Lockdowns, self-isolation, and social distancing will be spoken about for generations; and will have changed our overall life pattern once the global health crisis due to the deadly COVID-19 outbreak is over.
Many lessons will have been learned as the world comes to terms with forced changes to everyday routines, both at work and home, as a result of the pandemic.
This year COVID 19, like many other sectors, has taken a toll on the already weak education sector and forced to take a backseat.
Although much progress has been made in improving literacy rates, illiteracy remains a global problem. It is estimated that 750 million adults around the globe are illiterate. About two-thirds of those who can’t read are women. Alarmingly, 250 million children are currently failing to acquire basic literacy skills.
According to UNESCO, as of 1 June 2020, 1.2 billion student populations (68.0 per cent of the world's total enrolled learners) were affected in 144 countries due to closures during the pandemic.
It made us realize the inadequacy of the existing education system. The current education system is losing its relevance in this age of innovation, disruption and constant change, where adaptability and learning readiness are most needed.
It is time to reflect on the impact COVID-19 has had on education and what lessons we can learn.
Access, equity and quality of education must be improved to solve the global education crisis.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic struck, in many parts of the world, children, supposed to be in school weren’t attending schools; those who were, often had lack of resources in school to provide quality education. At a time when quality education is vital to one’s life, these children are missing out the education needed to live fulfilling lives as adults and to participate and contribute to the world economy.
Now as we move on to online education, we need to make it more accessible. Though access to education is low in many developing nations, inequalities also exist within developed countries.This gap is seen across countries and also between income brackets within countries. For example, though 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have access to computers for schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia have this facility.
Steps should be taken to reduce the digital divides escalated by the crisis across income groups as well as across regions;otherwise the gap in education quality and socio-economic equality will worsen further.
Unless effective measures are taken, online education in Bangladesh will also widen the existing gap in learning inequality; as rural areas, poorer regions and households have inadequate access to ICT than the urban, richer regions and households. Better preparedness to combat this digital divide, will minimise learning inequality.
Ensuring equity to every child is a must. Every child must have the resources needed to go to school and to flourish, regardless of circumstance.Differences in the overall condition of the students, calls for flexibility in the education process for all to cope.
Quality education equips learners with capabilities and competencies required to make them economically productive, develop sustainable livelihoods, enhance their well-being,thereby,assisting in the economic growth of the country. We must update education with job readiness and adaptability to modern technology, keeping in mind its long-term economic value.
Teachers play a crucial role in successful teaching and inventing effective learning strategies. So they require continuous trainings and support to develop their skills. Educators around the globe, including some of the world’s wealthiest countries, are struggling to make distance learning effective during the pandemic. In countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh the challenge is particularly difficult.
Anxiety, fear and isolation are factors to be considered in the COVID-crisis. As mental health has tremendous effect on performance in life as a whole, all educational models or policies should be prepared to handle this by incorporating strategies to benefit the psychological well-being of students, faculty and support staff.
Opinions of families must also be taken into consideration as they are now more involved in their children's education because of online classes.
The issue of literacy is a key component of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda adopted by world leaders in September 2015, promotes universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives. Sustainable Development Goal 4.6 aims to ensure that all youth and most adults achieve literacy and numeracy by 2030.
If we are to get close to SDG4.6, Governments and all education sectors and communities must make an all out effort to ensure that systems and infrastructures are able to cope and minimise the negative effects during any crisis.
In developing countries where education is primarily provided by the government, public-private educational partnerships could play a significant role in future education.
Some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning with no training, little preparation and insufficient access to ICT, will result in a poorer education experience.
But with a little conscious effort and initiative a new combined model of education might be possible with significant benefits.
There have already been successful transitions among many institutions. For those who have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online has become more effective in a number of ways. Some research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom this is because in online situation,students can learn at their own pace and style for more retention. They can go over the same lecture several times according to their needs.
The slow pace of change with the demand of the modern world in academic institutions worldwide is disappointing. However, COVID-19 is an impetus for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions for a more effective and practical life based educational curriculum.
UNESCO continues to play a leading role in improving global literacy and promoting International Literacy along with governments and communities of the world.
On International Literacy Day 2020,UNESCO’sfocus was on Literacy teaching and learning in the Covid-19 crisis,its impact on youth and adult literacy, lessons learned, and how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methods can be used to face the pandemic;analyse the role of educators, and strategies for effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support educators and learning.
“Investing in education is the most cost-effective way to drive economic development, improve skills and opportunities for young women and men, and unlock progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals," says United Nations Secretary-General AntónioGuterres.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, unfortunately,most governments invest only between 2% - 4.5% of their gross domestic product on education.
Bangladesh's expenditure in education, both as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and as a percentage of total tax revenue is one of the lowest in the world.
If we are to succeed and contribute to world economy, it is high time governments worldwide rethink and increase fund allocation in education.
Although the pandemic arrived without warning and educational institutions had to adapt quickly to ensure academic continuity, we must take advantage of this crisis to analyze and rethink education paving the way from education to employability and economic independence for all in this century.
“Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.”- Nelson Mandela.
Some of the changes or adjustments coronavirus have caused in the education system might continue to stay. It is undeniable that future literacy programs can benefit from digital technology.
Let’s keep our minds open to re-invent and embrace the innovative education policies with modern technology in an ever changing era of new challenges.
Tasneem Hossain is a poet, columnist, trainer and management consultant
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