Where we find ourselves
In the wake of COVID-19, the decade has begun with a very strange air to it. As we watch the virus spread from the comfort of our homes, we also see many aspects of the world order shifting. With the imposition of restrictions, most people have been forced to work from home, or become supervisors to their children’s education from home. In their turn, industry and education systems are now being forced to re-evaluate their approaches towards work and learning.
21st Century explosion
The start of the 21st century brought with it an explosion in technological advances, spearheaded by the Internet. To varying extents, people around the world have had to adapt to a new and ever-evolving normal. However, as technology continuously forces the hand of change in many areas of our lives, many other areas such as education are today still very slow to respond. Granted, it will take political will to completely overhaul long-established methods of schooling and learning. But change is still happening. More and more, we see innovators creating different avenues and possibilities for re-imagining education and the education system at large.
Image from The Paradigm Shift in Education Jan 15, 2018
All of a sudden, my university peers and I have seen all of our classes move online, in an extremely hasty transition that no doubt has come with its fair share of technical difficulty. However, the fact that such a transition is possible highlights how the traditional education system we know so well is being challenged, not just by a virus, but also by technology. Aged professors who only two weeks ago seemed set in their ways are now required to be online all day; now, their classrooms are becoming their desktops. Without doubt, their notions of how best to impart knowledge to students are being fundamentally challenged. In the meantime, I can only wonder what academic tenure would look like in a fully modernized university institution.
Parents of school-age children are also being challenged. They have now been tasked with supervising home schooling and re-learning subject-matter like basic algebra and geography, in order that their children can keep up with the curriculum. Do they assume life will revert to normal once the crisis has passed? Or will their expectations change? This is uncharted territory.
Returning to the topic of higher education going online, I recently asked a friend what he thought about it. He welcomed it: as he saw it, why do we need physically to attend campus when most of the things we do could be done online? At first, I was inclined to agree; however, then I reflected and responded that school is not only a place to learn but also a place to interact and socialize with a wide range of people, including students from different countries, face-to-face. Furthermore, there are disciplines such as the natural sciences, and aspects of engineering and medicine which positively require physical attendance in order for students to conduct experiments, build simulations and actually work with people. So I came to the conclusion that maybe what is needed is a blend of both online and face-to-face approaches, the details no doubt varying between teaching contexts. Universities are already online; perhaps there just needs to be more impetus and more investment directed towards developing a curriculum for online learning, wherever possible. This would greatly improve public access to higher education and the opportunities it affords.
Mother nature nudge
The experts have debated at length about traditional education and what should be viewed as being the right methods for imparting knowledge. Many now argue that education of the 21st century requires a facelift, and educators need to rethink their approach and reskill in order to meet the demands and needs of the 21st century. In all of this, both urgency and care are required. From an educational perspective, our current predicament may be considered a very loud and powerful nudge from mother nature forcing us to rethink our positions on traditional education systems and start to innovate. This would better serve and increase our impact on our communities. What do you think?
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