Could this pandemic change the way we educate forever?

by Louise Young
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Online education shouldn’t replace ‘traditional’, classroom teaching – this pandemic has illustrated to us that schools are not just there as education providers, but also caregivers, guardians, and food suppliers - but the lockdown situation has certainly highlighted a number of issues within the education system, from children who rely on free school meals to actually how students prefer to learn.

Coronavirus has provided many educational institutions with food for thought on how teaching and learning can change – and perhaps should change - after this crisis is over. What we can take from this extraordinary situation is that it’s absolutely necessary to have online support in order for students to succeed fully, whether primary or university age.

New innovations through technology

Although many educational institutions already utilise online learning software and education portfolios, there hasn’t yet been a time when these have been completely relied upon. It could be said that the pandemic has been the catalyst that many schools needed in order to implement online learning technology. Although not an ideal situation in which to trial it, the pandemic has allowed educational institutions to become more innovative through technology – and hopefully this will continue once lockdown restrictions have been lifted.

Students are able to learn wherever and whenever they like – of course, it’s currently in the comfort of their own home – but the technology being implemented by schools is allowing students to adapt lessons and subjects to their own skills and talents. Maths can be taught using paint and crayons, instead of a workbook and gridlines, and physical education can be discovered via social media influencers (Joe Wicks, for instance) – or even incorporating scavenger hunts and learning about nature, whilst moving their bodies for exercise.

Relationships between schools and parents

Remote learning requires a certain amount of supervision from parents or guardians, especially if children are younger than secondary and high school age. This is why it’s essential that online learning software is implemented alongside classroom teaching, providing parents with experience and understanding of it before a crisis happens.

Successful learning alone requires being taught how to do this, which means many children, regardless of age, will need that support from parents and guardians to ensure they can manage their work effectively. Parents require support from teachers and schools in order to do this well.

However, homeschooling is not an easy option for many parents – even with a lockdown happening. Whether furloughed or not, parents or guardians have additional responsibilities, from running the household to managing their own mental health. It’s also a lot of pressure for parents to make that change into a teaching role, especially if they have no previous experience. This is again a reminder that face-to-face teaching is essential for many students, whose parents and guardians aren’t available for the quality and quantity of guided learning that is required for curriculum process.

But relationships between schools and parents can be bettered through online software. With regular updates and ease of communication, both teachers and guardians can connect – often a lot more regularly than face-to-face, where issues may have escalated before they’ve been dealt with.

Things can often get lost in translation too, where English, or your country’s native language, may not be the predominant language spoken at home. Technology is adept at providing instant translation for parents or guardians who require it, creating more engagement for all. Inclusivity is vital for ensuring education can be provided for everyone – from language barriers to disability – and that relationships are strengthened between schools and parents.

What about the digital divide?

Online learning software can only be successful if every student has access to it. The pandemic has showcased that accessing the internet is no longer a luxury, but in fact, a utility, and essential for equality in learning.

Whether students are in lockdown or not, having access to resources online allow them to complete work outside of the classroom, contact teachers if necessary, and stay in touch with other students.

And it’s not just accessing the internet that plays into the digital divide. Children and young people from disadvantaged homes and backgrounds struggle with electronic equipment too, whether that’s laptops or tablets – essential for the completion of studies and learning from home. It’s important to consider poverty issues when it comes to electricity too. Devices require charging or power outlets in order to function. Whether a student is in a developing country without access to electricity or they live in a developed country, but parents cannot afford electricity, the poverty line doesn’t just affect a child’s welfare and comfort, but also whether or not they can actually complete their studies.

The pandemic has clearly showcased that the digital divide is very much alive and present – and more needs to be done by governments to allow all children and students access to technology, so that in situations of crisis and in regular day-to-day learning, education can persevere. The more technology develops and expands, the more likely it is that disadvantaged children will be left behind – and when disaster strikes, this is further highlighted.

Final thoughts

The pandemic should and will change the way we educate forever – but should also address the massive issues and discrepancies in welfare and access to technology and the internet. Although at some point, schools will reopen and begin face-to-face teaching once again, this may be a slow and staged process, with some students still learning at home in the meantime.

And it’s not just physical illness where online educational software can aid students either. The prevalence of mental health conditions in children and young people is escalating, causing many students to be unable to attend school, college, or university. Having online learning readily available for students provides them with an option and relieves them of the added stress they may be under – although they can’t attend physically, they’re still connected with their peers and teachers. These are relationships that are essential to the mental well-being of many individuals and denying them to students simply because their mental health won’t allow them to attend their classes is unjust.

A lasting thought to ponder – should all educational courses, from EYFS to university level, provide lessons and curriculums with both classroom teaching and online options? This isn’t the first contagious disease – and it won’t be the last. Schools and educational institutions are well versed in seeing outbreaks of illness, whether it’s a stomach bug or cold. Having online resources and the ability to take a class from home or pick up your studies wherever you are, is a viable option.