Given the density of schools and campuses, it is no surprise these were the first to lockdown. And in the short time between then and now (which has admittedly sometimes felt like decades), most students have somewhat seamlessly adjusted to virtual learning, virtual socialising, and even virtual graduation ceremonies. The future of education and the impact of this turbulent period will not be unremarkable though the exact form it will take remains unpredictable. In a period defined by learning curves and painful lessons , what can we learn about the way the world is changing from the education sector?
Before the crisis struck, developments in the world of education were tethered to the changing world of work. As we discussed in part two of this series, changes in society have now rendered higher and further education unnecessary for attaining ‘success’. While some communities and classes remain wedded to the notion of higher education as foundation for a prosperous life, others have moved far away from these, recognising other opportunities to thrive. A key turning point in this has undoubtedly been the premiums now attached to further education and the diminishing value proposition of these agreements. In the UK, tuition fees have grown to £10,000 (for domestic students; £20,000+ for international) and in the US they continue to astound with the best undergraduate degrees costing into the tens of thousands. For students who utilise the not-always benevolent loans companies, they begin their professional careers in varying, but often crippling levels of debt, which recipients spend the beginning years of their professional lives paying off. Scholarship systems have gone some way to advance meritocracy, but these systems have nigh on abandoned average students.
With the onset of this crisis, this well established but not always revered system has been thrown in turmoil. Most universities and colleges were the first to ‘shut up shop’ taking learning and socialising online. Schools with younger students have followed suit and switched to remote or home learning, with weary parents playing double duty as teachers alongside day jobs. For children of essential workers, schools with skeleton staff have opened but this too has been riddled with issues. Ceremonies such as proms and graduation have also moved online with heart-warming effects, including this viral commencement speech delivered to the global class of 2020. Advocates of the system have claimed that the emergence of COVID-19 has merely accelerated the pace of digitalisation in education. However the seemingly forgone conclusion that this is to the benefit of the sector, is not necessarily the case.