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How COVID-19 changed the way we educate children

Students, parents and educators are in the midst of another tumultuous school year due to COVID-19. At the height of school closures, in mid-April 2020, 94% of learners worldwide were affected by the pandemic, representing nearly 1.6 billion students in 200 countries.
 
According to recent research published by UNICEF, the impact of this time away from the classroom could have a life-long impact on students' earnings. One estimate suggests that global learning losses from four months of school closures could amount to $10 trillion in terms of lost earnings. Despite the impact to learning, and growing evidence that schools are not hot spots for coronavirus transmission, a number of schools around the world remain closed.
 
How have educational disruptions impacted student learning?
 
An average of 50 days of in-person teaching have been lost to school closures, globally. Based on preliminary data comparing students’ academic achievement and growth during the pandemic to the achievement and growth patterns observed in 2019, this time out of the classroom has impacted learning.
 
Research has shown that while in almost all grades, the majority of students made some learning gains in both reading and maths since pandemic started, gains were smaller depending on the subject. Students in grades 3-8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in the latter part of 2019. However, maths achievement of students in 2020 was about 5 to 10 percentile points lower compared to same-grade students the prior year.
 
Many are keen to understand the long-term impact of this prolonged disruption to students’ education and what parents, students, teachers, businesses, and government can be doing to help mitigate the learning losses due to COVID-19. One of the key questions that needs to be addressed is: if and how the adoption of new learning methods, skills, and technologies may be able to address this problem in the future.
 
How have education ministries responded around the world?
 

Almost every country introduced additional support programmes to remediate learning loss as schools were reopening, according to a UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank survey of 149 ministries of education. Inclusion of remote learning in its education response to COVID-19 – using online platforms, TV/radio programmes and/or take-home packages – were also standard responses. 
 
Spain quickly introduced educational content through its broadcast channels, Mexico leveraged its educational television (Telesecundaria) by combining short educational videos with lesson plans, and Uruguay adopted live remote teaching using its national online learning platform. Online learning has been provided as a solution in many parts of the world, although the rates differed by income level.
 
In about 60% of countries, the Ministry of Education created its own platform to display educational content for teachers and students in primary and secondary education. Commercial (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom) and open source platforms (e.g. Moodle, Canvas) were also used to complement those national education platforms for the delivery of synchronous classes.
 
But, how effective did countries find the switch to remote learning? Globally, online learning platforms were rated as either very (36%) or fairly (58%) effective.
 
This is not surprising, according to Mrinal Mohit, Chief Operating Officer at BYJU’S, an Indian educational technology and online tutoring firm, who says that online learning can leverage the power of digital tools to make learning fun and engaging. In video-based lessons, teachers can encourage students to interact through discussions in small groups. With game-based learning, students can collaborate to foster important socialization and teamwork skills.
 
Of course, the data has shown the effectiveness differs based on income group, likely due to the ability to fully leverage the benefits of remote learning based on network connectivity or other pre-requisite infrastructure, digital skills, and/or appropriate access to technology.
 
To tackle this, companies like BYJU’S are making sure their learning content can be accessed on SD cards and/or 2G and 3G networks. Their Give Initiative (part of their Education for All programme) encourages donations of old or unused smart devices that will then be refurbished and powered with BYJU’S content and distributed free to children with no access to online education. Of course, further public action could support this goal.
 
What will the future of learning look like?
 
Many countries have now adopted hybrid approaches, constituting a mix of in-person and remote learning for when schools reopen.
 
Going forward, Mohit believes we will continue to see the rise of blended learning. Learning will eventually combine asynchronous online elements with synchronous elements, enabling students to interact with each other, their teachers and learning content, all at the same time. 
 
The recent announcement of cooperation between TAL Education Group – an edtech firm headquartered in Beijing that currently teaches over 3 million students - and UNESCO also points to the changing nature of the sector. This agreement focuses on developing a global online learning system responsive to emergent crises using IT and AI technologies.
 
Onion Academy demonstrates another future-oriented learning product; it combines AI technology and animation videos to deliver knowledge points and thinking tools. The animated videos last for 5-8 minutes on average, accompanied by an after-class exercise on the app to help students review concepts on the spot and cultivate self-directed learning.

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