User Rating: 1 / 5

Star ActiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

The Lessons of the Pandemic for Education 

The Covid-19 pandemic forced students around the world from the classroom, as authorities sought to protect them and their teachers from the virus by closing schools. The rapid shift to electronic learning was unprecedented and the challenges manifold.

School authorities not only had to fulfill the educational needs of their students with new, untested e-learning technologies but they also had to find ways to lessen the emotional and psychological impact the pandemic wracked on their lives. The roll-out of e-learning software tools has been uneven based on several factors. Studies into the transition to remote learning have looked at why these outcomes have been unequal. They have also looked broadly at the ways education has forever changed because of worldwide school closures in hopes of finding ways to improve the areas where it is lacking. 

Health and Social Issues 

The coronavirus disease 2019 - Covid-19 - is an acute respiratory illness that first appeared in China and spread quickly around the world. Young people - from school-age children to university-age students - are not immune to the disease but they are not a high-risk group. Regardless, governments worldwide decided to close schools to stave off the spread of the contagion. 

While young people are not a high-risk group, school closures, coupled with the isolation of quarantine have adversely affected the health and well-being of many students. Researchers have documented a myriad of health problems that have been directly caused by students learning from home - from lower back problems to eye strain, from staring at laptops all day to increased anxiety.

A survey done of university students near the end of 2020 found that: 

  •  66% of students said that the stresses of online learning (losing internet connections, the reduced quality of education, etc.) were affecting their mental health 
  •  75% of students said that increased screen time was affecting their mood and causing insomnia 
  •  54% said that online assessments by their professors caused more anxiety than in-person testing 

Interestingly, many students (64%, to be exact) said that the pandemic was exposing the digital divide within their ranks, in terms of some students being able to learn online because of their circumstances, while others were finding it difficult because of their lack of socio-economic resources. 

The exposing of a digital divide is something that has played out in many different countries around the world and is worth discussing later. Aside from the stresses that electronic learning has had on students, the social isolation of learning remotely has also negatively affected education worldwide. 

 Improving E-Learning Technologies 

While the above-mentioned study pointed out that 65% of students preferred in-person teaching to learning online, they also overwhelmingly agreed (68%) that the quality of e education had improved since the beginning of the pandemic. Some students have even improved their performance during the pandemic. 

Even though many experts say that the pandemic will cause a weekly “learning loss” of between 0.82 and 2.3% - which they estimate could be higher - many students have also benefited from the isolation and solitude of the pandemic. Students who were previously too shy or insecure to speak up in class have found that e-learning software tools have helped them find their voice and grow more confident. 

The transition to remote learning caused a swell of demand for the best e-learning software. The software could be for anything from lesson planning to lesson delivery to increasing interaction between students and their teachers with document sharing tools like Lumin PDF. While there was no shortage of e-learning development tools to choose from, the one thing complicating matters was teachers who were unfamiliar with the technology. 

Another survey done at the beginning of the pandemic showed that a majority of teachers worldwide (68%) were forced to teach online for the first time. This fact also played a major role in the unequal deployment of SaaS learning platforms. Teachers who had more experience with the technology (and tended to come from schools and areas with more resources) were more effective at transitioning to online learning than their peers who were on the other side of the economic divide. 

The Impact on Students With Special Needs 

Students with special needs and disabilities represent a vulnerable group within a vulnerable group that have had failures, as well as successes during the pandemic. A UNICEF report assessing the switch to online learning in Bulgaria found many disparities like: 

 

  •  64% of education therapists were unable to meet regularly with students with disabilities 
  •  Only 20% of parents felt they were prepared to support their child’s education during school shutdowns
  •  8.3% of all students did not take part in online learning at all

These outcomes have not been seen universally, however. In the US, while students (and parents) have complained of the lack of quality of online learning, other cases have emerged of students with learning disabilities like ADHD thriving in the new online learning environment. Educators point to several factors to explain why some students have done better like: 

  •  The absence of social distractions and anxieties 
  •  The freedom to set their schedules 
  •  The lowered stakes of learning during the pandemic 
  •  The increase in attention from teachers that students have been able to receive 

The success of a small cohort of students during the pandemic, while inspiring, does not assuage the difficulties of their classmates who have had a trying time during the lockdown. Students without disabilities have found themselves at a disadvantage nevertheless because of certain socio-economic factors that the pandemic has laid bare.  

Lessons for the Future of Education 

Study after study has pointed at the fact that students from privileged backgrounds have fared much better during the pandemic than those students from economically-challenged backgrounds. This disparity stretches to every facet of their education from being unable to access the internet, not having the requisite technology to take online classes to their parents being unable to support them because they are essential workers. 

The pandemic will end and students will return to the classroom, but that eventuality should not paper-over the wide economic and social gaps that it has revealed. If there is one lasting, and positive impact that the global pandemic should have on education it should be that stakeholders from all levels (government, business, education) must acknowledge these disparities and correct them so that no more children are left behind.