The COVID-19 Pandemic brings us to a New Reality

Admin, September 14, 2021

Australians, like the rest of the world, are slowly adjusting to a new reality that was almost unimaginable a short time ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on almost every aspect of our lives, while introducing abrupt changes to the way governments, businesses, and communities operate.

There is little doubt that the COVID – 19 pandemic has a lot of dark sides – people become ill, some die, schools close, the healthcare system becomes overloaded, employees lose their jobs, businesses face bankruptcy, and countries have to find billions of dollars for bailouts and medical aid. It has certainly been a huge stressor that has shaken up our psyche, triggered our fears and generated serious uncertainties.

At the same time, the COVID – 19 pandemic has highlighted some of the best human characteristics in full – self-sacrifice in helping others, renewed empathy and solidarity, and unprecedented global cooperation within medical science and between governments. Let us not dismiss these positives and make the best of what the crisis gives us.

A detailed SWOT analysis would confirm that there are not only threats, but also opportunities.

Many organizations suffer from slow procedures, complex bureaucracies and rigid hierarchies making organizational life less than pleasant. The COVID – 19 pandemic has forced many of them to break through these rigid systems and act instantly. Procedures have been skipped or accelerated, rules have been side-tracked and decisions have been implemented more autonomously without formal approval, and suddenly employees have been allowed to work from home without direct supervision. The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly shown that as soon as there is a strong enough stimulus, things can change.

While many current measures aim to preserve existing institutional and economic arrangements, we should press decision-makers to actively channel available funds into initiatives that will bring about the programs  we need. A proper, considered response to the COVID-19 pandemic could help redirect trillions of dollars towards new agendas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted on education systems around the world, affecting more than 1.5 billion learners in 186 countries – and their schools, colleges, vocational training institutions, universities and their part-time employment arrangements.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an important reflection point for parents, families, communities, teachers, trainers, bureaucrats and politicians to question the status quo and explore new approaches for delivering quality education to millions of learners. It has also provided parents with opportunities to become more involved in their children’s learning.

The following opinions are also worthy of a closer consideration:

“Many schools still remain trapped in an outdated ‘horse and buggy’ model of education, particularly when instructing students from under-resourced communities. These schools frequently operate according to a ‘factory model’ that emerged in the early 20th century to prepare students for the industrial economy. Under this system, students are considered the ‘products’ of the system with standardized assessments serving as ‘quality control’ measures to encourage effective instruction.” – Serafini, Frank W. “Dismantling the Factory Model of Assessment.” Reading and Writing Quarterly 18, no. 1 (2002): 67-85.

“Over the past several decades, there have been attempts to repair the educational ‘buggy’ through substantial reforms. These include passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002  and the development of the Common Core State Standards beginning in 2009.  However, attempting to transform the industrial era ‘horse and buggy’ model of education by incrementally adding new wheels and an upgraded engine is insufficient. We must address how children learn and what children need to learn to be successful in the 21st century. Critically, the implementation of this framework must be flexible and culturally-relevant, while maintaining core principles that foster educational equity for all students.” – Council of Chief State School Officers, and National Governors’ Association Center for Best Practice. “About the Standards.” 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with the time and opportunity to examine and better understand how education is currently delivered.

Traditional education used to be firmly focused on the three R’s of Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic – but we are suggesting another three R’s should be added, addressing the important but often overlooked areas of Relationships, Respect and personal Resilience.

We should certainly continue to develop communication competencies parallel to the application of number skills and accuracy in measurement.

  • Relationships could address interactions within our families, across our communities and the connections linking all life forms on our planet and throughout the universe.
  • Respect should focus on how we mix, interact and react in the environment and with the people and places within it.
  • Resilience would be about gathering and checking the accuracy of information, working through personal issues, seeking alternative solutions and predicting possible outcomes – both as individuals and in group situations.

New approaches should be focused on understanding the strengths and weaknesses of local communities, being flexible when needs change, and systematically learning along the way.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education – dominated by America and China – projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.

Imagining, designing, creating, delivering and scaling up new education initiatives would require strong leaders from diverse sectors working toward common goals.

Key issues would involve experimenting with new technologies, recognising and leveraging community knowledge and expertise, developing and sharing new knowledge, and identifying and taking advantage of new windows of opportunity.

Experimenting with new approaches includes identifying, adapting, and scaling evidence-based health and education initiatives, providing text-message based instruction, establishing hotlines to answer questions from parents and students, working with television and radio programs to deliver proven life-saving messages, sourcing educational content and developing strategies to support nationwide distance learning, and working with governments to plan for scaling these approaches.

Leveraging deep roots within communities – especially in the marginalized communities that are most at risk, supporting schools to provide not only instruction but also additional life-saving needs, encouraging co-operative learning, supporting marginalized learners to return to study, and working with families in local communities to address community-identified issues. There is also much to be gleaned for community members who have had little, or no, formal training of qualifications.

Sharing knowledge has a unique ability to bring the world together. Every community, region and country faces common threats, and there is much to be learnt from each other about how to minimize negative impacts on education systems. Several promising resources have already emerged – UNESCO has curated a robust list of distance-learning solutions for parents and educators, and the World Bank has shared its practical tips and guidance resources.

Embracing windows of opportunity. The world faces significant challenges in addressing the immediate and longer-term effects of the pandemic on education systems. But the commitment of exceptional education providers to find new and innovative ways to deliver quality education should provide us all with a sense of hope. Crises showcase leadership. If the international education community unites to share new ideas and learn from each other about new ways of providing quality education, it will emerge better equipped to help students thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Human history is rich with instances of rapid social and environmental evolution, from the Agricultural Revolution some ten thousand years ago, from the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, to the Technological Revolution we are now experiencing. Each caused, or is causing, a tipping point that has led, or is leading, to the new.

While life has always been unpredictable, major challenges⁠ have occurred throughout the various generations. What is different in the COVID – 19 pandemic is that humans are now the dominant force for change – challenged with unprecedented opportunities to determine and shape the future.

While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning – with little training, insufficient bandwidth, and limited time to prepare – will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, that can deliver significant benefits.

We already know that the effectiveness of online learning varies amongst age groups. The general consensus on children, especially younger ones, is that a structured environment is required, because younger children can be more easily distracted. To get the full benefit of online learning we need to incorporate a range of collaboration tools and engagement methods that promote inclusion, personalization, intelligence and excitement.

For those who already have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective in a number of ways. Research has shown that, on average, students retain 25-60% more content when learning online. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online – e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.

Could the move to online learning be the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of learning? The team at The Education Professionals certainly believes so, and welcomes your comments.