Earlier this week, Save the Children released an unsettling report detailing the unintended consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on education.
It warned that almost 10 million children may never return to school following global lockdowns. There is a serious risk that the learning gap, and by extent the attainment gap, between those who are disadvantaged and those who are not will be exacerbated by the crisis. Meanwhile, the impact of missing precious hours of schooling will have long-lasting effects on the next generation.
The report calls for governments and donors to respond to this emergency by urgently investing in education; it estimates that the pandemic will leave a $77 billion gap in education spending for the world’s poorest children.
We cannot allow this crisis to unfold, but we must urgently look to solutions beyond simply ramping up funding for schools. Could technology provide the answer?
Why we must look to technology
Covid-19 has accelerated movements that were already under way in this sector. Parents, educators and students alike have turned to digital solutions to plug the gap caused by the closure of schools and the restrictions on movement.
While technology has been enhancing classrooms and expanding the frontiers of education for many years, the pandemic has showcased the power of technology to remove the boundaries posed by physical distance. It has demonstrated that remote learning is a possible alternative to classroom learning – and indeed, even a promising one.
The global expansion of internet usage means that there are more people online than ever before. As the internet becomes more accessible, so too will sophisticated software that can lessen the burden on education systems and teachers; thereby supporting the educational development of students of all ages.
That said, too many pupils around the world still don’t have access to a high-speed internet connection and strong broadband. Some have no WiFi at all, and too many families cannot afford computers or mobile devices.
This should serve as a call-to-action for decision makers to make digital learning accessible and equal for all. Improving broadband coverage – particularly in rural areas, – equipping learners with the necessary devices and WiFi coverage, and ensuring that students are properly acquainted with any online learning platforms they will be using should all sit high on the list of priorities.
Once these limitations are addressed, we will see a fundamental shift in the model of education. Artificial intelligence (AI) – the technology that powers many of these toolsets – has the potential to democratise learning and enable students to access the same quality of education as their peers around the world.
AI-fuelled software will create systems, processes and tools that will deliver a completely unique learning experience, ensuring that content and methodology is tailored to the individual. Already, AI is being used to diagnose students’ skill levels, map them to curriculum requirements, differentiate learning responses and provide a personalised programme of learning. When this technology is deployed at scale, its effects will be revolutionary.
Why is it important?
Education is the great social equaliser; it has a direct effect on everything from crime to poverty and (in)equality. If we are to truly solve the world’s greatest problems, we must focus our attention on providing the best education possible to the maximum amount of people.
While the coronavirus has intensified positive trends, it has also widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. We cannot deny children their basic right to learn, which is why we must work hard to divert the benefits of accelerated digital adoption towards those who need it the most.