Reconnection of Learning
Pandemic and the Future of Education
Three years have passed since the pandemic began. In Japan, in-person classes have resumed, and university campuses are gradually regaining their former bustling atmosphere.
However, globally, over 600 million students are still affected by school closures. The impact on young children, in particular, has led to concerns about a significant decline in basic arithmetic and literacy skills in many countries.
Another issue that has come to light is the problem of the digital divide. As the transition to online learning progresses, in the United States, more than one in ten students lacked access to the necessary technology.
A survey by McKinsey has pointed out that students affected by the pandemic may risk losing up to 8 million yen in lifetime earnings.
Amidst these various concerns, what should the future of education look like?
UNESCO proposes open access to educational resources and digital tools for the post-pandemic era, while also advocating for maintaining schools as social spaces.
The following opinion piece examines the future of online education and the significance of face-to-face learning as education continues to evolve.
Embracing Chance Encounters of Inspiration
Attending lectures through ZOOM has become a normal part of our lives.
While online classes have received certain praise for their convenience, physical campuses that allow us to use our five senses to gather information – the “real media” – are also an indispensable presence.
In the face of the world’s changes, Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner, in “The Real World of College,” argue that universities should aim to provide liberal arts education and offer students transformative experiences. Transformative experiences, in this context, mean the opportunity to “think about one’s own values and beliefs, have doubts, and potentially change fundamentally.”
The social aspect of the campus is particularly noteworthy. It is within interactions with diverse individuals that identities deepen, networks expand, and creativity is nurtured together with others. The campus of a university is filled with such chance encounters of inspiration.
When I was studying abroad in Denmark, all lectures were held on campus. Looking back, while the content of the lectures was undoubtedly interesting, I believe that the true value came from chance encounters with fellow international students sitting next to me in the classroom or stumbling upon a book at the library.
As mentioned in previous newsletters, the online environment tends to narrow our horizons due to algorithms. Both students and universities need to distinguish the purpose of online learning, where desired information is readily available at any time.
By peering into the future of universities as “real media,” the emphasis would shift towards a space for creativity and co-creation rather than just access to existing information. Sharpening our senses for chance encounters of inspiration, I want to fully enjoy the rest of my campus life.
Expanding the Campus to Society
According to a survey conducted on Japanese university and vocational school students in 2021, about 71% responded that they would like to attend campus classes after resumption, while 65% of those respondents expressed their preference for a hybrid model with online learning.
A fascinating example of creating a hybrid learning environment can be found at Minerva University in the United States.
Most lectures are conducted online, with small-group discussions among 19 students, limited to 4 minutes for each speaker. This creates a stronger commitment to the class and addresses issues often faced in online classes, such as difficulty in asking questions or a sense of isolation.
Moreover, since the classes are designed with online learning in mind, the university itself does not have a traditional “campus.” Students learn while moving between student dormitories in seven countries worldwide, including London, Buenos Aires, and Seoul. The city, as a vast “campus,” becomes their place of learning.
A hybrid learning environment that transcends the physical campus allows students to learn while being immersed in society, creating new possibilities for the campus.
New Teaching and Learning for the New Normal
During a 3-month lockdown in Laos, almost no students had access to online classes. To address this issue, UNICEF, the EU, and GPE collaborated to develop the first-ever digital education and learning platform in Laos. This curriculum includes not only academic subjects but also stories, songs, videos, and programs that allow students to participate in learning through games and quizzes.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Education
According to a study conducted in January, the pandemic has had a significant negative impact on students’ academic performance. The main reasons include the inability of teachers to closely monitor students’ academic progress due to school closures, staff shortages, lost class time, and mental health issues.
Time for Education Reform
While technology and education methods have changed over the past 100 years, the fundamental approach to education in the United States has remained largely unchanged. With the inability to continue traditional education during the pandemic, there is a growing need to rethink the American education system. As there is a shortage of educators, providing an environment and opportunities for teacher training is essential to improving the quality of education.