• Alexandra Biris

International Day of Education: The Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education

The 24th of January is the International Day of Education. This international observance day was proclaimed by the United Nations in 2018. This day is an occasion to highlight the importance of education in achieving global peace and sustainable development. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, highlights that there is a long way to go to achieve equal access to education for all.


Perhaps more than ever before, the pandemic has shown us that education is a cornerstone of society. Around the world, students and teachers have been facing new challenges in their learning and teaching. Remote learning environments have brought in focus issues of inequality, whether it is access to technology or a home environment that is conducive to learning. These are not entirely new issues in the field of education, though the pandemic has certainly amplified them. While it is difficult to predict the circumstances under which education will be provided in the near future, what we can be sure of is that the pandemic will have likely have long-lasting negative consequences, but also positive ones.


The negative consequences relate to the exacerbation of the learning crisis and increasing disparaties between children. According to Michelle Kaffenberger, a Research Fellow at the RISE programme, learning losses due to COVID-19 school closures will be both large and long-term. Unsurprisingly, the shock that the pandemic represents disproportionately disadvantages children in low- and middle-income countries. The reason why even a relatively limited period of loss of learning can have long-term consequences is because these losses accumulate. Existing research has shown that natural disasters have had a profound negative impact on children’s learning even years after they have returned to school. Tahir Andrabi, Benjamin Daniels, and Jishnu Das provided evidence to show that although an earthquake in 2005 in Pakistan prevented children from accessing schools for three months, still four years later their level of learning suggested they were 1.5 years behind.


Therefore, it is imperative that stakeholders do whatever they can do minimize the loss of learning due to the pandemic, or otherwise the losses may well accumulate and become extremely difficult to compensate for. Kaffenberger suggests that an important remedy will be for teachers to implement strategies to assess students’ learning levels on a continuous basis, and adapt their teaching to their levels. This will without a doubt require investments to made in education and teachers, to ensure that educators have the capacity, resources, and tools to meet the challenges created by COVID-19.


However, the pandemic has also proven to be a learning opportunity in terms of the multiple ways in which education can be provided. The pandemic has certainly sped up a process of digitalization across most sectors, including education. Many schools around the world have implemented both remote and in-person teaching, as well as hybrid models. The incorporation of technologies in education will likely remain long after the pandemic is over, and can provide a window of opportunity for more flexible teaching environments according to the levels and styles of learning of students, as Kaffenberger advocates. For example, some students might benefit from working at home in a quiet environment, while others feel that being in a school environment is more conducive to their learning. In line with this, the definition of access to education must expand to include access to both technologies like tables, laptops, or phones, and internet connectivity.


Finally, it is important to acknowledge that the pandemic has placed a spotlight on the well-being of student, teachers, and staff. In a policy brief by the UN, the social an emotional welfare of students, teachers, and staff is identified as something the pandemic has highlighted as essential to achieving quality education. In other words, it is not only the loss of knowledge and skills that needs to be addressed and remedied, but also the well-being of children and adults. Hopefully, a positive long-term effect of the pandemic will be the promotion of mental health and well-being among all members of society and a better understanding of how to mitigate the negative effects of stress, depression, and anxiety on learning.


The International Day of Education is a celebration of the power of education. During the current pandemic, it should also remind us of the valuable work teachers have done and continued to do under tremendous pressures. The pandemic also represents a opportunity to adapt and innovate in education, and create education systems that are more accessible and better equipped to serve the needs of students and teachers.

 

References

Andrabi, T., Daniels, B., Das, J. 2020. Human Capital Accumulation and Disasters: Evidence from the Pakistan Earthquake of 2005. RISE Working Paper Series. 20/039. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-WP_2020/039


UNESCO. (2020, June 2)First-ever International Day of Education – 24 January 2019.. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://en.unesco.org/news/first-ever-international-day-education-24-january-2019


Kaffenberger, M. (2020, June 17). How much learning may be lost in the long-run from COVID-19 and how can mitigation strategies help? Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://riseprogramme.org/blog/how-much-learning-lost-covid


United Nations. (2020, August). Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/08/sg_policy_brief_covid-19_and_education_august_2020.pdf