Forever Changes in Education Sector Post COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic of COVID-19 has caused schools to shut down globally by making over 1.2 billion students out of their schools and classrooms. As a result, a dramatic change in the education sector, with a remarkable improvement of e-learning, as teaching is continued remotely on digital platforms.

While countries worldwide are at different levels in their COVID-19 virus infection rates, more than 1.2 billion students in 186 countries are currently affected by school-closedowns due to catastrophe. Children up to 11 in Denmark are returning to nurseries and schools following the initial closing on 12th March 2020, but the students in South Korea responded to continue their schoolwork online.

With this immediate shift causing learning away from the classrooms in many countries globally, some wonder whether the change is about to continue even after the pandemic and how such a move would impact the global education market. Even before the initial COVID-19 outbreak, there was already a high growth and an adaptation in education technology, and the total investment in the global education technology was some $18.66 billion in 2019. The total market for online education is expecting to exceed $350 billion by 2025. In addition, there has been a significant surge in usage of online learning methods since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software.

In response to the rising demand, many e-learning platforms stepped forward to offer free access to their services. Including the programs like BYJU’S, a Bangalore-based educational platform and online education firm founded in 2011, is now the most valued and recognized ed-tech company globally. Since they announced the free access to its live classes on its Think and Learned app, BYJU’S has gained a 200% improvement in its students base using its products, says the Chief Operating Officer of the Company, Mrinal Mohit.

Known as a professional ed-tech platform, Tencent Classroom has been extensively used since 2020 February, after China instructed a quarter of one billion full-time students to resume through online platforms. This shift resulted in the most prominent online movement in the education market history, with approximately 730,000 or 81% of K-12 students getting the chance to attend classes via Wuhan’s Tencent K-12 Online School.

Other similar businesses are also working out by focusing on acquiring both teachers and students by providing suitable products for both via their platforms. For example, a Singapore-based partnership company, Lark that ByteDance initially improved to evaluate its internal exponential growth, offers unlimited video time for both teachers and students. This offer from Lark featured in auto-translation, the real-time co-editing ability of the project work, and the intelligent calendar to make their proposal outstanding from the other competitors. Furthermore, by considering the pandemic situation, Lark quickly ramped up its global server features and engineering capabilities to ensure well-grounded connectivity.

The distance learning solution DingTalk of Alibaba also had to go through similar preparations. According to the DingTalk Chief Executive Officer, Chen Hang, the company has tapped Alibaba cloud to deploy over 100,000 new cloud servers in just two hours. It was a record for immediate capacity expansion to support the vast and rising demand in remote working platforms.

Not only the online platforms have adopted the change, but also some school districts are implementing unique collaborations. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District and PBS SoCal/KCET got together to cater to local educational broadcasts, with two different channels but focused on different ages and ranged digital options. In addition, as a media organization, the BBC has come forward to virtual power learning; their Bitesize Daily launched last year to offer 14 weeks of curriculum-based education for kids all over the UK. Additionally, celebrities like the footballer Sergio Aguero teaching some of their content.

Some people believe that an unorganized and immediate shift towards online learning- with no or little training, insufficient bandwidth, and less preparation, will create a poor user experience that is non-conductive to stable growth. But, others do believe that a hybrid model will evolve with significant benefits. According to the Vice President of Tencent Education, Wang Tao, he believes that the new trends will further improve the integration of information technology in education. Additionally, online education will eventually become an integral component of school education.

Universities like Zherigiang and Imperial College of London have already been successful in this transition. Zhejiang University got over 5000 courses converted to online by just two weeks into the shift towards using DingTalk ZJU. The Imperial College of London started the transition by offering a new study on the science of coronavirus on their online platform Coursera in 2020. The course has now become the most enrolled class of the institute.

Many users of the online platforms are already touting the benefits: a professor at the University of London, Dr. Jordan Amjad, has been using Lark to teach his students efficiently and effectively through chat groups, video meetings, voting and also document sharing, mainly during the pandemic. As per him, his students also find it easier to communicate on Lark. He further says that he will stick with Lark even after the COVID-19 pandemic as he believes that traditional offline learning and the new trend of e-learning can go hand in hand.

Still, there are challenges to overcome: students who do not have reliable access to the internet and/or technology struggle to participate in e-learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income levels. For example, according to OECD data, while 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Australia have personal computers to use for their online schoolwork, only 34% of the students in Indonesia have access to that facility.

There is a considerable gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds in the United States. For example, while 100% of all 15-year-olds from privileged backgrounds said they had access to a computer to work on, almost 25% of 15-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds have no access to that facility.

There is evidence that e-learning can be effective in many ways for those who have access to the correct technology. For example, some researches have shown that the average student retention in e-learning is as high as 25% to 60% compared to an average of 8% to 10% on the same in classrooms.

The effectiveness of online-e-learning varies amongst age groups. As kids are easily distracted, a structured environment is required for the younger groups to concentrate on their online schoolwork. Further to Dowson Tong, the Senior Executive Vice President of Tencent and the President of its Cloud and Smart Industries Group, says, to have the full benefits of online learning, there needs to be a concerted effort to produce this structure and exceed from replicating a usual physical class on video calling abilities, instead, using a range of collaboration tools and engagement methods that promote inclusion, personalization, and intelligence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has immensely argued that the education system that many assert was already losing its relevance. Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari says that how schools and universities continue to focus on traditional academic skills and rote learning rather than on critical thinking ability and adaptability will be very important for success in the future. He said this in his 2018 book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Will the shift towards online learning be the catalyst to create a brand-new and more effective way of educating students? Of course, some others worry that the rapid nature of the online transition may have obstructed this goal, while others plan to make e-learning part of their new everyday life after experiencing the benefits first-hand.

Significant controversies in the world are often catalyst points for rapid innovations- the best example is the improvement of e-commerce following the outbreak of SARS. Yet, we have to wait for more to see whether the same will play out in e-learning post-COVID-19, as it is one of the few sectors where investment has not drained away. However, the pandemic has made the world clear on the importance of spreading knowledge across borders, companies, and all parts of society. If online learning can play a role here, it is incumbent upon us to explore its full potential.