Coronavirus And School Closures: 3 Ways The Global Pandemic Can Transform Education

By Hernaldo Turrillo - Mar 26, 2020
Coronavirus And School Closures: 3 Ways The Global Pandemic Can Transform Education
  • Over a billion students worldwide are unable to go to school or university, due to measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • The pandemic is expected to have a huge impact on global education.
  • New solutions for education could bring much needed innovation.

According to UNESCO, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted over 87% of the world's student population. Many countries around the world have implemented country-wide closures of schools, universities and other educational institutions affecting some 1.3 billion learners around the world who were not able to attend school or university as of late March. This disruption is already having consequences on students and professionals and it could bring the much needed digital transformation that the global education needs.

The coronavirus pandemic will impact every single aspect of society. Global healthcare and economy are the two obvious but it is also affecting other areas like education and lifestyle. In the education field, over 1,379,344,914 students or 80 percent of the world's learners are now being kept out of educational institutions by country-wide closures. UNESCO's figures refer to students enrolled at pre-primary, primary, lower-secondary, and upper-secondary levels of education as well as at tertiary level. Likewise, another 284 million learners are being affected in some way by closures at a localized level, such as those seen in U.S. states like California and Virginia. 138 governments have now ordered country-wide closures of their schools and universities.

These risk-control decisions, taken to stop the transmission of the Covid-19, have led millions of students into temporary ‘home-schooling’ situations. “These changes have certainly caused a degree of inconvenience, but they have also prompted new examples of educational innovation. Although it is too early to judge how reactions to COVID-19 will affect education systems around the world, there are signs suggesting that it could have a lasting impact on the trajectory of learning innovation and digitization,” was said by Minerva Project experts Diana El-Azar and Gloria Tam in a recent article published on the WEF blog.

Let’s take a look at three trends that could hint at future transformations according to the Minerva Project experts:

1. Education - nudged and pushed to change - could lead to surprising innovations

The slow pace of change in academic institutions globally is lamentable, with centuries-old, lecture-based approaches to teaching, entrenched institutional biases, and outmoded classrooms. However, COVID-19 has become a catalyst for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time.

With 5G technology becoming more prevalent in countries such as China, US and Japan, we will see learners and solution providers truly embracing the ‘learning anywhere, anytime’ concept of digital education in a range of formats. Traditional in-person classroom learning will be complemented with new learning modalities - from live broadcasts to ‘educational influencers’ to virtual reality experiences. Learning could become a habit that is integrated into daily routines - a true lifestyle.

Covid-19's impact on global education. Source: Statista

2. Public-private educational partnerships could grow in importance

In just the past few weeks, we have seen learning consortiums and coalitions taking shape, with diverse stakeholders - including governments, publishers, education professionals, technology providers, and telecom network operators - coming together to utilize digital platforms as a temporary solution to the crisis. In emerging countries where education has predominantly been provided by the government, this could become a prevalent and consequential trend to future education.

In the past decade, we have already seen far greater interest, and investment, coming from the private sector in education solutions and innovation. From Microsoft and Google in the U.S. to Samsung in Korea to Tencent, Ping An, and Alibaba in China, corporations are awakening to the strategic imperative of an educated populace. While most initiatives to date have been limited in scope, and relatively isolated, the pandemic could pave the way for much larger-scale, cross-industry coalitions to be formed around a common educational goal.

3. The digital divide could widen

Most schools in affected areas are finding stop-gap solutions to continue teaching, but the quality of learning is heavily dependent on the level and quality of digital access. After all, only around 60% of the globe’s population is online. While virtual classes on personal tablets may be the norm in Hong Kong, for example, many students in less developed economies rely on lessons and assignments sent via WhatsApp or email.

Unless access costs decrease and quality of access increase in all countries, the gap in education quality, and thus socioeconomic equality will be further exacerbated. The digital divide could become more extreme if educational access is dictated by access to the latest technologies.

“The rapid spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of building resilience to face various threats, from pandemic disease to extremist violence to climate insecurity, and even, yes, rapid technological change. The pandemic is also an opportunity to remind ourselves of the skills students need in this unpredictable world such as informed decision making, creative problem solving, and perhaps above all, adaptability. To ensure those skills remain a priority for all students, resilience must be built into our educational systems as well,” concluded the experts.

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