The coronavirus outbreak forced governments worldwide to shut down schools. In April UNESCO reported that schools and higher education institutions (HEIs) were closed in 185 countries. This affected 1.54 billion students and scholars. 89.4% of the world’s enrolled learners no longer had access to conventional education. There is hope that schools will reopen sometime in the coming months. However, the after-effects of the pandemic have changed pedagogical practices forever. Education may never be the same again.
Explanation is in details in the article
Education systems were grappling with many issues even before the pandemic, particularly in developing countries. These issues include access to education, cost, teacher proficiency, availability of teaching/learning materials, poor learning outcomes, and high dropout rates. Social distancing has now been added to the list of concerns. In the present situation parents are increasingly opting to home-school children. As a concept home-schooling has been around for centuries. Nowadays it is more popular in upscale urban areas. Home-schooling allows families to take a more individual approach to learning. Research in the US has shown that home-schooled children frequently outperform their peers academically. This is owed partly to the fact that learners are unencumbered by syllabi. They draw upon the vast resources of libraries and the internet. Home-schooled learners also have more freedom in terms of spending their time on various aspects of personal development.
Educators and governments in all countries are on the lookout for suitable alternatives for traditional schooling. Digital learning is foremost among these. Combining institutional schooling models with digital classrooms offer several advantages. There is a potentially unlimited availability of learning resources. Learning can be supplemented by the most up-to-date information on any subject. Students can spend their time on topics that they need to review most. Teachers can still mark the students’ attendance, give assignments, evaluate students’ work, and award grades individually.
Technology companies are designing new solutions specifically for education. Google and IBM offer online courses to learners worldwide. Some course content is available on mobile apps. Content can also be downloaded for offline study during poor connectivity such as while commuting or traveling. AI-based programs have been proven to improve learning outcomes, such as helping students write better. These solutions can be designed for learners of all grades and ages. Software and AI-based learning systems have been around for years. The recent crisis in education has simply made them much more relevant. Like any major change the shift from classrooms to digital distance learning comes with challenges. Infrastructure, competence, content, and connectivity are some of these.
COVID-19 has had a profound negative effect on enrolments, particularly in HEIs. One reason for this is the financial outcome of the pandemic. Prior to the crisis hundreds of thousands of students from developing countries traveled to universities in the US, UK, AU, CA, and elsewhere for higher education each year. Many of these campuses are now closed. Moreover there are travel restrictions and tighter border controls. Families also have lower disposable incomes on average. The solution to these issues may well be distance learning. It eliminates the cost of living in a foreign country. This makes it a more viable option for aspirants of foreign diplomas. Students can pay their fees conveniently via international money transfers, and have access to quality education despite travel limitations. According to the International Association of Universities (IAU), 85% of European universities and 72% of American universities offer distance learning courses.
Schools reopen, but not everywhere
The idea of reopening schools after the lockdown has received mixed responses. The president of Brazil rejected the call to reopen schools. Similarly in the Philippines schools will not reopen till a successful vaccine is discovered and distributed. On the other hand students in Denmark and Norway resumed going to schools in April. Britain reopened some schools in early June. However students in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland must wait until August. UNESCO reported that the reopening of schools in China to final year students has been progressive.
Despite these wins the COVID-19 threat is far from over. With fears of more waves of infection and lockdowns parents continue to search for alternatives that can assure uninterrupted education for their children.