COVID-19 has thrown education systems worldwide into an unprecedented crisis, as most governments around the world have closed educational institutions to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
According to UNESCO, over 160 countries have implemented nationwide closures, impacting over 87% of world’s student population, and several others have implemented localized closures impacting millions of additional learners. Schools, colleges, and universities have no choice but to shut down or find an alternative to continue teaching and learning. While almost all schools and institutions in urban areas immediately switched to remote online teaching and learning, most in the rural areas continue to remain completely shut even today, deprived of even online learning due to lack of adequate facilities.
Coronavirus has disproportionately impacted school education, educators, and students globally. It has put restrictions on the traditionally practiced classroom-based teaching and learning in schools, compelling these institutes to shift to digital learning platforms for both teaching and student assessments. However, there are many structural and institutional issues which hamper even these virtual digital learning platforms. Furthermore, the use of technology in online learning has laid bare another category of divide, namely digital divide, between school students across the world. According to a Financial Express report, of the 1.5 billion students impacted globally, 830 million do not have requisites for online schooling, and India alone has about 400 million children in the above categories. This has created a huge learning gap among students.
Lockdowns to contain the spread of the pandemic have posed several challenges for school education globally. However, while lamentable, the disruption to education systems worldwide has offered valuable lessons and provided a unique opportunity to reimagine education, how we educate, and question what we need to teach and what we are preparing our students for. It is well documented that traditional education system does not work anymore on various counts, and educators around the world have been talking for quite a while now about the need to rethink how we educate future generations. This crisis further highlighted several loopholes in school education systems, ranging from outdated curriculum and pedagogy, to unpreparedness of schools and teachers for any eventuality, weak educational infrastructure, to inequality in accessing the technology, etc.
As we reflect on the impact this Covid-19 crisis has created on education systems, and also the vulnerabilities and shortcomings it has highlighted during the lockdowns, it teaches us many lessons about how education needs to change to be able to better prepare our systems and learners for what the future might hold. In this article, we bring you some valuable lessons that schools can or have learned from this global pandemic, as shared by several experts and world organizations. These lessons include:
Building a more resilient education system
School education is undergoing unprecedented difficulties and challenges during the pandemic. This has highlighted how vulnerable and unprepared our system is, including physical infrastructure and teachers’ preparedness to meet any unforeseen event. The crisis has made people and schools realize the need to build a more resilient education system to ensure continuity of teaching and learning under any circumstances. To achieve this transformation, we should exert effort to capitalize on IT, provide vocational training for teachers and enhance their capacities, engage in a comprehensive digital transformation, and review old educational philosophies, as well as the goals and outputs of the educational system, in line with recent developments and the requirements of the labor market, as pointed out by UNESCO Beirut Director Dr. Hamed AI Hammami in his opening remark at regional dialogue on the Future of Education after Covid-19.
Developing a robust education continuity plan at school level
The disruptive crisis such as this Covid-19 can collapse the entire education ecosystem, as we have seen in this pandemic. The world has seen many sorrowful consequences of poorly managed risks, but we still fail to prepare our system to meet any eventuality. This pandemic has taught our schools that transformational changes are imperatives for the present education ecosystem to overcome the unpredictability and uncertainty of the future.
To save the future of our children and nation, Ashok Pandey (Chairperson, Council for Global Citizenship Education and Director of Ahlcon Schools) and Amit Kumar (Founder-Director at Shabda – Risk Assessment & Consultancy Services) said countries should empower schools to proactively develop an Education Continuity Plan (ECP) and the Proactive Risk Mitigation Model (PRMM) that follows a three-step approach – Survival, Reconstruction, and Leading-by-Example. According to them, a robust education continuity plan at the school level, coupled with lifelong learning opportunities, proactive risk prevention plan and a framework of blended learning aimed at the entire student population will shield the education ecosystem from a possible collapse.
Redefining the role of the educator
Not just after the break out of this Covid-19, the need to redefine the role of the educators has been felt for quite some times now. This is because of the fact that 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 students being able to gain knowledge, and even learn a technical skill, through a few clicks on their phones, tablets, and computers, it has become necessary to redefine the role of the educator in the classroom. This necessity has been further accelerated during this pandemic, as both students and educators found it necessary to adapt to online classes quickly, which highlighted another big shortcomings – teachers’ unpreparedness for remote learning. With the pandemic, schools realized the need to scale up training for teachers and enhance their capacities.
Online learning to become an integral part of school education
Covid-19-induced lockdown has led most countries to think about alternative ways of providing education to ensure that learning never stops. Keeping education continuity in mind, most countries rushed to online distance education using the suite of available technological tools and various online learning platforms, which set off an unplanned and rapid shift in the education sector, highlighted existing and new disparities, and gave rise to several challenges. While most stakeholders have faced various challenges in the initial days, online distance education has become the new normal now and here to stay. Schools have realized that the way forward is to further harness available technologies and the internet in education and that online learning will become an integral component of school education.
Teaching life skills needed for the future
Teaching life skills is always important. But this pandemic has given more reasons for schools to reimagine education and realize the importance of teaching life skills to students needed for their future. Highlighting ways Covid-19 could change how we educate future generations, Poornima Luthra (Founder and Chief Consultant, TalentED Consultancy ApS, and External Faculty at Copenhagen Business School) and Sandy Mackenzie (Director, Copenhagen International School) wrote “resilience and adaptability – skills that are proving to be essential to navigate through this pandemic – will be crucial for the next generations entering work.” According to them, looking into the future, some of the most important skills that employers will be looking for will be creativity, communication, collaboration, empathy and emotional intelligence.
According to a Dell Technologies report, 85% of the jobs in 2030 that Generation Z and Alpha will enter into have not been invented yet. And, according to a World Economic Forum report, 65% of primary school children today will be working in job types that do not exist yet.
Inclusion of families in the educational process
Another important lesson learned from this pandemic is the importance of communicating with the families and the need to include them in the educational process. It is because of the fact that they are now more involved in their children’s education, they have a lot to contribute. So it is essential to let the families express their opinions and feel heard.
Katy Farber, an educator with more than 20 years of experience, has emphasized that families should be included in the educational process. She said that families and teachers are teaming up to create supportive plans for students during this pandemic and that there is more input from families and caregivers than ever, because they are more actively involved in learning than ever.
The importance of mental health
Another very important lesson that this pandemic has taught us is the importance of focusing on mental health. With everyone going through a turbulent and traumatic time collectively, people open up more with each other to talk about isolation, emotions, and how each person copes with the situation differently. This has made us realize that we are all connected and that collective actions are vital and have a significant influence on the health and well-being of the entire community.
According to Farber, our society has resisted openness for decades. She said that this openness that this pandemic has provoked should continue no matter what schools look like in the future. She emphasized that in every staff meeting and introduction of every new educational model or policy, we need to incorporate the mental health of teachers and students and design environments and experiences that support their well-being.
Remembering the unprecedented difficulties and challenges they have faced and continue to face during this pandemic, educational fraternity must take advantage of this crisis and turn it into an opportunity by building a more resilient education system.