Coronavirus, Education and the Future

The coronavirus suddenly entered our lives and turned everything upside and down. At first, no one expected it to inflict such a severe effect on daily life. All institutions, markets, and social places were asked to shut down, and people were asked to stay home.

Contrary to what many had thought when the coronavirus first showed up, it did not end soon as expected. People expected it to last for a week or two. However, things went from worse to worst each day.

1.5 billion children were sent home when the pandemic began affecting life profoundly, and schools were closed. Children and parents were the most affected group of people after this critical change. Working families, especially the front-line fighters against the pandemic, are still having great difficulties in handling their kids.

Public and private educational institutions up to higher education will be closed until pandemic-risks get reduced to near zero. Moreover, it is still unknown how long it would continue. Public schools around the world may resist the massive negative impact of the financial situation the world has entered after the pandemic with the funds of governments. However, it may not be the same for private institutions.

Furthermore, the financial crisis experienced by private educational institutions might also mean backlash for current educational scenarios worldwide, as only a few serious talks about it at the government level have been discussed in many countries. Most likely, governments think that it is a free market, and even ‘private’ schools have no privileges. It is a ‘survival of the fittest’ moment, and the institutions with the strongest financial backgrounds will survive and continue, and others will vanish.

If the pandemic is not beaten in a short time, the crisis will not remain simply as the closure of private schools, but many teachers will also lose their jobs. It might be seen as a normal consequence of such times during the crisis, but its effects will be beyond that. Good teachers are not made but trained well in a long time process. If they find themselves out of schools due to the crisis the schools are facing now, many of them may go for other jobs. Furthermore, it will mean that schools are to spend time and money on producing the same competent teachers from scratch. Unfortunately, this will affect schools severely.

I talked to some educators from different countries, and they say their monthly salaries are considerably lowered, and some even lost their jobs because of the ‘downsizing’ schools. Along with the pandemic, such deductions and loss of jobs maximize the stress level of teachers.

All stakeholders, including school owners, teachers, parents, and students, will be affected by the outcome of the pandemic at different levels. Legislators and authorities need to make sure all the stakeholders are cared for and supported regardless of the type of institution, i.e., whether they are public or private.

Regarding the potential changes we may see in the future in the education sector, the following may give an idea:

First of all, there will be no radical changes. Because the stakeholders are still the same, and they will resist the change to come. This resistance may also not last for long. They will be put out of the game or adapt themselves to the new normal and play the game with new rules!

Most may silently fade away: A Harvard professor in his 2017 book named “The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out” predicted that “50 percent of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.” The Covid-19 may speed this, and bankruptcies may take place within five years. Is this an exaggeration? No, not at all. My prediction is that the bankruptcy will snowball farther from universities to other schools, which will considerably face the same future.

Clayton Christensen, the author of the book, points out a fascinating statistic for the growth of online education in the U.S. In 2016, 4 million Americans got at least one online course at a certificate level. Moreover, this number is exponentially growing.

What effects might be the reasons for the bankruptcy of schools and universities? I think it might not be affected as significantly just because of the growing market for online education. Many reasons could be listed, but I will write some of them here:

The first reason is the drop in birth rates. Let me give you an example from Thailand. In the 1980s, the birth rate was 6 per woman, but it dramatically changed for recent years and dropped to 1.6 now. The change is significant within 40 years, and the rate will go down more as the newlyweds do not favor having a baby. Japan is an excellent example of this. When this issue talked at a national level, Japanese PM Abe said that the couples had the freedom of having a baby or not. Abe drew harsh criticism even from his party members at that time. This is why, if birth rates drop sharply, the number of new schools too will decrease.

Secondly, Generation-Z is different in many aspects compared to Generation X and Y. In brief, Generation X are those who were born between 1965 and 1979, Y born between 1980 and 1996, and Z are those born between 1997 and 2015. Time Magazine published an article in 2017 about this saying, ‘78% of Gen Z-ers say getting a four-year degree no longer makes economic sense, and hundreds of programs, from apprenticeships to boot camps, have cropped up to offer an alternative path’.

The most fundamental difference between the GenX and Z is that the GenX does not know what to do even after the graduation from a university. Still, GenZ knows well what they want to be right in their 15s. It is a huge difference. I have many friends who graduated from renowned universities and outstanding degree programs, but they either do different jobs or still do not know how their degree can help them. As a reader, you may feel the same. Yet, GenZ knows who they will be and want to do just specifically whatever is required to achieve it but not more. Unfortunately, GenX does not oversee this prospect well and so continues building new schools and universities everywhere. It is rather sad for me to say that these institutions will remain largely unoccupied in the near future.

Thirdly, financial reasons will play an essential role in the bankruptcy of school and university systems. We live in a world where change lurks at every corner, as we saw in the way the coronavirus ravaged the world. The institutions which lack definite financial plans and strategies will slowly be put aside by current developments.

Fourthly, the locations of the existing or future school buildings matter too. Climate change shows its effects as some cities like Venice are threatened by total inundation due to rising seas. While some places are parched, some other places receive more than expected rainfall and get hotter or colder. As in the foregoing, birth and marriage rates are getting low every year. The number of babies born in the U.S. last year fell to a 32-year low, according to the Wall Street Journal. For any reason above or beyond, if new schools are not designed as movable to new locations negotiate the effects of any reason above, they will also face closure.

The fifth reason is the lack of quality in education. Parents are more concerned and want to know in detail how their kids are to be provided with the best type of education. Typically, most parents would choose schools by the education systems they provide, such as Cambridge international qualifications or the I.B. Nowadays, they seem to have understood that the system by itself cannot provide a good quality of education without qualified teachers. The schools with an excellent reputation for having qualified teachers additional to their system of education will survive, while others will not.

The sixth reason is the lack of infrastructure and technology falling behind new trends. Online education reigns supreme in the current scenario. We are not talking about using smart tablets in education or equipping the classroom walls with smartboards. It is more than this: During the pandemic, we better realized the significance of online education. Some schools quickly adapted to it, but many could not. What about teachers? For some, it was a first-ever online teaching experience. The future will eliminate the teachers incapable of managing lessons and classrooms online. Schools will be immediately out of the market once they are unable to cope with it.

Last but not least, the growing number of global poverty… According to the World Bank, 49 million more people globally will fall under the extreme poverty line, and according to the Washington Post, 548 million people are globally slipping back into poverty. The situation is not different for the U.S. United Nations urged the U.S. government to improve the Covid-19 strategy to keep tens of millions of people falling into poverty. This is an alarming situation, and most students may not return back to schools due to the economic burden of schools. Of course, the girls will be the most severely affected.

I tried to give an image of some kind of hardships that the schools and universities will face in the near future. How about the coronavirus’ effects on the educational institutions?

Most of the university students began taking their regular education online, and they saw online education was more convenient for many reasons and easy to access. Most of the students may not return to universities. The New York Times published an article on it with the title of After Coronavirus, Colleges Worry: Will Students Come Back? They may transfer themselves to online universities if their universities do not provide a chance of online educations after the pandemic. The pandemic will speed of transforming higher education, and those universities that do not transform themselves may not survive in the market.

High schools may turn a blended educational style. Some lessons are on-site, and some online. If no students come to school during the 11th and 12th grade, and they wish to take the courses entirely online, no one would object it. Schools may need to prepare the infrastructure for this from now onwards.

Now recruiters mostly focus on certificates on specific jobs rather than a degree. Top companies like Tesla, Google, Amazon stated that they do not look for the degree but the talent and ability. High-profile people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg had no complete university degrees. I believe that high schools’ educational curricula need to be revised. Schools may be transformed to follow a more vocation-based format rather than pursuing a regular one. We live in an era of widespread access to information. Students can freely access information online and supplement in-class learning! The Internet undeniably is a gem in this respect. Here, students must access something more promising than only being taught at schools. This is why skill-based education will soon be more attractive as compared to knowledge-based schools. I do not list STEM education in the skill-based education category. The institutions fulfilling this requirement will be preferred over regular schools.

Everything gradually transforms (not changes) into something new, and so does schools. Those schools and universities with strong educational management and finances, along with well-planned short and long term strategies, will survive only, and others will go extinct.

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