Coronavirus: Tipping Point For Education?

The concept of closing a country’s educational institutions especially schools for a prolonged and undefined time is unimaginable.

About 1.53 billion learners globally are presently affected because of the Coronavirus, which is a startling ~88 per cent of total enrolled learners. This pretty much cuts down the gains countries had made towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 – the internationally agreed goal on providing a quality, inclusive and equitable education to all.   

Closure of schools and universities can have adverse social and economic effects on nations, governments, educators and the most important stakeholders in the education system – the learners. From interrupted learning to social isolation and increasing dropout rates – the effects of closing educational institutions, particularly on learners is extremely high.  

The concept of closing a country’s educational institutions especially schools for a prolonged and undefined time is unimaginable. However, do we really need to stop the process of learning even if our traditional learning environments i.e. schools are shut down? The answer is a resounding No. 

We have the capabilities to take learning from the physical to a virtual space. The digital space offers a solution and the good news is that we already have ample experience on how to do this; if not perfectly, at least we have enough experience to start the transition.  

The University of Edinburgh defines Digital Education as the “innovative use of digital tools and technologies for teaching and learning”, also referred to as e-learning. Physical classrooms are translated into digital learning environments and a host of digital tools are employed to effectively ‘teach’ what is taught in regular classrooms.  

The advantages are many.  

First, the cost of the infrastructure of setting up classrooms and educational institutions is avoided while the provision of internet offers multiple opportunities to many other industries.  

Second, digital learning provides for fun, immersive and interactive modes of learning – using tools such as storytelling, games and gamification, discussions and dialogue, audio, video, amongst a multitude of other features.  

Third, technology provides the advantage of scale – reaching far and wide – across communities, nations and the world, allowing learners to ‘learn’ from remote locations and in the comfort of their homes.  

Fourth, it also provides scope for individualised learning, using artificial intelligence to design a personal learning journey for the learner. 

And lastly, as we may have experienced more recently, digital education has the power for us to ensure continuity and transform education in times of crisis, without the need to physically engage with one another.  

Despite the closure of educational institutions globally, various schools and universities have stepped up in times of the prevailing crises to take to digital forms of education and ensure continuity of learning experiences. Schools are using tools such as Google Hangouts, Blackboard and Skype among a host of other digital products to encourage peer and teacher collaboration.  

Unfortunately, the onset of the pandemic has also revealed that a vast majority of schools and universities globally are immensely under-prepared and not able to provide the quality online learning systems that they need. In many ways, the inequality divides among the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' will widen with this pandemic in the field of education.  

While the advantages of technology are many, there are numerous concerns that need to be addressed before we consider adopting digital education in full force.  

First, the quality of learning platforms and content must be assured.  

Second, internet bandwidth and reliability must be provided.  

Third, access to devices, learning platforms and systems must be provided across all learners.  

Fourth, data sharing and privacy, as well as ownership of data, need to be addressed at a global level. 

The concerns are prevalent, however, the benefits of technology and digital education far outweigh the challenges. In an increasingly uncertain environment, we must use the advantages of technology and digital education to create new learning environments for the future, providing learners with continuous access to immersive, engaging and interactive modes of digital content, not just in times of crises but as the new grounded reality of education.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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