TACOMA, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education of more than 1.5 billion students around the world. This has prompted the research of alternative learning methods, including remote and informal learning outside of the classroom.
As of March 26, 2020, schools have closed in 165 countries around the world, disrupting education for students in elementary school through college. There are many challenges associated with school closures in addition to difficulties delivering and measuring academic material. Some of these challenges include poor access to nutrition, increased dropout rates, violence and trouble measuring learning, among other issues. These complications often disproportionately affect low-income households and countries.
Transforming the Education System
Dr. Shaikha BuAli, the principal at a public online school, spoke to The Borgen Project about the pandemic’s effect on education. She recognizes the importance of a strong mindset and social values at this time when education is being delivered differently due to the pandemic. “When we open our mind’s up to look at these as opportunities instead of seeing things as negative…I think it changes our perspective and what we can get out of the experience,” says BuAli. “It’s taken a long time for people to adapt to [online schooling]or really take it seriously.“ As such, this is an opportunity to transform education, make it more individualized for each student and deliver it in a way that helps students succeed.
Here are some of the potential opportunities that parents, students and educators are considering are non-traditional styles of learning.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Alternative Learning Methods
- Remote Learning: The main platform to allow for continuity of education, from elementary school through graduate programs, is through remote or online learning. This is an important measure to provide necessary education during the pandemic and has been improved and accepted widely since the beginning of the pandemic. However, remote learning presents setbacks as well. For instance, accessibility to computers, the internet and even electricity in certain countries and socio-economic levels, as well as challenges accurately measuring student success and performance.
- Homeschooling: Homeschooling generally refers to education that is not connected to traditional schools or public institutions. Parents homeschool for many reasons, including dissatisfaction with the environment or academic structure of schools. The Journal of School Choice reviewed various studies on homeschooling, and found that “in 11 of the 14 peer-reviewed studies, there was a definite positive effect on achievement for the homeschooled students.” The results were similar regarding the social success of homeschooled students, concluding positive results in 13 of 15 studies reviewed. Statistically, homeschooling isn’t specifically confined to one income group. However, homeschooling is not practical for many, such as lower or working-class families who work long hours or otherwise don’t have the resources to teach their children at home.
- Informal Learning: According to the Journal of Learning for Development, informal learning makes up an estimated 70% to 90% of lifelong learning. This includes learning at home from family and peers, television programs, the internet or other non-structured sources of education (whether deliberately trying to learn or not). Life-skills and job training is a crucial type of informal learning. This also includes self-paced learning about individual interests. This type of educational delivery has been used in low-income countries and areas with low literacy by teaching various subjects through radio stations and TV channels, with subtitles for reading practice and comprehension.
These learning methods have been widely expanded since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNICEF, 94% of school systems across 100 countries have implemented policies to provide remote or alternative learning methods.
Online Education’s Opportunities and Advantages
Dr. JY Zhou, the interim director and SIO of Stockton University’s Office of Global Engagement, spoke with The Borgen Project about the opportunities that online higher education brings, and “what’s next” for education even after the pandemic ends. “Our current higher education system is very rigid in a way that is probably not updating quickly enough to meet the reality of this world. I hope that we can make it more flexible to meet more students’ needs.”
In Dr. Zhou’s experience, since the pandemic started, the emphasis on remote technology has allowed for increased globalization and virtual study abroad programs. These efforts have facilitated in bringing together college students from various countries.
However, accessibility for many students is still a challenge. As of a July survey by UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank, at least 463 million students are now cut off from their schools and ways of traditional education. Globally, 72% of students who do not have access to alternative education are from low-income households, and 76% of students without access live in rural areas.
Post-COVID-19: Recovering in Various Countries and Regions
NGO and government action is essential for the recovery of public school systems. Partnered with UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education has already contributed $439.72 million in grants across 55 countries or regions for policy implementation and response.
- Papua New Guinea: Papua New Guinea received a $70,000 grant to produce educational TV and radio programs which have since reached approximately 300,000 of the 2.4 million students that have experienced disrupted education. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) disbursed an additional $9.4 million to introduce remote learning programs, learning kits, teacher training and back-to-school resources including hygiene supplies for the 89% of schools without access to enough soap and water.
- Zambia: Zambia experienced its first case of COVID-19 in mid-March, and has been quick in developing an “Education Contingency Plan” for recovery and continuity of education. Similar to Papua New Guinea and many other countries, the development of accessible educational radio programs is underway, as well as disbursal of solar radios, laptops and other resources for students in low-income areas. The GPE mobilized a $10 million grant to reach an estimated 4.4 million students. However, once schools begin to reopen, there is an estimated gap of about $5.9 million in funding necessary to facilitate Zambia’s recovery plan according to the Republic of Zambia’s Ministry of Education, as of April 2020.
- Arab Countries: In a report on education and COVID-19 response in Arab countries, UNESCO outlines various policies being implemented in order to reach students. Egypt and Lebanon have provided free internet bundles and access to educational platforms. Similarly, Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia and other countries have introduced TV learning programs. And Qatar is using Microsoft Teams for online video lessons for young children.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has inspired the need for alternative learning methods, such as online school and homeschooling. These non-traditional education option has presented many opportunities, as well as challenges across the globe. Students may persevere and excel due to new learning technology and accessibility to these resources is continually improving.