Embrace Technology to Democratize Education

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

October 27, 2020

Once the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing are fulfilled, education and healthcare are critical. As 2020 runs its course, healthcare has become top priority for both governments and individuals alike. Meanwhile, education has been severely impacted, more so in developing countries where months of school closures have entailed lost time and many can’t even afford to make the shift online. For the ones who can afford the technologies that enable online learning, hurriedly generated online teaching modules have also created a dent in learning.

Online teaching efforts cannot be discredited. However, its reach has been limited as both device and data access are inaccessible to the weaker socio-economic sections of society. Education, meanwhile, has typically been the leading enabler for socio-economic development. With months of learning lost due to the pandemic, alternatives must be thought of to ensure this lost time is made up for. The pressing need is to guarantee education gets back up to speed.

How must parents encourage their children to consider online learning becoming a vital part of the ‘new normal’? What are workarounds to unavailability of quality teaching aids? To facilitate discussions on pressing issues such as these, Horasis is convening the Horasis Asia Meeting on 30 November 2020. It is a virtual event that will be conducted on the innovative online conferencing platform Run the World.

Education in the Traditional Sense

Access to education has typically required students to visit physical premises. Classrooms with dedicated teachers was the norm and various laboratories allowed students to imbibe science concepts better. Emerging economies were making confident strides in ensuring access to better secondary and post-secondary education. In many emerging economies, parents lay great emphasis on pursuing medicine or engineering courses. However, enrolling into one of the more prominent institutions require intense preparations at brick-and-mortar centers to ‘crack’ entrance exams and be accepted.

With the pandemic’s onset and the ensuing lockdowns, educational institutions were immediately deserted. The large majority of teaching faculty held no previous online teaching experience or training. But almost overnight, they were thrown into a quagmire of sorts – of fulfilling their obligation to impart learning but now with the help of an electronic device and internet connectivity. Even as lockdowns are eased, most schools and colleges continue to remain shut.

The Role of Parents

Much as teachers were ensuring their courses were delivered without interruption, parents suddenly found themselves enacting a closer role in their wards’ education. No doubt parents have an integral part to play and education is not just a school’s responsibility. However, with many working from home, balancing their career and children’s education has been no easy task.

It must be acknowledged that COVID-19 will be a part of the ‘new normal,’ and that online education will replace a fair share of traditional classroom learning. It is imperative then for parents to encourage the uptake of innovative learning methods. More importantly, they must implore their children to build social circles outside of their classmates. Camaraderie is as much a part of education. Although traditional classroom socializing has been affected, socializing and social distancing are both of the essence in the ‘new normal’ and parents have to drive their children to adapt to new ways of interaction.

Making Up Lost Time

The pandemic ushered in a healthcare crisis and a worldwide economic slowdown. Manufacturing was most impacted since supply chains were broken up and even service sector majors, such as tourism, witnessed a massive decline. Amid the downward trend, educational technology or edtech has acquired center stage. Many edtech companies sprung up in quick succession and a few have even gone on to become ‘unicorns’ – with their valuations exceeding $1 billion.

Valuable time has been lost over the current year as educational institutions were not equipped to teach using a purely online model. However, the one credible alternative to making sure at least a part of the lost time is recovered is to closely employ technology as a teaching aid. Where physical laboratories remained inaccessible to students, virtual labs with simulated apparatus, experiments and inferences must become the norm. There is, of course, no replacement for an actual teacher that students have access to. But considering the barriers posed, edtech alone can ensure students can make up for lost time.

What Can Governments and Private Enterprise Do?

Data access has made noteworthy strides over the recent past in emerging economies. Smartphone penetration has been increasing and data plans are inexpensive. However, device access is usually limited to the adult members of the family. Without device and data access, online learning will miss its target. And the inability to learn has been proven to be accompanied by many social ills.

Governments and private enterprises must collaborate to ensure easier availability of enabling infrastructure for learning in the ‘new normal’. The Indian telecommunication conglomerate Jio recently announced the launching of a smartphone for about $70. Coupled with inexpensive data plans, this will ensure higher technology uptake and increased access to edtech. Technology presents a win-win situation; it truly does democratize learning.

Photo Caption. An image that speaks for itself, no matter what the crisis.