The Post-Pandemic Education system

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how students are educated around the world. These changes give us a peek into the future of how education will change for better or worse in the long-term. At the onset of the pandemic, most governments around the world shut down educational institutions to contain the spread of the COVID-19 infection. Even though children did not seem to be impacted by the virus, for the most part, they could still spread it asymptomatically.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven educational institutions across the world to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time. In order to slow the spread of the virus, students in Hong Kong started using interactive apps to learn from home. Over 120 million Chinese received access to learning material through live television broadcasts. In Nigeria, face-to-face video instruction augmented with reading material via Google Classroom is being used to help preempt school closures. Similarly, in Lebanon, online learning has been leveraged even for subjects such as physical education. Students shoot their own videos of athletic training and sports and send them over to their teachers as homework assignments.

Children being children have also taken the opportunity to show their creative and mischievous sides. Students in China conspired to give an app so many one-star ratings that the app was kicked off the App Store. This was the app their teachers were using to assign homework to them. Overall it appears that with tools like Zoom and Google Classroom many students have adapted to this new form of education even as they miss the social interaction and friendships in-person schooling fosters.

This is, however, not the first time that emergency eLearning programs have been considered as crisis-response measures. In the fall of 2009, face to face classes were substituted with online classes as a contingency plan when the H1N1 virus was spreading. Similarly, in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina’s landfall physically damaged 27 colleges and made on-campus courses impossible. This was followed by a rapid deployment of online learning called the ‘Sloan Semester’. This initiative came to the aid of hurricane-affected higher education students.

There have been school closures in the past after natural disasters, but we have never seen anything as widespread as what we are seeing now with the COVID-19 pandemic. If schools and colleges did not learn disaster-preparedness for education after Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 virus epidemic, this pandemic is surely an eye-opener for the education industry.

Projections by the American Council on Education for the Fall Semester 2020 indicate:

  • Overall enrollment is expected to drop by 15%
  • International enrollment is expected to drop by 25%
  • This will result in $23 billion of lost tuition

Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, thinks higher education will go through a significant transformation. In an interview, Galloway said that the second most disreputable industry after healthcare right now is education. He expects the top institutions to see a ‘dip’ and then come back stronger but many second-tier universities may not re-open.

“You’re going to see a lot of universities, whether it’s a university like Drexel, or Pace, or even a Fordham, I think schools like that may never reopen. We’re about to see the disruption in education we’ve been predicting for decades” said Scott Galloway

In an interview with CNN, Scott Galloway also mentioned that tuition rates have gone up 1,400% in the past 40 years, even though there has been very little innovation with how education is delivered. When you walk into a class today, it still feels, looks, and smells almost the same as it did 40 years back. What has changed is how people perceive this time of the year, which used to be a nervous yet rewarding time where people figured where they were going to school. This has now changed to a time where people try to imagine how they are going to take on several thousands of dollars of debt. In the case of some private colleges and medical schools, it is not uncommon to see freshly minted graduates start their careers with several hundred thousand dollars in student loans. The COVID-19 pandemic involves huge disruption to this industry and it is expected to start this fall.

The education industry has witnessed a significant change in the past few months. The pandemic has forced schools, colleges, and universities across the globe to go fully remote by conducting lectures and labs online in the form of video chats and shared online documents. Many students are not satisfied with this change and have sued their colleges for tuition reimbursement. People are recognizing that online Zoom classes without the campus experience are not worth the debt they take to pay for the tuition.

Lawsuits are being filed by students across the country seeking college refunds. With student debt rising, students and parents are now wondering what they are actually getting for the money they are paying. The future of colleges is hard to predict at this point. The value of college was already a debatable topic pre-COVID and it has become even more questionable now that we know that hundreds of colleges may not open at all this year.

For students planning to apply to college this year, Scott Gallaway says that it would be advisable to take a year off and wait till colleges open next year hopefully.

An announcement on Monday, July 6, 2020, by The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made matters even harder for international students. ICE announced that international students “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States” during the fall 2020 semester as Schools and Universities are considering ways to re-open amid the pandemic.

As students and parents, this is a difficult time to figure out what your future holds for you with respect to education. Let this pandemic be a lesson to prepare for unforeseen disasters in the future. There are always education opportunities and with information easily available, you can use this time to learn how to prepare and cope in times such as these.

If you are an educator, continue imparting knowledge and also search for lessons that can be learned from the current catastrophe. We have all experienced downtime due to weather, sickness, or disasters in the past but the kind of global disaster we are now enduring has never been experienced before. We can hope that there will be a cure for this virus someday but that doesn’t mean that this won’t happen again. Being prepared and making wise decisions will help us cope better.

The silver lining is that this pandemic has probably accelerated trends that would have otherwise taken years or decades to play out. Inverted classrooms where recorded lectures are consumed by students before the class and class time is used to ask questions or explore topics in more detail might finally become more mainstream. The hybrid education model of online and in-person classes might make education more affordable and accessible to a new generation of students.

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