How COVID-19 has changed education forever.
All the nations have tried their best to deal with this crisis and have a different number of active cases and infection rates. Where in some countries like South Korea classes are still being taken online, in other countries like Denmark, kids up to 11 years of age are ready to return to their classrooms. But all in all, from within 186 countries more than 1.2 billion students have dealt with the effects that COVID-19 had on the education system.
This has led people to ponder how this sudden transition will affect the whole education system and if e-learning will still be a trend in the post-COVID era.
Online education is not a relatively new technology as the investment in this sector during 2019 was around US $18.66 billion and was expected to reach US $350 billion by 2025. Nevertheless, there has been a substantial rise in the usage of video conferencing tools, remote tutoring, and online learning technology.
BYJU's is an ed-tech company which was established in 2011. It is based in Banglore and provides online tutoring with education technology. It has slowly raise to become one of the globe's most respected education technology companies. Plenty of e-learning platforms offered free access to their content due to substantial demand, BYJU's was one of them. According to Mirnal Mohit, Chief Operating Officer of BYJU's, there was an influx of 200% new students who started using their services when they started providing free services on their Think And Learn app.
At the same time, China witnessed an online movement when the Chinese government, during February, urged their students to take up online platforms to continue their studies. In Wuhan, this led to around 81% (7,30,000) of K-12 students to take their classes through Tencent K-12 Online School.
Talking about other organizations, Lark rapidly improved its infrastructure to meet the exponential demand and to provide dependable connectivity. Lark which was initially just an internal product of ByteDance further went on to provide smart calendar scheduling, auto-translation, unlimited video conferencing minutes, and plenty of other features. Alibaba's DingTalk went through the same development. Chen Hang, DingTalk CEO said, "To support large-scale remote work, the platform tapped Alibaba Cloud to deploy more than 100,000 new cloud servers in just two hours last month – setting a new record for rapid capacity expansion."
Where, on one hand, some believe that this form of learning is showing great potential and comes with unmatched benefits. On the other hand, people are wondering if the hasty implementation of this model of education, with next to no formal training, will limit it from reaching its full potential and will result in an unsatisfactory user experience.
Anyway, the whole change is being lauded by many. A professor at The University of Jordan, Dr. Amjad, after using Lark for teaching his student online said, “It has changed the way of teaching. It enables me to reach out to my students more efficiently and effectively through chat groups, video meetings, voting, and also document sharing, especially during this pandemic. My students also find it is easier to communicate on Lark. I will stick to Lark even after coronavirus, I believe traditional offline learning and e-learning can go hand in hand."
There are also some examples of the institutions that have been able to effectively instill the change. One of such examples is the Imperial College London, which introduced a course on Coursera- The science of Coronavirus. It has become the most enrolled course on that app. Similarly, Zhejiang University by using "DingTalk ZJU", in the span of two weeks got over 5000 classes.
As Vice President of Tencent Education and Vice President of Tencent Cloud, Wang Tao said, “I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education."
Even with these great many advantages, there are some shortcomings of e-learning. There is not an uniform participation in online learning by students as some of them lack a steady internet connection and some others are technologically backward. This difference is evident not only across the countries but also within the country among people of various income backgrounds.
If we look at stats, according to OECD, only 34% of the students in Indonesia have access to a computer for school work whereas in countries like Norway, Switzerland, and Austria the percentage is 95%. As for the US, around 25% of the students who belong to disadvantaged backgrounds reported that they didn't have computer access. Contrary to which almost all 15-year old students from privileged backgrounds had computer access.
Even after the governments and schools of countries like Australia have tried to provide students in need of digital equipment. Some are worried that the pandemic will widen the education gap between the students.
E-learning allows a student to assimilate knowledge at their speed. They can skip through the topics they already know of, and go back to re-read the topics that they wish to spend more time on. This makes the process of online learning 40-60% faster than the traditional form of learning. According to some experts, on average students show the retention of just 8-10% towards traditional learning, which is 25-60% in the case of online learning. So it can be concluded that online education is more beneficial if one has access to it.
But this does not apply to students of all age groups. The children of the younger age group get distracted very easily so it is important to provide them with a structured environment. According to the President of Tencent Cloud and Smart Industries Group and Senior Executive Vice President of Tencent, Dowson Tong, such methods of participation and tools of communication should be used which enable "inclusion, personalization, and intelligence".
As said by Mrinal Mohit of BYJU's, “Over a period, we have observed that clever integration of games has demonstrated higher engagement and increased motivation towards learning especially among younger students, making them truly fall in love with learning." This is essentially why technology should be more interactive and engaging.
Yuval Noah Harari, a scholar, through his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century has tried to emphasize that schools instead of providing vocational learning to students, which can help them in adapting to the new environment and think more critically, are still following the conventional academic methods and rote learning.
Pandemic, even though wrecked our education system, brought to light that the system has been losing its effectiveness, as previously acknowledged by many. This has made us question if this pandemic can serve as a reason for us to reconstruct our deteriorating education system by exploring if e-learning can be a better way of educating students more effectively. Where some think online education is instrumental and have accepted it as 'new normal', some are arguing that its hurried implementation will serve as a roadblock and prevent it from reaching its full potential.
If not anything then events as big as this have more often than not strong-armed mankind towards expeditious advancement. Right after SARS, the way e-commerce took over the market is just an example of this. Here, Online education happens to be one of the very few business areas which are still getting investments and this pandemic has highlighted why the dissemination of knowledge across every section of society is so important. Similarly, if e-learning has any potential then it is for all of us to explore to what extent it can be utilized.