With 2020 thankfully behind us, there's a lot of hope pinned on 2021 for the return of some normalcy. One of the major hallmarks of the year was the sudden thrust into online education.
Lockdowns forced students and schools to fast track their digitisation, but in truth, technology in schools moved from being a privileged choice to an essential part of education, and there won't be a return to the old in 2021.
Here are some of the educational trends you can expect in the new year ahead.
The rise of mobile learning
Access to the internet will be one of the major considerations in the move to online learning. However, it isn't easily accessible for many in South Africa.
According to Stats SA's 2018 General Household Survey, only 10.4% of total households had home internet, with more than 50% of households only accessing the internet through their cellphones.
Thus it's expected to see the development of mobile-friendly websites and apps fast-tracked for easy use by learners and teachers.
Going completely online however isn't always the answer. Aspects of traditional education remain important - like face-to-face interactions - which can be fortified by online learning instead of being replaced by it.
This is called blended learning and provides flexibility for students and teachers to thrive in their preferred learning avenues. Blended learning merges the old and new.
Travelling the world through virtual and augmented realities
In a lockdown, the US National Parks built a wonderfully immersive virtual experience of their natural wonders that anyone in the world could visit from the comfort of their couch.
Beyond the entertainment value, however, virtual and augmented realities like these can create a more impactful learning experience for students, bringing the world to their classroom.
The utility of artificial intelligence and machine learning in education
Big data and automation aren't just for social media platforms and big tech companies - it can also be used in online education.
AI technology can be tasked with teachers' admin duties and is already used by universities for plagiarism checks, but it can offer more than just automation.
In digital environments, this technology can help customise learning experiences and also help teachers identify where there might be learning obstacles and address them quickly.
A study from the US Centre for Digital Education found that higher education professors consider big data analysis in education great for monitoring and predicting a student's performance, improving the graduation rate, and even quickly adjusting school curricula when needed.
Rise of digital subjects to build 21st-century skills
School curricula will also be changing in other ways. In 2019, South Africa's education department announced that coding and robotics will become compulsory school subjects. Despite delays, it's expected to be introduced in 2021.
These additions aim to teach much-needed 21st-century skills and digital subjects will become more prevalent in coming years. It should lead to a rise in STEM degree registrations, although a major obstacle in South Africa would be teacher training and access.
With the right push from the government and other educational agencies, schools must stay on top of these trends so that they aren't left behind in the new normal.
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