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While countries are at different points in their COVID-19 infection rates, worldwide, there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic. In Denmark, children up to 11 years of age are returning to nurseries and schools after initially closing on 12 March, but in South Korea, students respond to roll calls from their teachers online. With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some wonder whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic and how such a shift would impact the worldwide education market. Before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global EdTech investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025. Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.

How is the education sector responding to COVID-19?

In response to significant demand, many online learning platforms offer free access to their services, including platforms like BYJU'S, a Bangalore-based educational technology and online tutoring firm founded in 2011, which is now the world's most highly valued EdTech company. Since announcing free live classes on its Think and Learn app, BYJU's has seen a 200% increase in the number of new students using its product. Tencent classroom, meanwhile, has been used extensively since mid-February after the Chinese government instructed a quarter of a billion full-time students to resume their studies through online platforms. This resulted in the most significant "online movement" in the history of education, with approximately 730,000, or 81% of K-12 students, attending classes via the Tencent K-12 Online School in Wuhan.

Other companies are bolstering capabilities to provide a one-stop-shop for teachers and students. For instance, Lark, a Singapore-based collaboration suite initially developed by ByteDance as an internal tool to meet its exponential growth, began offering teachers and students unlimited video conferencing time, auto-translation capabilities, real-time co-editing of project work, and intelligent calendar scheduling, amongst other features. To do so quickly and in a time of crisis, Lark ramped up its global server infrastructure and engineering capabilities to ensure reliable connectivity.

Some school districts form unique partnerships, like the one between The Los Angeles Unified School District and PBS SoCal/KCET, to offer local educational broadcasts, with separate channels focused on different ages and a range of digital options. Media organizations such as the BBC are also powering virtual learning; Bitesize Daily, launched on 20 April, offers 14 weeks of curriculum-based learning for kids across the UK with celebrities like Manchester City footballer Sergio Aguero teaching some of the content.

Technology during the pandemic

School shutdowns have seen teachers, students, and families get together to achieve great things with relatively simple technologies all over the world. This includes the surprising rise of social media as a source of informal learning content. Previously the domain of young content creators, remote schooling saw teachers of all ages turn to the video platform to share bite-size (up to one minute) chunks of teaching, give inspirational feedback, set learning challenges or show students and parents how they were coping.

Social media has also been used as a place for educational organisations, public figures, and celebrity scientists to produce bespoke learning content and allow teachers to put together materials for a wider audience. Even principals have used it to contact their school — making 60-second video addresses, motivational speeches and other alternatives to the traditional school assembly speech.

Some teachers have worked out creative ways of Zoom-based teaching. These stretch beyond the streamed lecture format and include live demonstrations, experiments, and live music and pottery workshops. Social media, apps and games have proven convenient places for teachers to share insights into their classroom practice, while students can quickly show teachers and classmates what they have been working on.

What does this mean for the future of learning?

While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning – with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation-will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid education model will emerge, with significant benefits. "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. There have already been successful transitions amongst many universities. For example, Zhejiang University managed to get more than 5,000 courses online just two weeks into the change using "DingTalk ZJU". The Imperial College London started offering a study on the science of coronavirus, which is now the most enrolled class launched in 2020 on Coursera.

The challenges of online learning

There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets. For example, whilst 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia do, according to OECD data.

In the US, there is a significant gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds: whilst virtually all 15-year-olds from a select location said they had a computer to work on, nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not. While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, such as in New South Wales, Australia, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widen the digital divide.

As the region’s current education systems design for face-to-face teaching and learning, they accommodate the lock-down and school closures, maybe if they happen in short periods. However, if the situation continues to last for months, it may need a dramatic change in delivery.

So, on what could countries focus? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Target programs to include the most vulnerable children with equipment and connectivity.

  2. Improve connectivity for schools that need it most.

  3. Improve financing of digital curriculum and materials (digital libraries, lessons, learning items, etc.)

  4. Improve telecommunication capabilities for schools to be able to deliver education online.

Effect on Distance Education

Distance education capabilities are also limited. By our estimation, in 70 per cent of countries in the region, we see zero to minimal distance education capabilities. The other 30 per cent have better abilities, but none have integrated curriculum widely delivered with a blended mode.

We need to think about the state of distance education. Traditionally, conducted distance education by paper mail through the post office. This is not the case today. Yet, we do not see tremendous progress in terms of its use. Likely, traditional school education does not need distance technology

At the same time, countries that lack access to good teaching in remote areas try to use this capability for education improvement, both by using the older and proven technologies such as radio and television broadcasting and leveraging the potential of ICT. This is where teacher training with digital technologies and applications becomes essential.

A changing education imperative

This pandemic has utterly disrupted an education system that many asserts were already losing its relevance. In a book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, scholar Yuval Noah Harari outlines how schools continue to focus on traditional academic skills and rote learning rather than on critical thinking and adaptability, which will be essential for success in the future. Could the move to online learning be the catalyst to create a new, more effective teaching method? While some worry that the hasty nature of the transition online may have hindered this goal, others plan to make e-learning part of their ‘new normal’ after experiencing the benefits first-hand.


Technology became essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a time of isolation and social distancing, the world relied on technology to learn, live, and stay connected. Technology is best used to leverage and maintain social, physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual wellbeing for children in an environment where children are co-engaged with an adult.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be long-lasting. Hopefully, this time of disruption and loss of lives are not wasted and propels us toward a new way of life improved with technology in a way that enhances wellbeing for all.

Partnering with CogentHub will ensure that your customers and shareholders can have access to unhindered support 24/7 and will keep you ahead of the curve.

About the Author

Debarpita has completed her post-graduation in Applied Geology from Presidency University, Kolkata, India. Her key areas are Content writing and Research. She is in this industry for one year. Her areas of interest include palaeontology, writing, travelling and listening to audiobooks.

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