The future of education

Let’s start with the obvious: the pandemic changed just about everything in education. Worldwide some 1.6 billion students have had their education disrupted by the pandemic (UN, 2020), provoking a dramatic uptake in e-learning and home-schooling methods.

As students, teachers and parents have been adapting to this new landscape they’ve been demanding more specialized remote education support, fresh teaching practices and new educational norms that prioritize safer classrooms and improved learning systems.

However, the Covid-19 disruption has provided an opportunity to adjust schooling priorities to better reflect parents’ and children’s values as well. From educating about climate change to teaching how to spot misinformation, fresh teaching outlooks and new learning platforms are helping young people navigate the post-pandemic world.

The new rise of home-based learning & e-learning

The pandemic has advanced ‘edtech’ adoption to support both home-schooling and remote teaching. US gamified quizzing platform Kahoot! scored $215m in investment last October, while China’s leading online tutoring services Koolearn, GSX and Youdao saw a combined enrollment increase of 10 million in March 2020 alone (FT, 2020). A recent poll from POLITICO and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 29 percent of parents want their child to be in remote or hybrid learning for the next school year, while a RAND Corporation survey of school districts found that by last fall, one in five were already planning or contemplating a post-pandemic virtual schooling option.

Experts believe that post-Covid most students will be back in a classroom. But for a subset that faces challenges ranging from social anxiety to the disproportionate rates of school discipline for Black students, remote learning may be a good option for the long haul.

Continuing with remote learning also comes with engagement challenges

Despite Gen Z’s digital-native identity, only 69% of Australian teachers thought students were highly engaged in remote learning last year, compared to 90% when in the classroom (McCrindle, 2020). Meanwhile, 64% of US students worried about motivation and maintaining focus when working remotely (Barnes & Noble Education, 2020).

In an attempt to smooth over this transition, some brands have stepped up to try and incorporate hands-on learning with digital tools. In December, London-based MEL Science secured $14m in funding to expand its STEM-focused subscription boxes that deliver hands-on science experiments complemented by live video lessons.

A widening digital divide

Around two-thirds of the world’s school-age children have no internet access at home (Unicef, 2020), making remote learning programs inaccessible to 31% of schoolchildren globally (Unicef, 2020).

Tech access gaps have only grown more apparent during the pandemic. 95% of students in Norway, Switzerland and Poland have access to a computer, compared to just 34% in Indonesia (OECD, 2020). In the UK, up to 1.8 million children didn’t have access to a laptop, desktop computer or tablet at the start of the pandemic (Children’s Commissioner, 2020).

In the US, there is a significant gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds; virtually all 15 year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work on while nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not. While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widen the digital divide.

What does this mean going forward?

While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning — with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation — will result in a poor student experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge with significant benefits. “I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education,“ says Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education.

The general consensus on children, especially younger ones, is that a structured environment is required because kids are more easily distracted. To get the full benefit of online learning there needs to be a concerted effort to provide this structure, and to go beyond replicating a physical class/lecture through video capabilities. Instead, students would benefit from using a range of collaboration tools and engagement methods that promote “inclusion, personalization and intelligence”, according to Dowson Tong, Senior Executive Vice President of Tencent and President of its Cloud and Smart Industries Group.

Since studies have shown that children extensively use their senses to learn, making learning fun and effective through use of technology is crucial, according to BYJU’s Mrinal Mohit. “Over a period, we have observed that clever integration of games has demonstrated higher engagement and increased motivation towards learning especially among younger students, making them truly fall in love with learning”, he says.

Could the move to online learning be the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of educating students? While some worry that the hasty nature of the transition online may have hindered this goal, others plan to make e-learning part of their ‘new normal’ after experiencing the benefits first-hand.

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