Going to school every day, meeting physically with teachers, classmates and schoolmates was the norm. Working together in groups, touching and hugging without having to constantly sanitize was very normal.
But such is not the case anymore as the narrative has changed. Face shields and nose coverings, sanitizing, regular washing of hands, talking to someone from a distance has become the order of the day. The words pandemic, facemasks, face shields, online learning, sanitizers have become regular words in our vocabulary.
This is the new normal. It was a drastic change that came when nobody expected it; but as they say, the only thing constant in this world, is change.
Corona Virus or COVID-19 hit various sectors of government in different countries of the world. The education sector was not exempted. On a global level, the learning processes of students were disrupted.
Was the disruption entirely negative? We would not say so. The closures of schools interrupted learning programmes and physical school attendance but it brought about the need to integrate technology into education.
At no point in recent history have the methods for effective education required such an immediate and urgent resurgence. For years, many have spoken of the need to transition into a more technology-driven system to deliver education to a generation of students who are “digital natives”. The COVID-19 pandemic made the need for this transition very imperative.
The pandemic and resultant lockdowns have resulted in a new urgency for technology in education. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged and led to the shutdown of classrooms across the world in 2020, it became more and more commonplace to see students rooted to laptop screens and mobile devices as their paramount learning tool.
We saw the development and increase in the use of online learning platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, Edmodo, Microsoft Teams. Remote learning has become the norm with parents and guardians wearing the caps of teachers to assist their children to adapt to this new learning system which has become the new normal.
Governments, individuals and organisations had to look for alternative remote learning solutions to ensure learning is not halted. Although, it can be said that a percentage of students especially those in low income schools were still unable to access some online learning systems and platforms, the effect of this change cannot come abruptly. The change to a blended learning system such as is required can be said to be work in progress with various success stories and learning curves.
Various technologies and innovations were developed as adapting measures to the situation brought about by the pandemic.
In order to bridge the learning gap, we witnessed the efforts of the Lagos state government in partnership with some partners distribute about 300,000 (three hundred thousand) smartphones loaded with data and an app containing the curriculum and video, audio and chat-based classes to school-age students, to enable participation in classes while sheltering them from the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, various private institutions and Ed-tech companies were able to plug this gap and to the best extent possible, ensure that there was no break in learning. We saw the efforts of Non-Governmental Organisations such as Slum to School Africa and Ed-Tech companies such as U-Lesson in seeking to bridge this gap.
The Education Partnership (TEP) Centre and The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) undertook a study in Nigeria and published a report called “Learning in a pandemic” which showed that school children were able to learn amidst the pandemic through innovations by private organisations and Federal and State governments. For example, the Nigeria Education Sector COVID-19 Response Strategy set up by The Federal Ministry of Education and the Universal Basic Education Commission made it possible for students to have alternative means of learning. The report also highlighted challenges people faced while learning from home such as electricity supply, financial implications of learning remotely, access to the internet, online learning tools and devices.
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic presented opportunities for stakeholders in the education sector to collaborate and develop strategies to increase the access of quality education to students. Beyond the pandemic, this is useful data as we build back our education system on the bedrock of technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has therefore highlighted the importance of technology in education. With COVID-19 still in existence and as countries enter the second wave of the virus, remote learning has come to stay. Governments, educators, institutions and organisations have realised that the education system cannot be put on hold because of a pandemic. There is the need for development of education innovations, technologies and structures to make the education system resilient in such difficult times.
The lessons are clear; COVID-19 taught us that education is not dependent on physical classes and education institutions. Technology in education has come to stay and is changing the definition of education. With a lack of clarity as to how long the impact of COVID-19 will be – the next best time to invest in technology for education is now. Thankfully, as we have seen, technology will drive the future and these investments are important to be made now.
As we look to the future, the expectation is not only for the education sector to recover from COVID-19, but be revitalised to deliver education for the future.
One thing that is evident is that the pandemic has altered the nature and scope of education and all education stakeholders have to adjust to this new reality. Identifying that the virus will be with us for an indefinite period, serves as a learning point and emphasizes the need to invest in an education system, which will stand the test of time and will benefit all people beyond COVID-19, as well as prepare for future situations such as this.