the world also come forward to offer their services, many for free during the lockdown period. With more and more schools and institutions taking their courses online and other education stakeholders start to use various online platforms, edtech sector has seen a massive growth both in terms of number of users and revenues over the last few months. The pandemic has been a watershed moment for edtech sector everywhere.
The concept of e-learning has been around for decades. Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global edtech investments reaching $18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 billion by 2025. However, the COVID-19 crisis has further accelerated this trend at a never before rate. Whether it is school curriculum, language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.
Edtech has always been a source of innovation, enhancing education, and during this pandemic it has put forth advancements that have not only transformed the classroom learning experience but have also changed the way lessons are conducted, maintained Girish Sharma, Founder, Edubull, a Delhi-based online education platform which makes education accessible to anyone, anytime and anywhere.
So how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the education, and what the future holds?
The COVID-19 pandemic has utterly disrupted an education system that many assert was already losing its relevance. While lamentable, for causing learning disruptions and prolonged school closures, the crisis has, in fact, provided a unique opportunity for the education stakeholders to reimagine education. And out of the crisis, we will see some inevitable changes in the ways we’ve been imparting education to children until now. So here, we take a look at how the pandemic has fundamentally changed the education and what changes we will see in the future, as observed by various industry leaders from across the globe.
Online learning to become an integral part of school education
With lockdown, schools, colleges, and universities were forced to bring their courses online, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. This move has changed the concept of education overnight, and digital learning has emerged as the new normal everywhere. While some wonder whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic, Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Tencent Education, says, as cited by the World Economic Forum, “the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education.”
According to a report, there have already been successful transitions amongst many universities, including Zhejiang University and Imperial College London among others.
Higher education may never be the same again. Anyone who thinks this is a temporary blip is wrong, reports The Telegraph quoting Simon Nelson, Chief Executive of FutureLearn, which teams up with universities and institutions to offer online courses. When students could watch online at double speed, and world leading academics are just a finger click away, “Why cram hundreds of people into a room to consume information with little interactivity?” asks Nelson. Dr. David LeFevre, Director of the Edtech Lab at Imperial College London, agrees teaching in universities is unlikely to return to pre-COVID ways as academics get to grips with new tools, including virtual reality.
Blended learning to become a reality
So how do you see the future of education, knowing the fact that the pandemic will end one day and that normal education will resume when it ends? While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning will result in poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits. Yes, what is most likely is, as we have seen first-hand during this pandemic and many experts opined the same, blended learning – a mix of digital and face-to-face teaching – could become a natural shift. However, many say that it must be more than just using Zoom or email, and that online learning resources need to be designed, not just transferred from traditional lessons.
Moreover, crisis such as this pandemic is bound to happen even in future, so the education system has to be prepared to meet any future eventuality. For this, Dan Morrow, Chief Executive of the Woodland Academy Trust, UK, suggests, “Leaders must build plans for different future scenarios and be ready to chop and change. We must turn the knee-jerk reaction of a set of different circumstances to a positive strategy.”
Role of educators will need to be redefined
The need to redefine the role of the educators has been felt for quite some times. This necessity has been further accelerated during this pandemic. Yes, the notion of an educator as the knowledge holder who imparts wisdom to their pupils is no longer relevant for the purpose of a 21st-century education. With information readily available and students being able to gain access to knowledge, even learn a technical skill, through a few clicks, we will need to redefine the role of the educator in the classroom and lecture theatre, write Poornima Luthra (Founder and Chief Consultant, TalentED Consultancy ApS, and External Faculty at Copenhagen Business School) and Sandy Mackenzie (Director, Copenhagen International School). This may mean that the role of educators will need to move towards facilitating learners’ development as contributing members of society.
Training of teachers to be qualitatively different
The sudden switch to online education during this pandemic has highlighted another big shortcoming in the current education system – teachers’ unpreparedness for remote learning. This crisis has awakened the educational community of the need to scale up training for teachers and enhance their capacities.
According to Aakash Chaudhry, Director and CEO, Aakash Educational Services Limited, all teachers will have to be trained for online teaching as well. He said that this will go a long way to ensure that they are comfortable with technology and will be able to seamlessly switch between online and offline modes of teaching the curriculum. Above all, he added, teachers will feel empowered to deliver a more impactful lecture than before.
Integration of technology to be further accelerated
The pandemic has resulted in educational institutions across the world being compelled to suddenly harness and utilize the suite of available technological tools to facilitate remote learning. Educators across the world are experiencing new possibilities to do things differently and with greater flexibility resulting in potential benefits in accessibility to education for students across the world. Having experienced this first-hand and recognized the benefits during the pandemic, institutions will need to further harness available technologies in education to reduce the time spent by teachers on tasks such as paper-setting, evaluating and grading, etc. This will help teachers focus more effectively on teaching and course improvement.
Advising on this, Girish Sharma, Founder, Edubull, said utilizing innovative technology shall play a huge role in enabling quality education, which shall be accessible to all. He suggested that schools should now start adopting VR and AR technology to evolve from the traditional model and build a robust online infrastructure. Maintaining that the pace at which people are gaining knowledge has been substantially growing, and so also the needs of students in today’s era, he further suggested that schools need to adapt accordingly and that they need to invest more in teaching and learning technology and incorporate it into their day-to-day working that engages and helps students to better solidify and retain knowledge.
Interactivity and engagement to be built into online learning programs
Physical classrooms offer a high degree of interactivity with the teacher and also among students. But as schools and universities become more flexible and accessible, and as online/blended learning, as predicted, will become an integral part of school education, educators will have to bring in a lot of innovations to bring in the element of interactivity and collaboration in their e-learning modules to keep students engaged.
The pandemic has indeed posed immense challenges not just for the educational institutions and teachers but also for students and parents globally. But do you think this might just be the disruption that the education sector needed to get us all to rethink how we educate, and question what we need to teach and what we are preparing our students for? As educators across the world grapple with the new ways of communicating with the students away from classrooms and lecture theatres, let us take time to reflect on how this disruption can help us define what learning should look like for future generations, take advantage of this crisis and turn it into an opportunity.