How Covid-19 broke down the school system globally – analysis
In the world of education, this must count for a miracle. Schools, colleges and universities for years insisted that online learning was not for them. With the coronavirus pandemic, schools were suddenly able to make this rapid change. Within a fortnight, the technology that received a strong pullback suddenly became acceptable, even mandatory.
It is difficult to advocate for change and reform in the education sector. Traditional university and school models have been sacrosanct for centuries. We make fun of teaching on the assembly line. Songs were written about how the school was like a sausage factory, and each student was just another brick on the wall. The wall remained motionless. Until now.
Schools quickly realized that this disruption could get them off their perches. Schooling and higher education had been struggling for decades. Higher education survived, patching up issues of structure, tenure, research, purpose, discrimination, ambition, rigor, scope, and, of course, funding. Schooling also suffered from delays in learning, funding, standards, teacher motivation, salaries, and the gap in adequate preparation for all students.
The elite fared better, as money often buys quality. Excellence and opportunity were not accessible to all students worldwide. In fact, as we see from disruption, neither is survival.
Adapted institutions. They were right to do so. They needed students more than students needed them. On paper, certified student institutions. Actually, the students validated institutions through the application.
We are in the first months of the disruption, and already, college students around the world are questioning the value of their education and demanding discounts. Despite the large amount of work that teachers in schools have struggled to maintain continuity where they can afford it, by connecting, fees are in jeopardy. Parents do not want to send their children to school while the physical dangers are high. Schools cannot survive this.
The disruption caused by coronavirus disease highlighted the fact that institutions were not necessarily delivering value. The school is easily disaggregated.
We have just moved classes, connection and content to the online media. Soon, we will be good at it and spread it to everyone. A student will also be served with an online curriculum delivered by star teachers from around the world. Or by supervised study groups in real or virtual spaces. On demand, with customization, this could be better than older forms. It is not necessary to come to school for this. Teachers can also learn to create their magic through tuition or other learning centers.
Certification can easily be independent of schools. The information technology sector has been doing it for a while; School assessment tests do not depend on the school at all. Students can register for any exam in all forums, states, and countries. Exam operations can be performed at neutral centers or online. We don’t need schools for exams. Administration can hardly be a reason to have schools and universities. Administration is software now.
Neither learning nor assessment should be tied to one center, except to serve regulation. Regulation can also be reformed to support disaggregated parts.
Social and emotional learning can be found in community and group learning experiences. One does not need specific school structures. Only sport needs local facilities. Even a corporate internship provides that collegiate experience. A student may better participate in a global competition or hackathon than writing tests and essays for an evaluation at school. They can find friends at the local park or football club, not necessarily at school. If the school is divided, then this existential question must be asked: What is the true value of the school?
Other sectors have been disrupted before, and so has education. Ancient universities disappeared, as did entire school systems. It can happen again. The disaggregation of the school packet has become visible. Schools and colleges can be intervened, and students may find it easier to directly access learning that meets their goals. For many, the schools were too rigid and restricted their personal travel. For others, schools forced a generic rhythm. For some talented, schools were limiting. All teachers know that much of their energy and effort at school is spent boxing a variety of students into a set of curriculum and goals. Schools compel students to comply with laws, enforcement, monopoly on progression, and habit.
Schools also unite students with a love of learning, with purpose, with direction and support. Schools and universities provide value, but it’s not where they think it is. It is not where it was. This disruption has revealed our vulnerabilities. But it has also given us a reason to seek true value.
As educators and as institutions, our task is to answer this question: What is the true value of schools? And then deliver by value, not habit or regulation.
Meeta Sengupta is an advisor, writer, and lecturer on educational policy and leadership practices that heals conversations for sustainable solutions and impact.
The opinions expressed are personal.