How COVID-19 will shape the future of education

Despite COVID-19 having harshly strained the education community, institutions, organizations, educators, and learners have shown tremendous creativity and resourcefulness to navigate through the crisis. But how will their innovations and learnings shape the future of the industry?

The past year has seen a rapid change in the education system - from how institutions target prospective students and filter applicants, to the role of educators and the impact of online learning on teachers and students. While some of these changes are here to stay, others might blind with old methods or disappear from the picture entirely. But who is going to decide that?

Challenges faced during COVID-19

The pandemic has left the world broken in its wake, wiping out decades of progress and forcing us to rethink the structure of the education systems we have been following for decades. It has exacerbated the social, gender, and economic inequalities across the globe, impacting the education of more than 1.5 billion students, most of them from developing nations.

  1. The technological divide
  2. Underprivileged students without access to the internet, or those without technological devices in hand cannot continue their education further.

  3. The economic divide
  4. University leader looking at the economic divide
    Indian students brought $7.6 billion into the U.S. economy during the 2019-2020 academic year. That figure represents a 4.4% decline from the year before.

    The decline in the economy has led to pressing budget cuts for institutions. Knowing that global aid to education has remained roughly the same since 2009, it is very less likely that education will be prioritized soon.

  5. The social divide
  6. Billions have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which has further created a divide between the rich and the poor, forcing parents to withdraw their children from educational institutions (millions of them, permanently) and further deepening the social inequality we’re facing.

  7. The knowledge divide
  8. The swiftness with which the pandemic struck and forced institutions to shut down showed how unprepared we were for a massive shift to digital and distance learning, and sheds a light on the amount of time it will take for us to get used to it.

Emerging from the complexities of the crisis

Despite the challenges educators and learners have faced in the past year, they have navigated through these trails with strength and resilience.

Many institutions, teachers, and students have shown dedication and creativity in collaborating with each other and coming up with resourceful solutions, many of which will redefine the future of education post COVID.

The role of educators
Professor teaching online
Technology can help educators dedicate more time to enable their students rather than letting them be occupied with solving common doubts.

With open-source courses, online learning, and all the knowledge in the world only a few clicks away, the role of educators had already been under security before the pandemic struck.

During the pandemic, however, we witnessed teachers going beyond their call of duty and responding to their students’ needs with compassion and hard work. This goes to show that teacher’s role has not been to simply use readymade technologies and give lectures but to be quick learners, creative collaborators, and most of all, enablers. And these qualities are here to remain.

A personalized curriculum powered by AI

With students around the globe facing the enormous shift from classroom to online learning, there is the danger of schools losing the humanistic dimension of education, and focusing only on the curriculum, technical knowledge, and assessment results.

This calls for a thorough reconsideration of the curriculum, how it has been built, the ways in which it can evolve, and in what capacity can it affect individual students. And AI can help with that.

Artificial Intelligence enables us to study vast amounts of data, draw actionable insights, and create personalized experiences using the results. Combined with the right educator, AI can help students improve their overall performance and aid institutions in resolving long-standing issues like the summer melt or low graduation rates.

Free and open source technologies

Apart from making student success easier, the AI technologies of today are moving in tandem with the evolving role of educators, freeing them from the mundane tasks of designing question papers, answering student queries, proctoring exams, grading assignments, etc.

This has not only helped institutions cope with budget cuts but also allowed teachers to focus on more pressing concerns. Like keeping up with the industry, helping AI design better curriculums, and experimenting with different teaching methodologies.

However, where educators & students are stranded without access to the internet and technological devices, these innovations fail, which is why UNESCO is advocating for a “global collaboration among governments, philanthropy, and non-profit organizations to develop open educational resources and open platforms.” Even though the goal seems impossible to achieve anytime soon, steps in this direction would redefine how we educate future generations.

Even though the goal seems impossible to achieve anytime soon, steps in this direction would redefine how we educate future generations.

The impact of online learning on students

In 2020, online classroom learning, open-source short-duration courses, and life-skill-based learning solutions rescued billions of students from missing out on a year of education.

While teachers collaborated and learned to navigate through the ‘new normal,’ the cascading effects of studying from home struck.

Several students and educators are battling depression, lack of sleep, declining physical health, anxiety, each of which has led students away from picking up as many online courses in 2021.

In fact, in a recent survey conducted by iSchoolConnect, 42% of students, having taken online classes, said that they would prefer to learn on-campus.

Blended learning methodologies
 students learning online
Given the option, many students would choose to study both in the classroom and online, depending on their convenience.

Last year, the usage of ed-tech in Africa expanded by 100% a few months after the initial lockdown. This goes to show that ed-tech has the potential to be the long-term solution to such harsh crises.

However, considering that children in low and lower-middle-income countries don’t have access to even the most basic technology and the fact that, given a choice, students would prefer classroom learning over online lessons, ed-tech is only one part of the current solution.

The immediate future after COVID, therefore, will support blended learning - a highly beneficial combination of human expertise and ed-tech to make the classroom a safe learning space.

High-stakes exams

The shutting down of test centers worldwide for exams like the GRE, GMAT, SAT, TOEFL, and IELTS forced institutions to waived off these scores.

Some did it conditionally, others asked students to take these tests at a later stage, while the rest demanded that these scores be submitted without any exceptions.

However, as several countries are facing second and third waves of the pandemic, institutions are reconsidering the value these exams have to offer and if they are the right way to filter candidates.

Success after graduation

Even though the COVID crisis has been around only for about a year, its impact will be lasting on both educators and learners.

Before the pandemic struck, organizations were already looking to hire students with skill-sets that would aid human progress in the new age. Like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, collaboration, and others.

The past year has only shown the power of these skills, ensuring that success will come to those who know how to work across demographics and get results through effective communication, collaboration, and teamwork.

What the future looks like

The pandemic has forced us to rethink even the most basic of our actions and adapt to the changing times. This thought process has allowed us to uproot and replace several of our ancient practices - teachers are no longer the sole educators, institutions are evolving to embrace technology for the betterment of their processes, students are open to blended learning solutions, and so much more.

While the immediate future does look bleak for those in the education industry, our learnings will help us tackle several pressing issues in the long term. All the crises humanity has ever faced have helped us evolve.

One question, however, remains - ‘Are we going in the right direction?’ This is what we have to ask ourselves every time we are faced with a decision that can shape our future. And if the answer is unclear, it’s better to take a step back and re-evaluate.


Ankita Nagpal

Content Specialist

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