Education Disruption March 2022
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In the past decade, the education industry has faced various disruptions, including the rise of e‑learning and online courses and increasing fees for and disillusionment with four-year university degrees. The covid‑19 pandemic brought education at all levels to a halt worldwide and exacerbated disruptions in many areas within education. Ongoing disruptions in education systems around the world are affecting teachers, students, and parents. If these disruptions continue, the results will likely be multifaceted and have direct long-term implications for the economy, childhood and adolescent development, the job sector, and society as a whole.
Before the pandemic, higher-education systems in some countries were already facing a decline, experiencing falling enrollments since 2012. Various developments contributed to the decline, including the rise of online education and the rapid increases in costs of attending a university. In the two years following the beginning of the pandemic, higher-education enrollments reached a 50-year low. Enrollments' continuing to decline will likely lead to greater skills and credentials voids, which will affect the overall economy.
Pandemic-driven school closures disrupted primary and secondary education as well and were most detrimental for students in low- and middle-income communities. The widespread use of distance learning among primary- and secondary-school students during 2020 caused significant harm to students' educational and social development, and this harm has been most acute among economically disadvantaged students.
The stresses of the pandemic also contributed to extensive teacher shortages in the United States and the United Kingdom. Before the pandemic, primary- and secondary-school teachers in many US states already suffered from low morale because of social and cultural factors, including low pay and poor treatment from parents and administrators. The pandemic worsened these conditions as schools ran short of funding and teachers became targets of popular anger about school disruptions and covid‑19 safety measures. As teacher shortages in the United States worsened during 2021, school authorities had to ask members of the US National Guard, police officers, state workers, and even parents to fill in and lead lessons. Teacher shortages have further harmed students and have created a vicious cycle in which teachers working in short-staffed environments become increasingly likely to resign.
Other developments are contributing to disruptions in education. For example, in China, the government is implementing new regulations that crack down on edtech companies and limit online tutoring. These regulations follow a rapid and disruptive growth in the edtech and online-tutoring industries, which created severe challenges for parents and school systems. And in Mozambique, climate-change-induced extreme weather destroyed nearly 800 schools in 2021, affecting 300,000 students. Such extreme-weather-related events will continue for the foreseeable future and will have a disproportionate effect on poor communities.
Disruptions to education will likely persist as outbreaks of covid‑19 continue, affecting the supply of teachers, student attendance, and the quality of learning. The burden on schools and teachers will likely increase to help students catch up on lost learning. Teachers and students will be at increased risk of burnout, low morale, and poor mental health. However, the future is uncertain, and changing conditions could trigger alternative outcomes. Some examples of potential events that could transform the future of education disruption follow:
- Transformation of the teaching profession. To address teacher shortages, schools could work to improve teachers' pay, autonomy, and quality of life. However, because of entrenched political and social structures, implementing the necessary changes would be extremely difficult in the jurisdictions that are suffering from the worst shortages.
- Changes to increase enrollment. Colleges could adopt more permissive criteria and admission processes to attract a greater number of students. For example, colleges may target students from certain backgrounds and ethnicities and offer various subsidies, incentives, and bursaries. Colleges could make reenrolling and completing courses easier for dropouts and offer more-flexible learning options. These changes could help reverse declining enrollment in higher education, but they could also harm schools' reputations, exacerbating existing inequalities in the global higher-education system.
- Improvements in remote learning. Advances in virtual reality and augmented reality could transform learning experiences, potentially reducing or eliminating the detrimental effects of at-home learning and producing significant benefits for learners with special needs. Schools that implement advanced remote-learning technologies could become more resilient against extreme-weather phenomena, infectious outbreaks, and teacher shortages.
- Development of flexible educational environments. Standard six-hour schooling could decline as schools incorporate a mixture of class-based learning and remote tutoring, borrowing from concepts that are emerging in the working world. Collaborations between gaming companies and education authorities could result in learning via gaming's becoming common. Standardized assessments could also see changes as the importance of socializing and extracurricular activities becomes increasingly apparent—particularly for primary-school children.
- Deeper collaboration between educators and employers. Companies could deepen their collaborations with universities and online-education providers to address worker skill gaps and alleviate talent shortages. Such efforts are already underway, but the severe pressure on education could amplify them.
Formal higher education has strong correlations with higher lifetime earnings, better mental health, skill development, and lower risk of unemployment, homelessness, and food insecurity. Knock-on societal benefits include economic stability, lower crime rates, improved maternal-mortality rates, and better social cohesion and civic involvement. Beyond preparing students for higher education, primary education and secondary education provide valuable childcare functions, enabling parents to be in the workforce. As the functionality of education systems diminishes, societies will experience compounding disadvantages, and existing worker-shortage problems will worsen. In time, social inequality could increase, and areas with relatively well-functioning education systems could boost their international competitiveness.