SEATTLE, Washington — Each morning, millions of sleepy-eyed children stumble begrudgingly out of bed and prepare for another day of learning. Just before 8 AM, they log on to their laptops, arriving “at school” just in time for attendance. More than one billion students have experienced disruptions in education during COVID-19. Since the beginning of 2020, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc, causing widespread school closures and a frantic transition to remote learning.
Although people are feeling the challenges of this new reality globally, the depth of COVID-19’s impact has been uneven. Children in poor nations are disproportionately affected. For regions already grappling with substandard healthcare, education and technology, the pandemic has strained infrastructure and aggravated existing poverty issues. As students prepare for a new year, companies are offering developing countries innovative solutions to the threat of learning poverty. These educational technologies, or “edtechs,” are pioneering the transition to remote education during COVID-19.
COVID-19’s Impact on Global Education
Social distancing has catalyzed innumerable changes to daily life and the institutions that facilitate it. Face masks have become a fashion statement; hand sanitizer and toilet paper have achieved luxury status and Zoom happy hours have become this season’s most anticipated events. Far more significant, schooling is completely unrecognizable. Despite vigorous efforts to mitigate learning casualties, COVID-19 poses a dismal threat to millions of children’s educations.
Before the pandemic, only 47% of children from low and middle-income nations were literate by the age of 10. COVID-19 has compounded this learning deficit. The World Bank now estimates that disruptions in schooling may decrease the global average length of education by 0.6 years. This reduction translates to $872 less in annual income per person.
Economic adversity due to business closures and relief spending are also impairing education during COVID-19. Massive layoffs have left millions without incomes, yet cash-strapped governments already straining to combat the public health crisis can hardly afford to pay unemployment benefits and welfare. In developing countries, where private spending accounts for 38% of education funding, millions of families are struggling to keep their kids in school amid growing financial insecurity.
Without dynamic and immediate legislation to strengthen new modes of learning, the pandemic has the potential to undermine education around the world, squandering human capital, curtailing productivity and diminishing the quality of life for millions of children.
4 EdTech Companies Safeguarding Education During COVID-19
Thousands of schools have turned to digital platforms that offer virtual solutions to these challenges. Fortunately, many of these edtech companies are bringing their innovative technologies to developing countries to ease the pandemic’s pressure on national resources.
- Duolingo: Widely known for its language-learning programs and games, Duolingo also offers a remote English comprehension test for international students seeking admission to universities in English-speaking countries. Launched in 2016, the online exam provides a cheaper, more flexible alternative to better-known standardized tests. Because students can take it online, the test is globally accessible, the only requirement being a reliable internet signal. As COVID-19 has prevented students from taking the in-person Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Duolingo English Test, once a minor part of the company, has exploded in popularity. At least 1,000 more colleges are accepting its scores.
- Coursera: Coursera is a website that teaches nearly 4,000 online courses. It is granting free classes to university students affected by the pandemic. With the exception of those in U.S.-sanctioned countries such as Iran and Syria, scholars around the globe are enhancing their education during COVID-19 with Coursera’s wide range of remote lessons. Moreover, the platform empowers them both intellectually and vocationally. As Coursera has benefitted the careers of 87% of its scholars, the service is not only a learning tool but also an incubator for economic success.
- Smartick: Primarily an online math tutoring service, Smartick is doing its part to secure education for all. It has partners in the U.S., Spain, Latin America and Africa. Smartick’s 1=1 Program gives one online subscription to a child in need for every subscription purchased. In addition to serving those most in need, the 1=1 Program is now available to children and families impacted by the pandemic. Through its donated math courses, the program is endowing children with academic mastery, thereby allowing them to transcend the adversity they face.
- Shorelight: Once a matchmaker for international students to find American universities, Shorelight has embraced the global transition to remote learning with its new service, American Collegiate Live. Aiming to ease the stress of the pandemic, American Collegiate Live offers online courses taught by professors from dozens of U.S. colleges. The program provides an affordable curriculum that allows international students to circumvent travel restrictions and shifting school scenarios due to COVID-19.
The Future of Education
As the world adjusts to this new normal, the global need for such online tools will only grow. The demand for edtech has already reached new heights in 2020. Moreover, the industry has received a whopping $803 million in investments, a sum that testifies to the future of edtech as a fundamental facet of education.
While the listed companies are already catering to the developing world, thousands more offer valuable services. However, poor countries simply cannot afford them. Fortunately, poverty reduction forces around the world are to eliminate such inequality. Enterprising executives should view such an effort as a boon to business. As the populations of developing nations are economically empowered to afford cutting-edge technologies, edtech companies will see their already-soaring growth rates explode to astronomical levels.
– Rosalind Coats