In an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, many educational institutions across the world decided to shut down. Statistics from UNESCO revealed that these nationwide closures are impacting over 60% of the world’s student population or 1.2 billion children. To cope, many schools have utilized educational technologies to provide remote learning opportunities.
The rise of remoted education or online learning has been expected since the pandemic started. Recent reports show there’s been an increase in usage of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and WebEx and learning management systems like Blackboard, Instructure’s Canvas, and Google Classroom. Many online learning platforms, including BYJU’s (a Bangalore-based educational technology and online tutoring firm), are offering free access to their services.
These platforms and other online education services are using this pandemic as an opportunity to introduce their services. Fortunately, the pandemic has benefited them. For instance, there has been a 200% increase in the number of new students using BYJU’s product. Lark, a Singapore-based collaboration suite which developed ByteDance, has ramped up its global server infrastructure and engineering capabilities to boost their services. The platform offers unlimited video conferencing time, real-time co-editing of project work, auto-translation capabilities, and many more.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, DingTalk, Alibaba’s distance learning solution, had prepared a similar strategy. “To support large-scale remote work, the platform tapped Alibaba Cloud to deploy more than 100,000 new cloud servers in just two hours last month – setting a new record for rapid capacity expansion,” Chen Hang, DingTalk CEO, said.
While the pandemic has surely worked to the advantage of online education platforms and services, experts are worried about whether or not this kind of setup will benefit children. Parents across the world have also expressed their concerns.
Advantages of Online Learning
Many parents are gradually accepting the shift to online classes not only because it is safe but because they have also wanted to have more control over what and how their children learn. For Elizabeth Friscia of San Diego, who has two daughters, Jayne and Juliana, one of the biggest advantages of online education is it teaches students to become more independent and responsible.
"In a brick-and-mortar school, Jayne was doing what she was told to do all day. Now she has more flexibility. But it took her nearly a year and a half to get her to where she understood the concept of being responsible for her own work. This is something most of us don't learn until college,” Friscia said.
Throughout the years, online learning has helped both students and teachers. For instance, this helps students learn while having the comfort of time for understanding. A study released by IBM found that students learn five times more through online classes compared to what they learned in normal traditional classrooms. Online platforms address the concern of teachers not being able to look after their students in the traditional setup. With these services, students are given the necessary tools to connect with their teachers and have a better learning experience.
According to Thrive Global, an American company that provides behavior change technology and media to support individuals struggling with stress and burnout, e-learning platforms can help students interact with their teachers in a better way. Since all communications can be done online, they can message their teachers comfortably. The Research Institute of America once reported that the retention rates from online learning increase from 25% to 60% while traditional classroom retention only rises from 8% to 10%.
Is Online Education Effective?
The biggest concern that parents and experts have is the digital divide. While many students can access online education platforms and services, a lot of children in many countries can’t afford them. Some students have no smartphones or laptops and the internet. Experts say that issues with the digital divide will appear at every level of education. While this problem in education isn’t new, it is magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures.
A new analysis conducted by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that the coronavirus crisis has revealed how far behind many are on digital uptake. “Inequalities in digital readiness hamper the ability of large parts of the world to take advantage of technologies that help us cope with the coronavirus pandemic by staying at home,” Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director, said.
The digital divide is felt more by people living in the least developed countries (LDCs). They are not only the most vulnerable to the human and economic consequences of the pandemic but also lag farthest behind in digital readiness. The analysis revealed that only 1 in 5 people in LDCs use the Internet. Another report from UNESCO showed that half of over 826 million students worldwide have no access to a household computer, while 706 million have no internet at home.
The changes in education are also a struggle for low-income parents. Aside from not being able to afford the tools needed, they will have a harder time helping their children keep learning. For instance, it’s difficult for families to encourage kids to complete their homework because they manage full-time work and family obligations on a tight budget. Less privileged students will also suffer.
According to The Conversation, a network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers, less privileged students are more likely to lose points due to missed or late assignments, lag behind their wealthier peers in many subjects, or be bullied by classmates. Experts also expressed their concern about how the internet can expose children to the dark side of the web. There’s a huge opportunity for them to become victims of online exploitation and grooming.
“Under the shadow of COVID-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens. We must help them navigate this new reality,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
While many experts believe that this major shift to online learning will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge. “I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education,” Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education, said.
Nonetheless, governments and educational institutions must consider those who are not privileged enough to cope with the changes in educational learning.