The slow pace of change is a feature of the education sector that allows for the centuries-old, lecture-based approaches to teaching, entrenched institutional biases, and outmoded classrooms to survive to this day, and even thrive. Notwithstanding all the attendant suffering and death, the advent of the novel coronavirus and the ensuing pandemic may have been just what was needed for educational institutions worldwide to seek out innovative solutions for longstanding problems – and to do so in accelerated fashion.
Students in Hong Kong started learning not only at home in their own times, but also from home: attending classes (or as good as) via interactive apps. In China, in the midst of the toughest lockdown witnessed anywhere on the planet, 120 million students got access to learning material through live television broadcasts.
Other simpler - yet no less creative - solutions were implemented around the globe, at NGO-run schools in African villages or those in the slums of Mumbai or Dhaka. Students shot and sent over their own videos as ‘homework’, even pushing their teachers to learn new digital skills. Parents were seen engaging with their wards’ schoolwork in ways they hadn’t for a long time, although one memorably complained how their child’s homework exercise itself took just minutes to complete, but then they spent three hours shooting, editing and sending the video in the right format to his teacher.
With technology’s presence in our lives set to only grow, inexorably, in the foreseeable future, the day may not be too far away when we will see learners and solution providers truly embracing the concept of ‘learning anywhere, anytime’ - the Holy Grail of digital education. Traditional in-person classroom learning will not be going away completely. Rather it will be complemented with new learning modalities - from live broadcasts to ‘educational influencers’ to virtual reality experiences. Learning could become a habit that is integrated into daily routines - into lifestyles. Imagine that.
Even under the shadow of the virus, it is evident that educational innovation is receiving attention beyond the typical government-funded or non-profit-backed social project. In the past decade or so, we have seen far greater interest, and investment, coming from the private sector in education solutions and innovation. Think of the 10-minute schools and Teach for America/Bangladesh-like programs that have proliferated in a relatively short period of time.
While most of these initiatives to date have been limited in scope, and relatively isolated, the pandemic could just pave the way for much larger-scale, cross-industry coalitions to be formed around a set of common goals in education. The sector is ripe for disruption.