OPINION | Covid-19 and its impact on education transformation

Will the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged just get wider?
Will the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged just get wider?

As schools around the world make plans and put security measures in place to close due to fears of the spreading of the coronavirus, coupled with global headlines offering teachers and parents advice on remote learning, I can’t help to think about what the impact of this will be on education transformation.

According to UNESCO monitoring (Covid-19 Educational Disruption and Response) as at Friday, 13 March 2020, 39 countries have closed schools nationwide, impacting over 420 million children and youth.

A further 22 countries have implemented localised school closures and, should these closures become nationwide, hundreds of millions of additional learners will experience education disruption.

Our own president announced on 15 March 2020 that schools across the country will close as of Wednesday 18 March and may remain closed until after Easter.

I have a few observations and questions that require more than finite answers.

While it is definitely too soon to answer most of these questions, it will be interesting to see the outcome.

Will the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged just get wider?

The technology adoption rate in education has always been relatively slow, but schools and families are now being forced to relook at options for teaching and learning.

Will the current circumstances force a longer term transformational shift in the way we educate our youth, or is this a stop gap solution?

Another question that needs asking is the fact that there are critical elements that need to be in place for successful remote learning (such as good connectivity, home and school technology, content co-ordination and curation, progress monitoring, etc).

With this in mind, will the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged just get wider? Or will the adoption of technology eventually allow the disadvantaged access to quality equitable education?

According to UNESCO, “School closures - even when temporary - carry high social and economic costs.

The disruptions they cause touch people across communities, but their impact is particularly severe for disadvantaged boys and girls and their families.”

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Perhaps television, radio and mobile phone delivery of educational materials needs to be prioritised and implemented?

UNESCO offers advice for systems purpose-built for mobile phones as well as systems with strong offline functionality.

Lessons from the 2009 swine flu outbreak 

In September 2014, Michael Trucona (World Bank's Senior Education & Technology Policy Specialist and Global Lead for Innovation in Education) in his “Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics” wrote, “Might this be how the large scale adoption of educational technologies will eventually happen as well in much of the world?”

Even though this was back in 2014, it seems more plausible now.

Trucona further observed, “For some people in other parts of the world, it was the picture of two football teams playing in an empty Estadio Azteca (one of the world's largest stadiums) that made clear the severity of the swine flu outbreak that struck Mexico in 2009.

While the sporting passions of the 100,000 missing spectators could presumably be satisfied by watching the game on TV, it was less clear how to immediately satisfy the learning needs of over seven million students who were sent home after their schools were ordered closed.” Sound familiar?

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Trucona described that when the magnitude of the SARS epidemic became widely acknowledged, China Educational TV, through its 'Classroom on the Air' program, moved quickly to help fill some of the void.

While perhaps not transformational, initiatives like Classroom on the Air did provide a large-scale, short-term substitute for students looking to continue their education while confined to their home during the outbreak.

The power and peril of fake news

Another key area of learning for our youth from this pandemic, is the power and peril of fake news.

Now more than ever we need to be educating our students how to differentiate fact from opinion and how to identify false or biased information.

The essence of digital citizenship has never been more critical. 

There is an old familiar proverb that reads, "Necessity is the mother of invention”.

In the Oxford Dictionary, the proverb has been defined as, "When the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it."

As the need to finally relook at traditional teaching models becomes imperative, are we going to see that “Necessity is the mother of adoption”?

I would like to open the conversation and ensure we not only support each other with effective solutions, that we also offer solutions for equitable access to all. 

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