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Coronavirus and Education

Coronavirus has fundamentally changed the way both we and future generations will acquire information. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), over 1.2 billion children who were once learning within a classroom environment are now undertaking lessons virtually or, sadly, out of education for the foreseeable future. The prestigious University of Cambridge has announced that all its lectures are to go entirely online for the 2020-2021 academic year, raising questions among today’s youth as to what exactly their tuition fees are going towards – and will undoubtedly allow cheaper online-learning platforms to compete for its market share. Disabled students and alumni at the university have criticised the institution on social media in recent weeks for the fact their requests for online learning options, to overcome building inaccessibility issues, had been continually rejected and only by way of a global pandemic has the institution moved towards the 21st century. It therefore seems this pandemic is set to become the biggest catalyst for educational change in a generation. But what exactly might those changes be?

Firstly, many people – myself included – have utilised confinement to their homes as a chance to undertake online classes to upskill themselves, either while furloughed or waiting for the jobs market to reopen. With unemployment reaching 40 million in the United States alone, many are now using their time to proactively add new skills and qualifications to their CV to become that ‘standout candidate’ in an increasingly competitive employment market. Some online learning platforms have recorded, last month alone, a 360% increase in the number of students enrolling on their courses as they seek to expand their skillset. The combination of having no alternative means to learn except online, alongside more free time, undoubtedly means that more individuals will continue to make time to acquire a skill or learn something new in the months ahead.

Secondly, even educational activities that once required physical interaction have now entered the digital age. For example, some schools in Lebanon, according to the WEF, have moved their Physical Education classes to online platforms altogether. Students are required to film themselves exercising by way of creating ‘Personal Trainer’ videos for their peers, showcasing their unique dance moves or warm-ups, and subsequently must use video editing software to professionalise them. This PE-ICT crossover is certainly here to stay, as parents acknowledged their children had not only met their exercise requirements but had also learned about video formatting and editing in the process. This is definitely something they would not have otherwise been able to do whilst simply running around a track. Seen as a win-win by Lebanese teachers, students, and parents alike, it is hard to envisage such ingenuity disappearing from lesson plans.

As children return to school, the digital element which they have grown used to over the last several months will not dissipate to ‘business as usual’ any time soon. Governments across the world are already investing in cloud-based software which will undoubtedly make remote online learning more accessible, if not compulsory. To end on a note of positivity, it is actually ‘poorer’ nations that are utilising this pandemic to get their children online. Again, whilst the WEF have said the cost of online learning platforms run the risk of leaving less-affluent students behind, thanks to the increased presence of free-to-use online forums to share and exchange knowledge, such as 8Billionminds, and free-to-use software like Google Hangouts to exchange ideas, there are many reasons to be hopeful that this digitisation of education as a result of COVID-19 will be positively affect children the world over.

Thanks to the WEF for its March 2020 Report on COVID’s impact on Global Education for the statistical information included in this post. 


Lloyd Ross

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