Learning

Why we need ed tech

After weeks of struggling with home learning, using technology to support children, you may be delighted at the idea of them returning to a real classroom with a live teacher running the show! But the lockdown has also shown us just how invaluable technology can be as part of the learning process. Graham Glass* makes an impassioned plea for EdTech.

Published

Schools around the world are caught up in endless discussions regarding reopening. In the US, the bearer of the grimmest statistics on COVID-19 cases, up to three-quarters of states have officially closed their schools for the remainder of the academic year. In the UK, the bearer of the second grimmest statistics, the Government's push to reopen schools has been met with quite a resistance. In the rest of Europe and across the world, statistics, best practices, and opinions vary considerably.

The younger the pupils, the higher their need for educational structure – which can be very rarely achieved at home. But ‘going back to normal’ is not an option any time soon.

The sudden move to online education during a crisis that has affected everyone has not been easy.

First of all, all sorts of physical measures need to be taken in schools to ensure a safe environment: larger space between desks, smaller groups of interacting pupils, staggered schedules, smaller weeks, stricter hygiene rules, more testing of teachers and school staff, the option of remaining at home based on health issues and so on.

Then, there is the curriculum to sort. Will everyone move on with half a curriculum or should a recovery curriculum be put into place? The sudden move to online education during a crisis that has affected everyone has not been easy.

And of course, the mental well-being of pupils, teachers, and everyone else in the education communities to needs be addressed. This may be hard to quantify, but its impact on the living and learning can’t be underestimated.

One thing remains unchanged though: children of all ages suffer. Access to education — digital or otherwise — is more restricted, and opportunity gaps that existed before are widening. Losing learning time now may have a negative impact well into adulthood and vulnerable children are especially at risk.

It’s not just pupils either. The entire education community suffers: teachers, schools, parents, everyone. Schools provide not just learning and social support for pupils, but also meals and childcare. Reopening schools will restore some normalcy by allowing parents to go back to work and do their share in supporting the economy.

However, the invisible threat that has put the world on pause is not yet under control. Ministries of education are walking on a tightrope:

“Too early and the public health is in danger, longer than necessary and the learning loss will continue to aggravate, especially for the most vulnerable,’ says Mr. Borhene Chakroun, Director of the Division of Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems at UNESCO. Until a vaccine is largely available, a viral resurgence is always a possibility. South Korea has recently closed a number of schools mere days after reopening as new cases resurged; other schools postponed their plans of reopening.

Schools need to be prepared to reopen and then close again if a second wave of the virus occurs, and to strive for normalcy at all times when they are open. In these scenarios, the use of educational technologies will be paramount in ensuring schools are fit for purpose. We must make the most of edtech.

Going back to distance learning should a second wave occur seems like a very sound Plan B for any school, on any continent. A solid edtech strategy based on responsible goals, targeted support for teachers, and the most useful technologies will make it possible for schools to ensure a smooth transition between in-classroom and online learning.

The idea of long-term distance learning was unthinkable just a few months ago, when most schools closed their gates. That may well change.

By the time the threat of a resurgence of the pandemic is over, It’s possible that online education will no longer be seen as an emergency Plan B and will have become an integrated part of education. The idea of long-term distance learning was unthinkable just a few months ago, when most schools closed their gates. That may well change.

Online education, in all its forms, should support learning: it is not there to compete against in-class activities. The pandemic has made it clear that learning doesn't have to be placed-based. We all have the chance to create a new and better normal, using edtech as a foundational stone.

Back when this school year started, nobody would have imagined just how different the world would become by the end of it. We can never know what the future holds, nor how close it actually is. But integrating edtech into the daily lives of students, teachers, parents, and everyone in the entire education community could prove key to future-proofing education.

*Graham Glass is the CEO of CYPHER LEARNING, a company that specialises in providing e-learning platforms for organisations around the world. For more on EdTech visit the NEO Blog.

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