The impact of COVID-19 on the education sector has led to the abrupt closure of learning institutions in several countries. This sudden development has affected students and educators alike, leaving them with no option than to switch to remote learning. While some have adjusted to the new form of education, others are still struggling to get the hang of it.
Additionally, the crisis has led to financial challenges for educational bodies. Operational costs, parents demanding to waive off tuition fees, probable failure to enroll new students this fall and the costs of ensuring the livelihoods of faculty and staff are making things worse.
Nevertheless, one can’t ignore how digital transformation is acting as a virtual anchor between the desks and the board.
Some global education bodies are acting out of altruism to work for the greater cause and opening the doors of learning opportunities for all. UNESCO has listed educational tools and platforms that are now available for students and teachers for free.
Here we explore the various challenges the education sector has been facing during the pandemic and the solutions introduced by digital transformation.
Challenges for the Education Sector During COVID-19
Education continuity is at great risk due to the economic slump that has been uprooting almost every industry worldwide. Here are some of the challenges brought by the COVID-19 impact.
1. Managing Cash Flows
The sudden change of events has jeopardized the enrollments that usually started around March and April. Students are even considering not to enroll themselves this fall, due to the absence of physical classroom setups.
In a survey that asked university presidents to name their primary worries about the pandemic, 42% had enrollment at the top of their lists. — McKinsey
The existing students are demanding tuition fee refunds as online learning is cheaper than the traditional model of education. The revenue from residential facilities for students, parking, and meal provisions are also falling significantly. Conclusively, it is a challenge for institutions to pay educators and repay installment loans.
Here are some solutions for the effective management of cash flows:
- Data Analytics: Leveraging data analytics to analyze historical and present data to understand the enrollment interest. This should be more about analyzing different demographics and the student enrollment numbers in the past, to focus primarily on students who are likely to enroll.
- Web & Social Analytics: Web engagement and social media metrics can also help prioritize students who are continuously showing interest in admissions.
- Forming Agile Teams: Set up an agile team that can communicate readily and immediately (over the phone or email) with the students and parents. Assure them that health will be prioritized, and precautions would be taken when everything reopens. Also, ensure that effective remote learning would be in place if the economies continue to operate under a lockdown.
- Fostering Communication: Consider communicating with the faculty and staff frequently. Maintain transparency by letting them know how things are. If salary cuts or furloughs need to be considered, let them know about that as well.
2. Mending Technological Gap
With virtual learning becoming the sole medium of education, educators and students are facing the everyday challenge of familiarizing themselves with technology. They feel overwhelmed with so many resources and complicated application interfaces.
Further, the absence of devices and internet connectivity for some students is making education inaccessible altogether.
Twenty percent of Native American students don’t have computers or internet access at home. — The Chronicle
Here are some solutions to bring cadence to the education sector during COVID-19:
- Choose User-Friendly SaaS Products: Experimenting with different SaaS-based video communication applications before zeroing on one. The UX of these applications should be evaluated, which should be — user-friendly, responsive, and interactive.
- Outsource Customized Products: Outsourcing a customized education and training product that suits your requirements should be considered. The platform will only demand one-time investments and will continue to serve students and teachers in the coming times, too (when virtual learning will become the new normal).
- Enabling Offline Access: Handling the low-connectivity issue is possible through allowing offline access to Google’s G Suite. Google has listed steps for EdTech, and IT teams to enable learning with minimal or no connectivity.
- Providing Mobile Hotspots: Providing mobile hotspots for students by sending out Wi-Fi-enabled buses in low-income group areas.
- Mailing Printed Learning Materials: Make arrangements to deliver printed assignments for students at their doorsteps.
- Facilitating Device Availability: If possible, colocate desktops from computer labs to low-income families. Educational institutes can also reach out to large-scale businesses such as Amazon for help regarding device availability.
The Amazon Future Engineer program is donating 4,000 laptops to high school students across the U.S. and making new online computer science resources, including exam prep, free. — Amazon COVID-19 Daily Updates
EdTech for Minimizing the Adverse Impact of COVID-19
The role of the education sector right now is to prioritize the health of students and teachers and facilitate remote learning at all levels.
Delivering education poses to be a challenge in the current scenario. However, Edtech is easing the plights of the education sector to an extent.
Here are some recommendations to weather the adverse impact of Coronavirus on education:
1. Choosing the Right Remote Stack
Decide on the tools and platforms that you would want to recommend to teachers and students. Analyzing the features of education applications should be a priority for making an informed decision.
Remote stack recommendations for the education industry:
- Unified Management Systems: Create a centralized management platform for educators and students that can be accessed remotely for marking attendance, recording leaves, uploading homework and assignments, and making announcements.
- Low-Bandwidth Applications: The virtual learning platform and video communication applications should work fine with low-connectivity and should be occupying minimal storage space. Popular applications in use — Hangouts Meet, Skype, Zoom, WeChat Work.
- Tools with Offline Access: Experiment with applications that can be used on basic mobile phones with no internet connectivity. An example is Cell-Ed, a learning platform with offline access.
- Multiple-Language Enabled Tools: Applications that offer language interoperability are an add-on. An example is — Kolibri, a learning application that can work offline and offers over 20 languages.
- Open-source Learning Platforms: This will help teachers and students learn and grow. For example, Canvas Network for teachers where they can learn new courses and develop their skills. Or iCourse, a learning platform for students that is available in Chinese and English.
- Self-Directed Learning: Motivate students to try self-directed learning applications such as Byju’s or ABRA that support gaming activities and other different forms of educational content.
- Host-Live Sessions: Faculty and management can host Youtube Live or Facebook Live sessions for critical discussions or even leaders’ Q&As.
- Lesson Creation Software: Recommend applications to teachers that facilitate the creation of study materials. For example, EdPuzzle, a video lesson creation software or Thinglink that helps create interactive images and videos.
2. Ensure Data Privacy and Data Security
Cybersecurity threats and attacks are on the rise since everything shifted online. This brings a huge risk to students’ and educators’ data, test materials shared by faculty, and other learning resources private to an educational institute.
The education sector has been vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks for a long time. And, the COVID-19 scenario just aggravates the risk.
For cybercriminals, school districts, colleges, and universities were easy prey. Possible reasons include large numbers of users (such as students) and decentralized security operations. — Proofpoint’s Protecting People 2019 Report
Inference — Educational institutions need to be extra cautious, and every effort should be made to safeguard the privacy and security of critical data.
Recommendations for addressing cybersecurity threats due to COVID-19 impact on the education sector:
- Using Strong Passwords: Encourage students and teachers to use strong passwords when logging to unified management systems and when creating accounts across other online learning platforms.
- Robust Antivirus Software: Recommend installing robust antivirus software on the devices. A better option would be to pilot a STANDARD antivirus solution that can be used by all.
- Laying Down Ethical Guidelines: Conduct online sessions or mail a list of guidelines to parents, students, and faculty. These guidelines should focus on factors such as the necessity behind installing VPNs, i.e., how it protects data against phishing and malware attacks.
- Spam Awareness: Spread awareness around spam mails and demonstrate by sharing screens on video communication channels to inform about the dangers of accessing such emails. Educate them to not click on links or attachments from senders they do not recognize and report them to the management.
- Relying on In-House SaaS Products: Focus on in-house SaaS product development efforts as they mitigate security risks over publicly available products. In this case, the educational body enjoys full control of the product without having a third party to rely on.
- Conducting Webinars: Leverage webinar software to conduct sessions for parents and faculty to guide them against the cybersecurity threats and ways to protect their systems.
- Imparting Basic-Level Knowledge: Most importantly, start educating children about cybersecurity on a basic level. This can be done by including cyber education programs that leverage storytelling to spread awareness about cyber threats.
CyberPatriot education programme offers free teaching modules like “security showdown” to teach kindergarteners what information is safe to share with strangers online, and publishes children’s books like “Sarah the Cyber Hero.” — World Economic Forum
3. Offer an Integrated Platform to Eliminate Confusion
More the resources and tools available, the higher the confusion. The paradox of choice takes a toll on students and teachers alike when the educational institutes provide infinite resources to refer to. This needs to be greatly minimized.
Recommendations for minimizing confusions for educators and students:
- Evaluate Options: Educational bodies should download multiple software applications and should conduct a detailed analysis of different open-source resources available. Recommend minimal tools and resources only after they have been thoroughly tested.
- Consider Integrated Platforms: Invest in integrated digital collaboration platforms that act as an all-in-one solution. This one-time investment would be helpful now and in the future, as kids would become self-reliant when they have working parents around.
For instance, Net Solutions built a digital collaboration platform for EdPlace that worked for students (5-16 years old), parents, and educators alike. The platform manages the content in a clean manner without adding on to the complexities.
The application enables the upload of educational content in the form of subjective, objective, and diagrammatic worksheets. EdPlace was built, keeping user engagement in mind to encourage students to use it. The product features included:
- Drag-and-drop feature on worksheets to stir student engagement.
- Auto-assigning of worksheets based on the last performance.
- Student dashboards to track their performance that helped recognize their weaknesses and strengths.
- Badges and rewards for recognizing students and encouraging them to do better.
For an in-depth insight, refer to the EdPlace case study.
COVID-19 impact on the education sector has left them in a tight spot as economies continue to be under lockdown. Managing the learning curve, reaching out to every student, and creating a safe remote learning environment are some of the challenges at hand. And with educational institutes facing financial difficulties — it will take a while to restore normalcy.
However, digital transformation in education has been bridging the gap by providing remote learning, irrespective of the demographic boundaries. The educational institutes like schools, colleges, and universities need to take charge and offer assistance to parents, faculty, and students at all levels.
The right strategy is to offer relevant remote stack tools, minimize the resources and tools to trim down confusion and ensure resistance against cybersecurity threats.
Let us put efforts to adjust to this new normal of education!