The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many concerns regarding the divides that prevent young people from accessing and completing their education. Brian Kaitano, BSc IT student at Maseno University, Kenya, focuses on both local and global lessons learnt from this and contends that inclusivity requires a revamp of the system and the support of digital technologies for it to be achieved.
Digital Technologies: A key to post-pandemic inclusive and sustainable education, by Brian Kaitano.
Education is a fundamental human right. A good and relevant education system is essential for the realization of individual potential, global economic growth, social development and the fostering of global citizenship. With the severe and ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global learning, this is the great moment that calls for urgency to revamp education and make it a more goal-oriented activity while fostering inclusivity and sustainability through digital technology.
Inclusive education proposes that all students are provided with equitable access to quality education within the context of the mainstream system and not in a segregated system – especially for marginalized groups consisting of people living with disabilities, indigenous groups, women, young persons, children and rural communities.
The pandemic has taught us more than what we have lost
UNESCO 2020 estimates that over 1.6 billion learners (94% of learner’s population worldwide) had been affected worldwide by the widespread school and university closures for a larger part of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UN, this will result in significant loss of learning globally and, as such, cause a “generational catastrophe”.
Governments and learning institutions worldwide have reacted by implementing various measures – notably the use of digital technologies to promote the continuity of education from home during lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. As such, educational TV and radio were seen to be the most important and effective technologies for sustaining learning for students at primary level and secondary levels given students’ lack of digital skills – especially in the developing world. However, online learning via computers was seen as the most effective to learners at tertiary level since it requires digital skills and also offers a wide range of learning activities compared to TV and radio.
Many examples have been cited from the west, but successful initiatives during the pandemic can also be seen further afield. One such exemplar is Maseno University in Kenya. Maseno’s efforts and contributions to the higher education sector was acknowledged by Kenya`s telecommunication giant Safaricom, leading to a partnership to offer subsidized e-learning tariffs to students and faculty in order to facilitate online classes.
On the other hand, the lack of access to digital technologies had been considered to be the biggest barrier in enabling learning continuation during the COVID-19 pandemic together with school closures. Governments are tackling this challenge by developing regulations for distance learning and efforts are ongoing to continue to expand the number of schools with access to the required digital learning tools. Countries are already taking steps by partnering and developing policies to build a dynamic and inclusive education for all. A good example is the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) whose mission is to transform education in lower-income countries to deliver quality education which is inclusive.
These initiatives have been successful but challenges still remain. Learning losses could translate into less access to higher education, lower labour market participation and lower future earnings.
Urgent need to revamp the global education system
According to the Future of Jobs 2018 report, 75 million current jobs could be displaced by 2022 due to the shift in the division of labour between humans and machines (i.e. job automation), but 133 million new jobs will be created as well. Therefore, any debate on the future work should go hand-in-hand with a discussion of the future of global education curricula. It is essential for employers, educators and policy makers to work together and change the way we teach, employ and retrain people to empower them with new skills required in the future of work as economies of the future will be knowledge-driven.
Economies of the future will rise or fall depending more on their intellectual resources than their physical resources and the valuation of companies will depend more on human capital than physical capital. Here, education is at the centre of building human capital – one of the key drivers of productivity globally, and with beneficial socioeconomic outcomes. As such, education should be innovative and equally received in such a way that we advance the original methods of teaching and also introducing new methods of teaching while fostering inclusivity.
Lastly, historical analysis shows that inequality fuels unrest. And when educational inequality doubles, the probability of global conflict more than doubles. If inequality in education persists, the possibility for global prosperity and stability is very low.
Investing in education will increase the accumulation of human capital in societies
The case for investing in education is undeniable since education is a fundamental human right. Revamping the global education system might cost more at the outset, but it will pay off in spades since growth in the global economy is heavily dependent on education, research and development. This has been proven through investment in schools and research programmes which in turn increase human capital – a major factor of productivity globally.
The global goal to bring the global absolute poverty rate to less than 3% by 2030 has been reversed by the pandemic and the World Bank estimates that climate change and the pandemic will drive about 80 million to 130 million people into poverty by 2030 under business-as-usual scenarios. However, UNESCO further estimates that 171 million people could be lifted out of extreme poverty if they have basic reading skills. Poverty threatens education but quality and inclusive education can also help end poverty.
How digital technologies can foster inclusive and sustainable education
Digital technologies have a number of major arguments going for them/in their favour. They can contribute to inclusive education and the delivery of quality learning and teaching, as well as improved educational management, governance and administration – provided the right mix of policies, technologies and capacity are in place. ICTs can leverage education in the following ways:
- By improving students’ interest in learning through resources such as videos and graphics
- By promoting students’ participatory attitude in classroom
- By improving collaboration between students during projects and group discussions
- And by personalisation and keeping learning contents up-to-date.
Digital technologies can also address inadequacies that have left parents and children with disabilities feeling neglected. They provide an opportunity for learners with special needs to excel in their areas of ability and interest without being left out and those who find it difficult to attend schools can be reached through home-based programmes facilitated by digital technologies. Given this reassurance provided to parents and guardians, a positive spill-over would be an increase in enrollment around the world leading to a closing of the exclusion gap.
Bringing it all
Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital future is coming at us much faster than ever before. According to the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI), most countries` educational systems are not configured to equip the next generation with the skills they are most likely to need. This clearly shows the urgent need to revamp the global education system while fostering equity and efficiency. Without urgency to this matter, the costs of this learning crisis run the risk of undermining the fabric of our economies and societies. That is, leading to increasing unemployment, poverty, instability and inequality.
In order to build stronger education systems, governments will need to apply the use of digital technologies both new, and those that proved effective during COVID-19, and integrate them into the regular education system. This will involve the combination of high and low tech applications – laptops, tablets, radios, TVs, mobile phones, online platforms, printed handouts etc. – to help teachers better support learning. In addition, in order to manage a wide range of IT devices instructors need to be better equipped and this can be catered for by offering short training courses to improve their digital skills.
For global education reforms to be successful, good policy design, effective implementation capacity and strong multilateral cooperation are required. It is here that the international community can help – supporting such efforts with increased development assistance for education and digital infrastructure financed by multilateral development banks, philanthropic organizations, corporate social responsibility initiatives and – according to the World Bank – by the resources freed up by the debt relief initiatives. Digital technologies offer unique opportunities that could make up real difference in millions of people`s lives.
- Link up with Brian Kaitano via LinkedIn
- Read Brian Kaitano’s previous article on CoBS Insights: Building a green economic recovery through digital technology
- Download this article and other in Global Voice magazine #17
- Discover Maseno University, Kenya.
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