Almost two years ago, life took a different turn and the unexpected happened. The pandemic caused havoc and damage in every area of our lives. We all felt its impact more or less and we witnessed the unthinkable. Among all the negativity, this time has also provided us with awakening, collaboration, creativity, and evolution.
I want to focus on this evolution, highlighting how the pandemic has offered opportunities for education to change for the better. When schools closed, education had to go on. It wasn’t only a means of continuing to help students progress academically but to show them compassion, boosting their confidence in themselves and the future.
Online learning bloomed, students helped each other, the community contributed with knowledge, moral and financial support, and social interaction was kept alive.
The pandemic triggered some beneficial changes for education, which will surely last beyond this period. Some of these are: different approaches to teaching adapted to students’ needs, developed ICT skills, professional development for teachers, attempts to bridge the digital divide, improvement of resource accessibility, funding and curriculum changes.
Exploring three opportunities for education created by the pandemic
The most notable changes are related to applying new teaching methods that speak to students’ interests, using technology to bring quality to under-resourced neighborhoods, and building capacity in educators to teach future-ready skills.
Providing more opportunities for real-world, project-based learning
The pandemic made teachers question certain curriculum content and its utility. Teachers saw this as an opportunity to rethink what and how they teach. They also adapted their content to suit their students’ needs. The past two years have provided the background for learning through project-based activities for students who always wanted to know the real-life use of what they learned.
Project-based learning (PBL) is a teaching approach in which students engage with real-life tasks addressed with sustained inquiry to provide authentic results.
Students had the chance and the time to do projects that sparked their curiosity and interests, allowing them to transfer learning from outside the classroom into their academic development. This way, teachers kept students motivated and engaged in their online classes.
The projects go through various phases of reflection-revision-critique-revision until presented to the class. Additionally, they showcase the students’ commitment and creativity.
Teachers become coaches and offer guidance, while students become autonomous learners with voice and choice. In this authentic context that mimics world situations, students develop 21st-century life and career skills.
Using technology to bring high-quality social capital to under-resourced neighborhoods
When schools moved online, parents, teachers, and entire communities became contributors to learning. They supported students and teachers alike, offering their time and expertise.
However, some communities were more affected than others, especially when it comes to a lack of devices and a reliable internet connection exposing inequities in education. Additionally, some students didn’t have adequate learning space, with multiple members learning and/or working remotely, sharing devices, facing unemployment or health issues, etc.
With the help of technology and funding, we can bridge the inequality divide for better access to remote learning. In the US, for instance, federal funds were allocated for devices through the CARES Act in 34 states. Simultaneously, some communities partnered with nonprofit organizations for the same reason in places such as Durham, NC.
Building a digital infrastructure and developing the necessary skills to use modern technology provided more access to education and information for students and parents alike. Students could resume their learning and some parents could use the newly acquired skills in getting a job to support their families. In June 2020, Microsoft launched a global digital skill initiative to help people learn much needed skills for in-demand jobs.
Building capacity in educators and front-line staff to teach future-ready skills
Most students were familiar with using technology before the pandemic. However, suddenly, they were the ones responsible for logging in to a learning platform and managing their time for study and personal activities. This was especially tricky when everything happened at home. Making more use of technology as a tool for learning and not as a distraction is also a skill they had to develop.
With the help of teachers and parents, students learned to become independent learners, the importance of self-discipline, and accountability. Nonetheless, students needed content and methods to prepare them for the future.
For teachers to provide relevant education, they need professional development to master the concepts and skills their students need. The pandemic brought about investments in teacher training, mainly in using ICT to upgrade their knowledge to the requirements of the 21st century and to benefit their students who need to develop future-ready skills.
In this article, I talked about the skills students need to be ready for their future jobs. This teaching objective should be accompanied by appropriate methods and resources, such as digital literacy, effective communication, curiosity and imagination, agility and adaptability, analyzing information, critical thinking and problem-solving.
Teachers continue to attend the multitude of free massive open online courses (MOOCs) or courses provided by universities and learning platforms as part of their professional development in many countries according to the data of the Global Education Coalition in action UNESCO which caught momentum during the pandemic. Nevertheless, for notable and reliable results in the long run, stakeholders should consider investing in teacher training for the future of our society.
People mainly associate the pandemic with its negative consequences, but there is also a silver lining. Let's always remember the teacher training improvements, digital literacy evolution, and the learning opportunities created by continuing education through remote teaching.
Hopefully, all the advancements we've made in such troubled times will set the pace for future development.