COVID has obviously made things a lot worse. Recently UNESCO puts those numbers at over 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet who are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A quality education means different things in different places. At any time there are up to 4 million children out of school because they’re fleeing conflict, famine, climate change. For the poorest, access to education is a critical step in improving quality of life and access to all the other opportunities that are available. What Covid has taught us however is that while the world might have laudable goals in broadening access to education globally, we still have significant challenges at home.
With almost no warning, the right to education has become dependent on connectivity. Over three-quarters of national distance learning solutions available during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic relied exclusively on online platforms. Yet as many as 465 million children and youth, or almost 47 % of all primary and secondary do not have access to these platforms because they do not have internet connections at home.
Many families are realising the challenges involved in education as they are teaching their children from home: some children are without computers to access schoolwork, or sufficient mobile data to log on, or are sharing workspace with siblings and parents. One of the indicators used to gauge the effectiveness of an education system is how many children are in school – how do we do that now? It seems as if the only option is to focus on grades and completed work and yet many educators accept that this isn’t a fair way to gauge children’s progress under lockdown.
In the UK the debate about lockdown is centred about the damage that it does children to be out of school – not ignoring the impact is has on their parents if they suddenly have to home school. So basically, what we’re saying is the education is at once the most important tool for changing the world, and yet at the moment our children are missing out on the experience of school and the ways in which they learn to build the social skills, empathy and resilience necessary to overcome a crisis of this nature.
A recent World Economic Forum report states that the workforce of 2022 will need higher order ‘human’ skills - creativity, originality, initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, negotiation, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving. There are huge opportunities here, to allow different pupils to learn in different ways.
Connection means more than connectivity however, so we need to find new collaborative tools that fully engage pupils, stretch their imaginations, their management of complexity and their empathy. If we’re going to be able to provide this, we’re going to have to find new works of working with technology to deliver these skills. And that means embracing the change and encouraging educators to lead this evolution, not letting the technology dictate the process.
This article first appeared in the February 2021 edition of Education Today www.education-today.co.uk