Across emerging and industrialized nations, the pandemic that has shuttered economies around the world have also devastated education systems. Some 1.5 billion students — nearly 90 percent of all primary, secondary, and tertiary learners worldwide — is no longer able to go to school physically. The effect has been dramatic and disruptive as educators scramble to put in place workable, short-term solutions for remote teaching and learning, particularly in emerging markets where students and schools face additional funding and infrastructure-related challenges.
While each level of education faces its unique challenges, it is the higher education segment which may eventually trigger a learning revolution by necessity. Universities are distinguishing in that their students are both mature enough to manage online job rigors and technically savvy enough to access new platforms. The real problem lies with the organizations they have registered to. Will conventional universities focused on a campus adapt by selecting the best technologies and strategies to educate and engage their students? The unfolding successes and defeats will give us all a clearer understanding of what’s possible.
Video-conferencing tools such as Zoom and Webinars are throwing a lifeline on universities right now. However, lecturers are still struggling to maintain the same depth of engagement with the students in a classroom setting that they could have. We need to find solutions — and quickly — to prevent a dip in the standard of the education we offer. Online educational platforms like Coursera, an IFC client with a global reach, can play a valuable role by leveraging their online program design experience, software platform preference, and digital marketing to create the best content with or for traditional players.
Despite the online sector only comprising a tiny fraction of the global higher education market of $2.2 trillion — less than 2%, according to market research company HolonIQ — the industry is ripe for disruption. Since COVID-19, students’ demand for online services would undoubtedly increase. Just before the pandemic, decreases in enrolment for campus-based programs and related rises in the use of their online courses were seen by many universities. For COVID-19 we are seeing how disruptors of yesterday will become the lifeguards of today. Although traditional institutions once considered online education as a threat, they have come to rescue them.
Recent months have seen the adoption of online solutions unprecedented. Educators are introducing a ‘first aid’ approach in the short term by transitioning completely from in-person to remote teaching, a change that was forced upon them by abrupt compulsory closures of campuses. Yet they soon understand that remote learning in the long road is just a baby step experiment to providing online education that has been developed as such, including successful student engagement strategies and teacher preparation. Some of the collaborations that have sparked off between universities, online educational firms, and technology providers can continue beyond the pandemic.
This will fashion a long overdue and welcome reconstruction of our educational systems as difficult and frustrating a period as it is. In a way, the pandemic has been a great leveler, offering a clearer understanding of the shortcomings and limitations in our existing education systems to all stakeholders (educators, learners, policy-makers and society at large) in developed and developing countries. It has underscored how indispensable it is for our populations to be digitally literate to function and progress in a world in which social distancing, greater digitalization of services and more digitally-centered communications may increasingly become the norm. More importantly, COVID-19 causes us to question deep-rooted conceptions of when, where, and how we deliver education, the position of universities and colleges, the importance of lifelong learning, and the distinction we draw between conventional and non-traditional learners.
This pandemic has also made people realize how dependent on so-called low-skilled workers we are to maintain our lives. It’s these staff who are on the front lines through shutdowns, lockdowns, curfews, working several shifts to ensure production, and provide for our basic needs. Automation will start eating into these workers’ overtime. Although services will always be provided by low-skilled workers, higher skill levels will be required for most new jobs. In this rapidly changing world being able to reskill and upskill is not only a necessity but an economic imperative.
COVID-19 has struck our education system and shaken it to its core like a lightning bolt. Just as the First Industrial Revolution forged the education system of today, we can expect to emerge from COVID-19 with a new kind of educational model.