The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the education system in many countries to be turned on its head. With schools having to be closed and home-schooling encouraged in order to help limit the spread of coronavirus, some educators have taken classes online, institutes have been offering learning resources digitally and parents sharing home-schooling project ideas across the internet. Experts across many industries have predicted a natural move towards digital technologies anyway and in some cases the coronavirus pandemic has sped this up by revealing areas where industries can easily turn procedures digital. This is no different for the education system, who have had to look to new parameters of digital learning whilst in lockdown. Some are asking if this will change education forever and move teaching further into the digital sphere. However, for many, this pandemic has revealed a digital disparity between pupils in classrooms, as some children were unable to sufficiently access digital learning. Thus, in order for education systems to pursue and utilize electronic learning, they will need to review this gap..
During this pandemic, technology has proven a lifeline for many industries including the education sector, with online activities, video streaming offering ‘live lessons’ and a hub of digital resources collected together in apps. The e-learning market has been developing for a long time and does not just attract pupils from the 6-18 age bracket with language apps, online courses and virtual tutoring available to cater for a multitude of skills. According to The World Economic forum, prior to COVID-19 ‘the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025.’ In some cases, e-learning has proven to be more effective than classroom learning for some pupils, as they are able to access and re-visit information at their own pace. Certainly, the ability to access a plethora of lessons presented in a variety of styles will be beneficial to many and some digital techniques that proved successful in the pandemic will be taken forward.
Speaking to The Guardian, Sarojani S Mohammed, Founder of research group Ed Research Works, said: “If any time is the best time to reinvent ‘school’ for the better, this time certainly has given us the impetus and rationale and taken away any excuses built on a narrative that ‘this is how it has to be because this is the way we’ve always done it… I think that there’s an opportunity here to collectively see and experience how personalized learning and true learner-centered instruction can be accomplished. Parents should consider technology to be a tool for interactive learning, for socializing and for social-emotional health and wellbeing at this time.”
Currently in the UK, schools are closed to all but the children of ‘key workers’, thus many children are being home-schooled and pursuing digital learning. As the government looks to ease lockdown procedures, schools will be reopened in phases, in order safely implement social distancing. Thus, the need for remote learning will need to continue for many pupils for the foreseeable future.
In some areas a dire need to invest and improve in digital learning has been already been revealed by the pandemic as many students who do not have access to a laptop or tablet at home have been unable to keep up with digital learning. The government has had to invest money into digital technologies to support e-learning programs and also supply laptops and 4G to pupils who are at a critical stage of their education and unable to otherwise access them. According to The Guardian ‘…the government had put in £100m worth of investment in equipment and IT support for children disadvantaged by the digital divide.’
This highlights that a move to digital technology will prove problematic for children who do not have sufficient access to the internet or the money to buy their own digital devices, leaving a proportion of pupils at a learning disadvantage. This seems to be a problem across the world. According to the World Economic Forum ‘In the US, there is a significant gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds: whilst virtually all 15-year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work on, nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not.’ Similarly, ‘whilst 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia do, according to OECD data.’
As these digital divides were not previously revealed in classroom learning settings, this has given us the opportunity to recognize the economic divide and hopefully close gaps and usher in reform. As The Guardian states: ‘For many, the future of technology in education does not rely solely on creating new, exciting and innovative tools, but in thinking about how technology can make digital learning safe, accessible and equal for all.’