“It’s time to teach children to understand the world.”
Noam Chomsky, April 2020
It is a very complex and sensitive matter to talk about the future of education at the international level at a time when the world, society and life experience that we have known up to now has been disrupted completely by an unprecedented health crisis. Every circumstance, situation or tiny detail of our existence has been completely transformed as certain events have unfolded that until just a few months ago we would not have believed if we had known about the major shift in the course of history in the 21st century.
As this situation has shown, education is a right that must be protected, as it is precisely in emergency situations where schools offer protection and stability. Over the following lines we want to reflect on one of the basic pillars in human formation. We will talk about education.
The lives of millions of people have been affected directly or indirectly by COVID-19. Without a doubt, the area of education has been suffering the consequences most visibly, with the immediate result of the closure of schools and the transformation of in-class teaching into a virtual environment within a period of time that barely allowed the education community to react for effective recycling.
Teachers have had to live with the uncertainty of continuity, worrying about offering quality teaching, helpless in the knowledge that some students are unable to access technological devices and tools due to social inequalities, and we have had to fight the lack of motivation among students.
The impact of the coronavirus epidemic on education internationally can be shown in the following figures: On April 1, 2020, a total of 1,598,099,008 students were affected: 91.3% of all enrolled students worldwide. Schools were closed completely in 194 countries.
In light of the data, teachers are faced with a number of questions that are hard to answer. What will be the emotional situation that awaits us in education following the pandemic? What human resources will we have? What technological tools will be available to us? And most importantly: What educational and psychological training will we need?
We should probably evaluate the premise of the great philosopher and educator José Antonio Marina: Should we talk about changing or rebuilding; in other words, should we try to go back to where we were?
The role of ITCs in the future of education
Given the sudden, almost abrupt implementation of the virtual teaching model that we have experienced, we must meticulously assess the presence and use of these resources that manage, transfer and share information on digital media. Technological innovation will play a key role in the future. ICTs (information and communication technologies) offer working instruments with multiple possibilities, which in the current educational context can enable us to face the health-related problem of in-class education. The major advantages of these resources is not limited to responding in this specific time of crisis; on the contrary, they will give students the chance to extend their educational horizons. While a textbook is a static element, online resources help us cover the curricular needs of students more effectively and with greater detail. It is important at this point to evaluate the adaptive learning concept, which is the process of adapting education to the different paces of each student. We live in a learning society, and as the Nobel prize winner in economics, Joseph E. Stiglitz, explained, the evolution and advancement of societies are directly related to the ability to learn.
However, one of the main inconveniences of virtual teaching is the lack of access to technological resources for many students. That is why one of the factors that international authorities must keep in mind is the information access deficit in times of pandemic, as this is undoubtedly very relevant in terms of social inequality. Overcoming these deficiencies is among the priorities of the United Nations, as is evident in the working plan for the Agenda 2030 project.
New possibilities and opportunities in education
Teachers will be experiencing a profound educational revolution, based on the pillar of technological innovation and a new emotional situation in which ethics, civic, individual and collective responsibility will be essential values. More than ever, educational institutions must play the role of a multidiscipline, adaptive and flexible trainer. On the one hand, virtual teaching requires autonomous, responsible students with a critical spirit, as well as a considerable capacity for self-learning in the upper levels, especially at the universities.
On the other hand, there is a fundamental aspect that becomes watered down with online education, which is the pedagogical part based on affection, interpersonal relations and emotions. Those affective bonds that are developed at education centers are an indispensable part of students’ training.
It is important to assess the impact that this crisis will have on the students’ stage of life learning. It would seem to be the perfect time to reflect in the classroom on human beings, society and cross-culturalism. That could be viable through the inclusion of materials that contribute to reinforcing the critical spirit. In fact, several voices are speaking to the inclusion of the Science of Cultural Evolution subject in the study plans.
It is clear that there are great projects that we hope are not left as mere proposals. The great challenge, perhaps utopia, is that all boys and girls, all young people around the world have access to a quality education, alleviating the effects of social inequalities. Investing in education and literacy is an investment in the future of a better world.
We must understand that the great value of teaching is in sparking curiosity in understanding the world. Technology, pedagogy, teaching innovation and collective intelligence will be our greatest allies. We face this stage, then, with optimism and hope.
Soraya Almansa is Professor of Lengua Española at the Grado de Traducción e Interpretación and at the Máster en Formación del Profesorado de Educación Secundaria y Bachillerato