Data collected by Brookings.edu from the beginning of the 2019-20 school year through the start of the 2020-21 school year showed that in mathematics, students may show smaller learning gains from the previous year, returning with less than 50% of the gains. In lower grades, students may be nearly a full year behind in math compared to what we would observe in normal conditions. Similar estimates of learning loss based on research, showed the effect of being absent on achievement. We assume students’ learning during COVID-19 school closures are akin to what occurs when students miss school, which is a large assumption given that online learning and homeschooling are now quite common.
In accordance with the data presented, as schools start to reopen across the globe, governments have taken action to address the loss students faced throughout the pandemic, in hopes to better support our students. For instance, the Malaysian government recently tabled a RM332.1 billion Budget for 2022. The biggest allocation will go towards education with the Ministry of Education receiving RM52.6 billion and its Higher Education counterpart with RM14.5 billion, as millions of students in Malaysia saw their normal schooling disrupted since early 2020.
However, regardless of how much capital is allocated towards education, what are the actions we should take for education post-COVID?
COVID-19 has brought a huge challenge for public education as there is also a risk of losing both teachers and students who may not return to schools once they reopen. We already hear talk about how current emergency and ad-hoc measures should be transformed into lasting reforms. More people are becoming aware of the multiple roles that schools play in providing for the well-being of children and youth, and in ensuring health and nutrition, alongside academic learning. This increased awareness and appreciation can serve as the basis for a new revival of public education. How education is shaped today and moving forward, shouldn’t be the same as it was before. We need to pay attention to the changes that this generation needs and what is relevant to the needs of our time.
A UNESCO report, 'Education in a post-COVID world: Nine ideas for public action' outlines some key steps we could take in shifting our education landscape towards approaching education post-COVID.
We need to understand that those with a right to education includes learners of all ages, where this 'right' might need to reflect changing contexts, learning throughout life, and the importance of access to knowledge and information. Education is a fundamental and universal human right and societies should make every effort to sustain it, by any means necessary.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that the right to education needs to be flexible and adapted to different contexts and to the needs of changing societies. An updating and broadening of the right to education has clearly become necessary. Moreover, the pandemic has also revealed the massive importance of digital connectivity and online platforms—to the extent that we need to begin considering access to information that is connected to the right to education in ways that were not foreseen even a decade ago.
We should consider ways where the right to education encompasses fluidity, capillarity and the changing contexts of contemporary societies. This includes expanding what education should include such as the importance of media for education, culture, and general knowledge, which is relevant for students to understand in today’s world.
This includes government officials, teachers, and parents, in prioritising the participation of students and young people broadly, in order to co-construct with them the change they wish to see.
The exceptional measures related to COVID-19 have indeed put a significant number of people in great discomfort, all over the world. In particular the mental health and well-being of children and youth have been greatly affected in ways that could have lasting repercussions. Not only do we have to reshape schools and the support we provide so that students can resume their learning in classrooms and return to school activities as soon as possible, we also need to think in the medium term so that this out-of-the ordinary situation young people have experienced becomes an opportunity for learning how to meet the challenges of our time. It is an opportunity to restore what has been lost and create new and better experiences. The participation of children and youth in these deliberations cannot be an afterthought. For example, students should be given a leading voice in designing the learning opportunities and learning communities they return to when schools reopen.
This includes educational stakeholders to protect and transform the school as a separate space-time that is specific and different from home and other spaces of learning, where there is as much growth and expansion of social understanding as there is acquisition of skills, competencies and knowledge.
Today's educational landscape is undergoing a radical transition. Many changes that were slowly taking place have now been accelerated by the pandemic. Increased school awareness and appreciation can serve as the foundation for a new rebirth of public education, one that transforms the concept of schooling. Education and learning are about human interactions, dialogue, and exchange. Others are essential to our own learning. Schools are forms of collective living that cannot be replaced by distance or remote learning.
For years, we have seen the idea of a single, standardized school model giving rise to a variety of ways of “doing school”, more advanced in some places than in others but nonetheless changing educational landscapes around the world. Therefore, knowing how drastically different circumstances have been for not only our students, but for the rest of the world, the concept of school itself should be relooked and be relevant in today’s world. These are the directions we must move in—based on broader global transformations.
As parents, educators, and guardians, these are concepts that may be implemented and considered when we envision how the educational landscape could be for the leaders of tomorrow. We are witnessing the most significant shifts in education. The urgent need to improve the world that existed before us, presents us all with a significant challenge and responsibility. We need to build narratives for what the new world might look like. Education must be at the heart of a world post-COVID-19. We need new approaches now to prepare for that future.
Constant change calls for a society that can be adaptable to change and innovate new ways of shaping education with the future in mind. How would we design learning environments that help students thrive in tomorrow's world? Let’s explore this further at Leaps: Episode T - Think Ahead and Out of The Box, happening on 27 November 2021!
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