GPI has talked to Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the OECD in Paris about the consequences of school closures on the education of a generation, especially on children in LMICs, but also the potential of turning the challenges of the crisis into an opportunity to make education fairer and more accessible globally.
Part of the protective measures against the worldwide corona crisis are also the closure of schools. Some are switching to virtual teaching, but not everyone has a laptop or a place of retreat at home to use such digital alternatives. How does this affect the education of a generation?
The effects have been highly valuable for young people who have access to great online learning platforms, who have the right parental support but who have also learned how to learn. This has been liberating and exciting maybe for some at least, but for young people without access to technology, without parents who are aware of the value of learning and those who have been simply spoon-fed by their teacher in the past, who do not have the energy, the motivation and the capacities to learn and manage the learning on their own, this has been a devastating period.
I think we have lost several months of schooling, and when schools reopen, they are going to find a much more heterogenous and diverse student base.
Education sets the course for children’s future, and for many, everyday school life also covers basic needs such as a warm meal per day. How are especially children in LMICs affected by the closures?
Schooling is not just a transactional experience, schooling is also very much a relational experience, where students connect with people, where students encounter the diversity of society, where teachers care for them and where they get a warm meal and social and emotional support. In that absence there is a big gap, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where school might be the only place where students find this kind of supportive environment. We leave a big hole. And you can sort of equate a year of schooling to 7-10% of lost lifetime income. This is not just a big impact on society but also on families and individuals. In the end our schools today are going to be our economy tomorrow.
The corona crisis has exposed many inequalities that have long existed at their core. As the OECD is very much committed to making education fairer and more accessible globally, do you also see the challenges of the crisis as an opportunity to achieve this goal?
We should not overlook this: this crisis also has unleashed an enormous amount of creativity and ingenuity among people to find solutions. It has made education much more of a “whole of society”-experience. Parents became aware of how difficult it actually is to educate one child, and now imagine a teacher has 20. I think the connection between students, families, teachers and schools has become stronger. We have also seen new technologies and it is not just online learning. We have seen many online platforms delivering learning through television and through radio. We are seeing the emergence of “blended learning” environments, combining the on-site learning at school with online learning remotely. I think the future will see much more ownership on the part of individuals, of how, where, and when they learn and maybe even what they learn. If you can capitalize this moment, we could make education available to a much wider range of students that are currently excluded. It is true: This crisis has amplified inequality – it is very clear that technology is not everywhere available – and has probably exacerbated existing inequalities. But technology also holds the potential of actually overcoming and bridging some of the divides. Technology allows us to analyse in much greater detail how people learn differently and engage with that diversity in more nuanced ways. I do think there is a lot of potential for the future to make education available to a much broader range of young people.
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