Credit: Ivan Aleksic
2020 has been one of the most challenging years for learners and educators, forcing more than 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries out of school at the peak of the crisis. Academic schedules have been radically disrupted, parents have been left unprepared for distance and home schooling, poorer students have limited computer and internet access, and synchronous virtual classes have caused confusion and stress for teachers not accustomed to working with technology.
The impact and fallout from the COVID-19 crisis has been particularly severe for the most vulnerable and marginalised children and their families, highlighting alarming inequalities within and across countries that must be tackled to guarantee everyone’s fundamental right to quality education.
The challenges are real, but if the sector responds mindfully, setting priority actions for the recovery and strengthening of education systems, a silver lining may emerge. As innovation takes centre stage across education systems, there’s an opportunity to identify new learning strategies and innovative instructional practices that, if successfully implemented, can provide young people with an education that prepares them for our rapidly changing times.
Technology Supporting Blended Learning and Personalised Education
COVID-19 has shifted the debate from whether to adopt technology-enabled instruction, to how technology can best enhance teaching and learning in school and at home. In the short term, governments have focussed on bridging the access gap to remote learning by supporting a wide range of delivery channels, from broadcast and print, to SMS and computer-enabled learning.
In the longer term, a blended learning approach to support learning continuity in the face of future emergencies is a viable model for a resilient education system and will be the ‘new normal’ for course delivery, where educational institutions adopt a mix of face-to-face and online teaching. Both components can be combined in any proportion, and each student can find a unique blend of the two that suits their own personal learning style best, while adapting to their family situation and access to technology.
Additionally, the pandemic has enabled personalised learning for students, so that they can learn at their preferred pace and time of day. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can potentially make learning more inclusive and accessible as AI-enabled learning software can seamlessly adapt to a student’s individual abilities. Be it through interactive games, modelling tools, audio, or motion pictures, learners can access various tech-enabled devices and programmes that resonate with their subjective learning styles.
The Changing Role of Teachers
Needless to say, AI and online education cannot replace educators. Teachers are the drivers of innovative, student-centred learning – not just technicians who deliver a curriculum. However, their role will be redefined. With the booming of EdTech platforms to augment online learning, the role of a teacher as a ‘knowledge-giver’ will gradually shift to one of a 'facilitator', to help students become life-long learners.
The role of a teacher in the 21st century will increasingly emphasise mediated learning – guiding and empowering students with transferable skills for employability, growing digital citizenships, critical thinking, and creativity. Teachers will also be called to provide sustainable learning that will hold up to a rapidly changing world, rather than be limited to outdated prescribed content and curriculum.
Preparing Youth for a World of Reskilling and Upskilling
By disrupting economic activity and fast-tracking automation and digitisation, the pandemic has accelerated the need for change, creating both large-scale job displacement and new opportunities for online learning, redeployment, and reemployment. Many of today’s children will have careers in sectors and work in new jobs that do not yet exist.
It’s safe to assume that these roles will call for both social-emotional and digital skills in areas such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, and data analytics. To remain agile and relevant in the job market, everyone will need to continuously upskill themselves. Preparing students and youth by giving them the right skills as well as showing them the need for continuous development will be paramount.
To do this, teachers also need to become lifelong learners themselves, so that they can create learner-centred classrooms aligned to the needs of a 21st-century student and introduce new instructional techniques such as project-based learning.
While many governments have prioritised the professional development of teachers, there is tremendous need for greater support from the private and NGO sectors to augment government efforts and ensure teachers are equipped to prepare our youth for the 21st-century digital economy
Caregivers and Communities as Powerful Allies in Student Learning
The pandemic has put the topic of engagement with parents and families at the centre of today’s education debates, and education leaders across the globe are finding out just what powerful allies parents can be in their children’s learning. Strengthening communication, transparency and trust is key to proper containment measures.
To do this, schools should assess communication needs, strengthen the use of different communication channels, and encourage parents to communicate often and openly with the school through the use of parent-teacher (online) committees and other mechanisms to promote information sharing.
For example, creative mechanisms for real-time guidance to parents on their children’s education are popping up around the globe using the low-tech but, in many places, ubiquitous ability to make a phone call. In Argentina, the government of the State of Buenos Aires developed a call-in centre to provide real-time information and guidance to any parent with concerns or information requests about their children’s education during the pandemic. In the first five months, over 100,000 calls were received.
Focus on Inclusion, Equity and Gender Equality
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced education innovation into the heart of almost every education system around the globe. Social and digital divides based on gender, ability, location, language, wealth, and other characteristics have put the most disadvantaged at risk of learning loss and dropout.
The question is no longer how to scale innovations from the margins to the centre of education systems, but how to transform education systems so that they will source, support, and sustain those innovations that address inequality and provide all young people with the skills to build a better future for themselves and their communities. By doing this, we ultimately hope that not only those who are left behind can catch up, but that a new, more equal education system can emerge out of the crisis.
Palladium’s focus has been to support children most at risk of being left behind by school closures and remote learning, including girls, children from disadvantaged backgrounds, displaced children and those living with disabilities. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staying Connected During a Crisis - Through the Education Pathways to Peace program (“Pathways”), in the Philippines, Palladium has worked in partnership with the Government, supporting conflict-sensitive quality education services in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), an area with the country’s poorest education learning outcomes. More than 860,000 primary school students were affected by COVID-19-related education disruptions.
Working with the BARMM’s new inter-agency COVID-19 taskforce, the Pathways program has drawn on its adaptive programming approach to help address the impacts of the pandemic at the education frontline. Offline and online strategies are being deployed to better support the ministry’s education services and COVID-19 Learning Continuity Plan, including the use of SMS and text blasts, two-way radio, social media, and broader mass media platforms. Pathways is helping us create a multi-platform communication system to help disseminate information including the Learning Continuity Plan and serve as an additional instructional delivery option.