Covid & Lasting Changes: Online Education
The transition to a full online curriculum during the coronavirus pandemic was difficult for students of all levels. There were record levels of depression and anxiety in college students and nearly half of them found that motivation to do well in school was difficult during online learning. Then, there is the issue of low-income students lagging behind in their education due to a lack of internet, computers, and tablets. The pandemic shunned light on the social inequalities that existed before but were less noticed in classrooms. On the other hand, it also helped transition the education sector and made educational institutions more open to the idea of online learning.
Some 20 years ago, the concept of e-learning emerged and was predicted to one day transform the education sector. Slowly but surely, online learning has been edging its way to the education sector. Even before COVID-19, e-learning investments have reached 18.66 billion USD in 2019 and are to reach a massive 350 billion USD by 2025. Students are able to now complete an entire degree online, and the benefits include customized learning to the students' particular needs, greater accessibility of education, and decreased commute for students that live further.
General education and university curriculums aside, more language learning apps, virtual tutoring, and online learning software gained more interest than ever before. The majority of the world has resumed educational curriculums through online platforms and television classes.
This has marked the largest online movement in the history of human education.
In order to meet the educational needs of their students, governments and the private sector have created new cloud-based technology for education overnight.
The coronavirus tech-celeration has furthered the development of online learning and pushed the world deeper into digitalization. The whole world is amazed at the rate of technology-based innovation the world has headed in. Education, employment, businesses, and nearly all sectors have developed at lightning speed due to the pandemic.
Educational challenges of the pandemic
Though the innovation in online learning has been exceptional in the duration of the pandemic, the transition from physical classes to online and television classes has been a rough one, to say the least.
Globally, 90 percent of countries have adopted remote learning policies, but the unplanned and rapid move to online has resulted in a poor learning experience for the students.
Challenges in students partaking in remote education include the lack of technological assets available at home and children in rural areas not being included in the policies. Nearly one-third of all children worldwide have been left behind as a result and 3 out of 4 students that are not reached by the remote learning policies are from low-income households and or live in remote areas according to UNICEF.
This issue is particularly persistent in the developing world, in countries that are not that technologically advanced. If classes are conducted physically in the 2021-2022 school year, there will be third graders who have never attended school before. There is no student-teacher interaction in television classes, thus when the school year starts, there will be many third graders that did not properly learn to read or write. As for families with multiple children, there is the issue of not enough tablets, computers, and other electronics for the children to take classes on, especially when the curricula timetables overlap.
Likewise, international university students were hit the hardest around the world, some going the entire time without any physical interactions for months at a time in a new country where they do not speak the language. Moreover, at the higher education level, many students had on-campus jobs that were all eradicated during the pandemic. When universities became online when the pandemic first rolled out, universities around the world were hopeful that they may continue in-person classes at some point during the semester.
It is fair to say that educational institutions across the globe were not prepared for a complete virtual transition.
With the first online classes, universities rushed to create an online infrastructure to accommodate the students.“There aren’t enough instructional designers and other learning support specialists to go around right now. These offices have not been a priority at all colleges and universities.” - Melissa Venable, Ph.D., Online Education Advisor for BestColleges
Negative experiences associated with online learning among students and faculty members could hinder the progress of online education. Still, the digital faculties that universities built will last sustainably until the end of the pandemic. Compared to the way digital education systems operated around the world at the beginning of the pandemic, it is fair to state that much improvement has been made.
There is a whole other story in how developing nations handled the digital shift in their universities. Educational lag in university students was further worsened with public higher education that did not have the capacity to conduct virtual learning properly.
“School is the sanctuary. For many of our students, being online virtually, or even in school in some capacity, can be their sanctuary. You don’t have to have absolutely everything solved, but you do have to be ready for what comes through the door that first week” - Shashank V. Joshi
The post-covid education sector
Even after the coronavirus pandemic, there will be a number of issues in the education sector such as limited funding globally to negative economic growth, student dropouts, learning loss by socioeconomic status, and bringing students back to speed, etc. Still, the tech-celerations made during the pandemic are here to stay, and cloud-based educational platforms will continue to develop further. Most parents and students had to invest heavily in technology to keep up with the world at this time. The new normal will be a far more technologically literate global society coming out of the pandemic.
More than 60 percent of the world’s total population has internet access now according to Statista. In the past 12 months, more than 330 million people started using the internet for the first time. The massive developments and coverages in online learning make it a giant leap closer for children to be included in education all over the world.
This may mean that some Mongolian children who drop out of school to tend to livestock can take online classes while still living nomadically in the future.
If the world were better prepared for the pandemic and online learning in general, the negative experiences reported by the students and faculty could have been avoided. This is partly because technological learning tools and systems were developed at the last minute as a means of an emergency attempt to not have the world’s students lag behind in education. Throughout the entire pandemic, feedback was constantly gathered from students and parents alike to better online learning. As a result of this experience and much more investment, resources, and focus being placed on online education, e-learning is to constantly improve and stay an available option even after the pandemic. This would diversify the education sector and be a practical alternative for those that were so often left behind including stay-at-home parents, those with disabilities, and those who have difficulty commuting.