Coronavirus or COVID-19 has affected over 203 countries and territories around the world. In just a few months, we have seen how a pandemic can bring massive changes to the way we live. It has impacted different sectors including business, tourism, agriculture, and education.
To control the spread of the pandemic, governments around the world have temporarily suspended educational institutions. As of March 31, 2020, UNESCO reports that around 1.5 billion learners were affected by over 185 country-wide school closures. These numbers include learners at the pre-primary, primary, lower-secondary, upper-secondary, and tertiary levels of education.
As the whole world faces the wrath of Coronavirus or COVID-19, schools and educators only have one thing in mind: providing quality education at a distance.
Although digital certifications and online masteral degrees are not entirely new concepts, more schools are compelled to take advantage of technological methods in light of the pandemic. Teachers are testing new and more flexible approaches designed to make education more accessible in all parts of the world. These include using webinars, podcasts, video tutorials, and e-books to introduce new concepts and facilitate lectures. Applications and software that utilize artificial intelligence are also used to personalize the learning experience and address individual needs and schedules.
Several countries have relied on distance learning to make up for lost time and ensure learning outcomes are not compromised. Germany, Italy, China, Saudi Arabia, and France have transitioned into fully online classes while Vietnam and Mongolia are using mobile phones and television to provide educational resources. While there is no necessity yet for their schools to close, Singapore’s Ministry of Education has implemented a one-day home-based setup every week starting April.
Governments should also look into partnering with private telecom and media firms to produce better resources. In Bulgaria, for example, publishers are prompted to make e-books and other digital learning materials available to students of grades 1 to 10. Two national TV channels will also start showing educational programs.
Mastery of online tools and processes are key factors in distance learning. No matter how advanced your resources may be, they would not be 100% effective if teachers, students, and administrators do not know how to utilize them. Transparency and creativity of educational institutions will now be tested more than ever.
Apart from the actual learning process, schools should also expect a shift in recruitment and admission practices. In fact, entrance examinations have already been delayed in Asia, affecting freshmen’s 2020 autumn intake.
Chinese students planning to study abroad have to miss key entrance tests including the standardized Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, which was initially scheduled last March 14. This test determines their eligibility for colleges in the United States. China has also canceled several graduate school entry exams including GRE and GMAT, and English proficiency tests including IELTS and TOEFL, causing massive delays in the academic calendar.
For admission deans and recruiters, this means embracing online ways to reach potential students and introducing more flexible application processes. Various activities including college fairs, accepted student receptions, and welcome orientations may no longer be necessary.
On the brighter side, online learning may invalidate acceptance quotas and give more students better educational opportunities.
The digital divide
In online learning, output is dependent on the quality of digital access. This poses a huge problem for students and teachers with limited access to computers or technological devices. While most countries have embraced technological solutions, there are still plenty of underprivileged areas in less developed countries with little or no electricity and internet connectivity.
Thankfully, many governments have provided solutions to address these issues. In France, learners can borrow devices and have printed materials delivered to them. Students from low-income families in China, on the other hand, are provided with mobile data packages and telecommunication subsidies. The Portuguese government is also reported to have partnered with post offices to deliver working sheets so students at home.
Online classes require digital devices and heavy data plans that not everyone can afford. Without equal digital access, low-income students are at risk of underperforming. Online learning should make education more accessible, not cause wider socio-economic and educational divides.
Given these inevitable gaps, schools and governments must consider socio-economic truths to implement more inclusive educational schemes. There should be no room for economic discrimination in the digital classroom. Proper financial support must be offered accordingly. Similarly, digital tools must be available at cost-efficient rates.
COVID-19 has challenged the educational sector to be more innovative and results-driven. Educators will have to reassess what they need to teach and how to best impart them to students. Online learning will encourage students to learn the value of self-discipline and responsibility. Distance will also prompt them to be more collaborative and open to new ideas.
Now is a good time to reflect on how learning will evolve over the years and how we, as students, teachers, and administrators, can create quality education for all.