Impact of COVID-19 on education
The impact of COVID-19 on education was severe, to say the least. Abrupt school closures by governments to curb the spread of the virus disrupted conventional education, forcing students to adapt to alternative methods of learning. By mid-April 2020, 94% of learners worldwide were affected by the pandemic, representing 1.58 billion children and youth, from pre-primary to higher education, in 200 countries. Loss of conventional education has led to an absence of a stimulating, enriching environment and in a few cases, even adequate nutrition. As a consequence, this will result in atomistic development in children.
The rise of E-learning
If there's something good that's come out of this, then it has to be the rapid response towards the adoption of virtual learning tools to facilitate digital sessions. Research suggests that e-learning can increase retention and even consume less time thereby proving that it's not just a makeshift alternative but a solution here to stay well after the pandemic is over . Even pre-pandemic, society was growing increasingly receptive towards e-learning and the use of technology for education. In 2019 alone, there was $18.66 billion worth of investments in the global education technology space. In 2025, that number is projected to reach $350 billion. Be it video conferencing software, language apps, online learning software, all of them have seen a huge surge in usage during the pandemic.
The role of online learning platforms
Online learning platforms have also chipped in by offering some of their services for free. BYJU's is one of them. Based out of Bangalore, India, BYJUs is the world's most valued ed-tech company. Amidst the lockdowns imposed in India, BYJUs announced free live classes on its Think and Learn app. "We are extremely heartened by the overwhelming response to the free lessons on our learning app with 6 million new students learning in March alone. This reiterates the fact that online learning mediums are a great enabler in helping students when they learn from home" said Mrinal Mohit, Chief Operating Officer at BYJUs . In Wuhan, a few thousand miles away from Bangalore, something similar took place in mid-February 2020. The Chinese government instructed 25 million students to continue their learning via online platforms, in what was dubbed as the largest online movement in the history of education. The Tencent classroom was an instant hit among students and teachers. Guoqing Wang, a middle school teacher in Beijing, said that his teachers tested multiple platforms and decided on Tencent Meeting because of the easy interface and stability. Alibaba, a Chinese E-commerce giant wasn't too far in the race, it launched its distance learning solution called Dingtalk. The influx of users was so high that Alibaba cloud had just two hours to deploy more than 100,000 new cloud servers to support large scale work . However, there are quite a few roadblocks that are hampering e-learning. What are they?
Challenges of e-learning
Not having reliable access to the internet or the right digital learning tools may prevent everyone from participating digitally. In underprivileged countries, E-learning may not be possible at all. Even in privileged countries, lower-income families may not be able to provide their children with the tools required to participate virtually. Another cause for concern is, how safe are these virtual learning tools? Numerous incidents of privacy breaches and cyberattacks have been reported globally. With teenagers and children being easy targets for hackers, not enough has been done to ensure online safety. In a post-pandemic world, although students are going to return to conventional schooling, the hybrid model of education i.e. a combination of conventional and e-learning is here to stay. Ensuring it's safe while all of us use it is going to be a major challenge. But what about the future of learning, what's it going to look like?
The future of education
Major world events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2008 global economic meltdown, the 9/11 attacks in New York, and many more have always been a point of inflection for us. It's these major world events that spark innovation and completely change the way we do certain things. Education is sure to be one of them. The hybrid model of education is fast emerging and experts believe that it is going to be extremely beneficial to us shortly. Infact, many of them are already reaping the benefits of the hybrid model.
Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education says "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" . However, a few experts have expressed concern with regards to online learning. They feel that the haphazard and unplanned move towards online learning with an absence of training, insufficient bandwidth, poor user experience with little preparation can be unconducive to sustained growth. To reap the maximum benefits of online learning, there needs to be a great structure. Instead of just making use of video capabilities, educators must make the best out of a range of interactive learning tools that promote personalisation, inclusion, and intelligence.
The changing narrative
There are a lot of questions arising whether rote learning and the traditional education system is still valid in today's day and age. Many believe that with the advent of the internet and the fast-paced world we live in, traditional academic skills may be outdated. A Lebanese scholar Yuval Noah Harari in his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century states how important life skills such as critical thinking and adaptability are. He firmly believes that it's these skills that will be more important for success in the future. While some worry that the haphazard transition to online learning might have greatly hindered this goal, it is important we embed this into our future hybrid model of education.
Just like how education is a basic necessity, so is healthcare. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) underlined the urgency of having robust health systems and expressed deep concern that without international attention "future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity ."
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect millions and kill several thousand, the immediate focus of the healthcare system is to save lives and ensure speedy recovery of those affected by the virus. However, what we must also consider is the indirect impact the virus has on society and the danger that is lurking in the background.
Experts are constantly sounding alarm bells of severe "medical collateral damage" as several patients are not receiving the same standard of medical care before the pandemic gripped the world.