.
A

t the end of April 2020, the world finds itself some three months into a global pandemic, that is likely to constitute an epoch-shaping event, particularly if—as most epidemiologists expect—COVID-19 remains active for another 12 to 18 months, until such time as an effective vaccine is developed and distributed. All aspects of society have been seriously disrupted, both by the disease itself but also by the unprecedented global lockdown and its socio-economic consequences. Not surprisingly, education has not been immune, with most school and university campuses around the world shut and learning taking place remotely.  

Although we are still in the early stages of an unprecedented event—at least in our lifetimes—there are a number of observations that we can make with some degree of confidence as to their accuracy.

First, while people all around the world are experiencing the pandemic, how they experience it varies dramatically. In history, pandemics are often presented as great social levelers. They are said to affect paupers and princes alike. While there may very well be some truth to this—particularly if one takes a multi-generational perspective—at the moment and in the near-term aftermath, this pandemic will amplify socio-economic inequalities both within and between nations. 

We are already seeing this play out in education. Countries, institutions, and individuals that are well-resourced with widespread internet connectivity, are minimizing disruption by shifting classes online. It took one private University group in Spain and Portugal just three days to shift its entire portfolio of classes online. In contrast, in less well-resourced settings, governments, institutions, and individuals are having to rely on lower-tech solutions such as radio and the mail to convey lessons and distribute worksheets. And of course, in the least well-resourced settings, many children and young adults are simply going without.

Second, in the midst of a global crisis like this, there is an understandable hankering for things to return to normal, to go back to the way they were. Unfortunately, the physics of entropy strongly suggests that our experience of time is unidirectional and hence there will be no going back to the status quo ante. Indeed, in the case of education, it may not even be desirable to return to a state of affairs that many thinkers were arguing was no longer fit for purpose. In other words, if there is a sliver of a silver lining to this crisis, it is to be found in the opportunity to think anew about what we want from our education both at the individual and the societal level, and about how we want to achieve those objectives. 

Finally, while we will need dialogue and time to develop more detailed answers to both the what and the how of education, the following timeless design principles can help us to think through what’s next for education. They are resilience, innovation, and social cohesion, conveniently forming the acronym RISC.

1. Resilience 

The future of education must incorporate resilience both at the level of the system itself and of the individuals within it. Resilient systems tend to be simpler and more focused, with fewer moving parts. In the context of the what of education, this may translate into a greater focus on ensuring that core foundational skills such as literacy (including scientific literacy) and numeracy are given priority alongside the development core character traits encapsulated in the term “grit” (popularized by the likes of Paul Tough and Angela Duckworth). In terms of the how, this crisis has highlighted beyond a shadow of a doubt that the internet is a utility—not unlike electricity and running water—in terms of its importance. A resilient education system must incorporate a strong online component but that will only work if there is universal internet access. 

2. Innovation

Even the best designed systems and the best prepared individuals cannot anticipate every crisis. The future of education must therefore incorporate as a design feature, the capacity to continuously innovate both at the level of the system and within its constituent parts. This would require education systems to incorporate principles of agile leadership, and provide education leaders with the training and autonomy to utilize a broad suite of pedagogical approaches in order to achieve learning outcomes. 

3. Social Cohesion

Finally, the future of education must seek to amplify humanity’s greatest evolutionary advantage: its ability to collaborate flexibly in very large numbers across time and place. Both biology and history teach us that we cannot solve problems and flourish alone and in isolation. Enhancing social cohesion both at the local and global levels must become a core objective of education particularly if, as seems likely, internationalism and global collaboration end up as casualties of the current crisis. Our education future must include active steps to bring the world together across all forms of divide—political, cultural, social, and economic. This will require us to once again put ethics and values at the core of the education enterprise.

Humanity will eventually emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. That much is clear. What is less clear is the structure and nature of the world that we will find ourselves in post-crisis. Crises create plastic moments in history where the decisions that we take today are likely to shape the future for generations to come. It is incumbent on us to ensure that this crisis does not go to waste and that however unfortunate the circumstances, we use this opportunity to continue improving the human condition. 

About
Stavros Yiannouka
:
Stavros is the CEO of World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE).
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

COVID-19 and the Future of Education

May 20, 2020

A

t the end of April 2020, the world finds itself some three months into a global pandemic, that is likely to constitute an epoch-shaping event, particularly if—as most epidemiologists expect—COVID-19 remains active for another 12 to 18 months, until such time as an effective vaccine is developed and distributed. All aspects of society have been seriously disrupted, both by the disease itself but also by the unprecedented global lockdown and its socio-economic consequences. Not surprisingly, education has not been immune, with most school and university campuses around the world shut and learning taking place remotely.  

Although we are still in the early stages of an unprecedented event—at least in our lifetimes—there are a number of observations that we can make with some degree of confidence as to their accuracy.

First, while people all around the world are experiencing the pandemic, how they experience it varies dramatically. In history, pandemics are often presented as great social levelers. They are said to affect paupers and princes alike. While there may very well be some truth to this—particularly if one takes a multi-generational perspective—at the moment and in the near-term aftermath, this pandemic will amplify socio-economic inequalities both within and between nations. 

We are already seeing this play out in education. Countries, institutions, and individuals that are well-resourced with widespread internet connectivity, are minimizing disruption by shifting classes online. It took one private University group in Spain and Portugal just three days to shift its entire portfolio of classes online. In contrast, in less well-resourced settings, governments, institutions, and individuals are having to rely on lower-tech solutions such as radio and the mail to convey lessons and distribute worksheets. And of course, in the least well-resourced settings, many children and young adults are simply going without.

Second, in the midst of a global crisis like this, there is an understandable hankering for things to return to normal, to go back to the way they were. Unfortunately, the physics of entropy strongly suggests that our experience of time is unidirectional and hence there will be no going back to the status quo ante. Indeed, in the case of education, it may not even be desirable to return to a state of affairs that many thinkers were arguing was no longer fit for purpose. In other words, if there is a sliver of a silver lining to this crisis, it is to be found in the opportunity to think anew about what we want from our education both at the individual and the societal level, and about how we want to achieve those objectives. 

Finally, while we will need dialogue and time to develop more detailed answers to both the what and the how of education, the following timeless design principles can help us to think through what’s next for education. They are resilience, innovation, and social cohesion, conveniently forming the acronym RISC.

1. Resilience 

The future of education must incorporate resilience both at the level of the system itself and of the individuals within it. Resilient systems tend to be simpler and more focused, with fewer moving parts. In the context of the what of education, this may translate into a greater focus on ensuring that core foundational skills such as literacy (including scientific literacy) and numeracy are given priority alongside the development core character traits encapsulated in the term “grit” (popularized by the likes of Paul Tough and Angela Duckworth). In terms of the how, this crisis has highlighted beyond a shadow of a doubt that the internet is a utility—not unlike electricity and running water—in terms of its importance. A resilient education system must incorporate a strong online component but that will only work if there is universal internet access. 

2. Innovation

Even the best designed systems and the best prepared individuals cannot anticipate every crisis. The future of education must therefore incorporate as a design feature, the capacity to continuously innovate both at the level of the system and within its constituent parts. This would require education systems to incorporate principles of agile leadership, and provide education leaders with the training and autonomy to utilize a broad suite of pedagogical approaches in order to achieve learning outcomes. 

3. Social Cohesion

Finally, the future of education must seek to amplify humanity’s greatest evolutionary advantage: its ability to collaborate flexibly in very large numbers across time and place. Both biology and history teach us that we cannot solve problems and flourish alone and in isolation. Enhancing social cohesion both at the local and global levels must become a core objective of education particularly if, as seems likely, internationalism and global collaboration end up as casualties of the current crisis. Our education future must include active steps to bring the world together across all forms of divide—political, cultural, social, and economic. This will require us to once again put ethics and values at the core of the education enterprise.

Humanity will eventually emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. That much is clear. What is less clear is the structure and nature of the world that we will find ourselves in post-crisis. Crises create plastic moments in history where the decisions that we take today are likely to shape the future for generations to come. It is incumbent on us to ensure that this crisis does not go to waste and that however unfortunate the circumstances, we use this opportunity to continue improving the human condition. 

About
Stavros Yiannouka
:
Stavros is the CEO of World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE).
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.