Since World War II, schools and educational institutions have not been blocked at the same time and for the same reason in so many countries around the world. Although we know that the impact of this virus will be far-reaching, what could it mean in the long term for education? In this way, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever.
For some time now, according to Racionero (2012), educators around the world have been talking about the need to rethink how future generations are educated. This could be the change that the sector needed to make us rethink how we educate and question what we need to teach and what students are preparing for. So as educators grapple with new ways to communicate with students outside of the classroom, it's a good time to reflect on how this disruptive crisis can help teachers define what learning should be like for Generations Z and beyond.
What is education and students like today?
Most of the students in our educational institutions today are from Generation Z, a generation that has grown up in a truly globalized world. Members of this generation, most of whom are now 25 years old, are likely reflecting on their education. This, as a result of a global pandemic, with canceled exams, postponed sporting events and even virtual graduations.
This generation is defined by technology, where the terms FOBA (Fear of being alone) and FOMO (Fear of being lost) express their expectation of communication and instant feedback, carried out through applications such as Facebook Instant Messenger, Facetime and WhatsApp. That also includes parents and educators, something that is amplified by today's remote learning and online classes that have been a global trend for some years now. This is also a generation that sees the power to work collaboratively to solve the world's greatest challenges. Furthermore, climate change and mental health are top concerns on their agenda.
Who are the younger generation of students?
The Alpha generation, children of the millennial generation, is the generation with the greatest racial diversity in the entire world. Technology is an extension of your consciousness and identity, and social media is your way of life. These young people are also the generation with the least traditional family structures, often with "digging parents" who remove obstacles to create a clear path for their children.
While the Alpha Generation may not be aware of the impact of the global pandemic on their education at this time, the impact will surely be felt even for all of them in the years to come. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, educators wonder what students should be prepared for in the future. According to a report by Dell Technologies, 85% of the jobs in 2030 that Generation Z and Alpha will enter have not yet been invented.
How is the education sector responding to COVID-19?
In response to significant demand, many online learning platforms are offering free access to their services. Other organizations are strengthening capacities to provide a single window for teachers and students. For example, Lark, a collaboration suite based in Singapore, began offering teachers and students unlimited videoconferencing time, machine translation capabilities, real-time co-editing of project work, and smart calendar scheduling. To do it quickly, Lark increased its global server infrastructure and engineering capabilities to ensure reliable connectivity.
Alibaba's distance learning solution, DingTalk, had to prepare for a similar influx: School districts in the USA are forming associations, to offer local educational broadcasts, with separate channels focused on different ages and a range of digital options. Media organizations like the BBC are also driving virtual learning.
What does this mean for the future of learning?
While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move towards online learning, without training, in some cases with insufficient bandwidth and poor preparation, will result in poor user experience, it is not conducive to sustained growth. Others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits.
There have already been successful transitions at many universities. For example, Zhejiang University managed to launch more than 5,000 online courses just two weeks after the transition using DingTalk. Imperial College London began offering a course on coronavirus, which is now the most enrolled class launched in 2020 at Coursera.
The challenges of online education
However, there are challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable access to the Internet or technology in general struggle to participate in digital learning. This gap is observed in all countries and between different income levels. For example, while 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their homework, only 34% in Indonesia does.
For those who have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective in several ways. Some research shows that, on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online, compared to just 8-10% in a classroom. This is mainly because students can learn faster online; This is because students can learn at their own pace, rewinding and rereading, jumping or speeding through the concepts they choose.
COVID19 Lessons for Education
The COVID19 crisis has changed our world and our global perspective. It has also taught us how education must change in order to better prepare young students for what the future holds. These lessons based on what Aubert (2008) points out include:
Educate citizens in an interconnected world.
COVID19 is a pandemic that shows us how interconnected we are globally. Problems and isolated actions no longer exist. Successful people in the coming decades must be able to understand this interrelationship and navigate across limits to take advantage of their differences and work collaboratively.
Redefine the role of the educator.
The notion of the educator as the possessor of the knowledge that imparts wisdom to his students is no longer fit for the purpose of a globalized education. Since students can gain access to knowledge and even learn a technical skill, through a few clicks on their phones, tablets and computers, the role of the educator has to be redefined. This may mean that the role of educators should move towards facilitating youth development as contributing members of society.
Teach life skills necessary for the future.
In this ever-changing global environment, students require resilience and adaptability, skills that are proving essential to navigate effectively through this pandemic. Looking ahead, some of the most important skills employers will be looking for will be creativity, communication, and collaboration. This along with empathy and emotional intelligence; and being able to work across demographic lines to harness the power of the collective through teamwork.
Unlocking technology to deliver education
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused educational institutions around the world to be forced to suddenly take advantage of and use the set of available technological tools. So you can create content for remote learning for students from all sectors. Educators around the world are experiencing new possibilities for doing things differently and with greater flexibility. This results in potential benefits in accessibility to education for youth around the world. These are new modes of instruction that have not previously been widely used.
An educational imperative
It is clear that this pandemic has completely disrupted an educational system that many claim is already losing its relevance. However, many universities continue to focus on traditional academic skills and rote learning. This instead of skills like critical thinking and adaptability, which will be more important for future success. In this regard we ask ourselves: Could the change to online learning be the catalyst to create a new and more effective method? While some fear that the hasty nature of the online transition may have hampered this goal, others plan to make e-learning part of their "new normal" after experiencing the benefits first hand.
Big global events are often a turning point for rapid innovation. While we have yet to see if this will apply to post-COVID-19 learning, it is one of the few sectors where positive changes have been seen. What has become clear through this pandemic is the importance of spreading knowledge across borders, businesses, and all parts of society. If online learning technology has already changed education, it is up to all of us to explore its full potential.
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Aubert, A., Flecha, A., García, C., Flecha, R. & Racionero, S. (2008). Aprendizaje dialógico en la Sociedad de la Información.Barcelona: Hipatia Editorial.
Elboj, C., Puigdellívol, I., Soler, M., & Valls, R. (2002). Comunidades de aprendizaje. Transformar la educación. Barcelona: Graó.
Racionero, S., Ortega, S., García, R. & Flecha, R. (2012). Aprendiendo contigo. Barcelona: Hipatia Editorial. ISBN: 978-84-938226-3-7.