An Opportunity to Revolutionize the Education Sector

Reflections on how we can better shape the future of education systems post-pandemic

Adriel Nisperos
Age of Awareness
7 min readJun 21, 2020


Photo by Pixabay

The global problem of ensuring access to quality education for all is not new, and the education sector has been solving this problem ever since. The 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Report finds that one in five children between the age of 6 to 17 years old is still not attending school. With the COVID-19 pandemic added into the mix, it can aggravate the problem further.

As someone who values education and advocates for accessible and quality education for all, I find myself asking whether education should continue amid the pandemic and how would it look like in a post-COVID future. I introduced some of these questions in the previous piece I wrote. These are tough to answer especially when you see a developed country like South Korea facing more positive cases of COVID-19 again. South Korea, lauded for their innovative responses to the pandemic, closes their schools again after recording 79 new cases just a day after reopening. That was their highest daily figure in two months, the BBC News reports.

Participating in the virtual conference of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) almost two weeks ago, I learned a couple of lessons about how the education ecosystem is responding to the pandemic. It was also insightful learning about how governments, organizations, and educational institutions are working together to ensure that the world moves forward to the new normal. With these collaborations, how might we take this opportunity to make our new normal a “better” normal?

“Access” is only one part of a bigger picture

In 2018, statistics of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) show that there are 258 million out-of-school children and youth around the world. This can be largely caused by a combination of other problems such as lack of income, hunger and malnutrition, spatial limitations, and even cultural barriers. And now because of COVID-19, we are seeing additional barriers created because of the technological divide. For education systems to recover, governments, development workers, leaders, and decision-makers should not only think about making learning materials and tools accessible but also ensuring that students improve their learning outcomes, conditions, and environment.

Safeena Husain, Founder and Executive Director of Educate Girls and one of the speakers in the education session I attended, recommended to prioritize the following concerns alongside addressing education access:

  1. Hunger and Undernutrition
    Based on her experience working with communities, hunger has an impact on students’ growth and learning. Stunting negatively affects learning. Safeena suggests that governments and educational institutions ‘double down’ on their nutrition programs. Allocate resources to programs that will ensure that students have full stomachs as they attend school.
  2. Safety
    Governments and educational institutions should also focus and invest in programs ensuring the safety of children and youth who are at most risk. Safeena emphasized the need for more programs that will bring back girls to school.
  3. Emotional Well-being
    Aside from adjusting the school curricula, schools should prepare to provide emotional and psychological support to students. The pandemic has caused stress and anxiety to students, and it can affect their performance in school. Safeena suggests that schools and governments should equip teachers with tools and knowledge to provide this kind of support.
  4. Learning Poverty
    Safeena also emphasized that the coming school years should not be about putting stress on assessments and exams but foundational learning. She says that this could be an opportunity to focus on closing the learning gaps that students struggle with yearly.
Teachers and educators should be ready to provide mental health support to their students who may be experiencing anxieties during this time. (Photo by energepic)

Based on the discussions, prioritizing these four concerns will not only help students and education institutions recover from the pandemic but also move the needle forward in terms of providing inclusive and quality education for all. Otherwise, children and youth, especially those belonging to disadvantaged groups may fall behind for a year or even their whole life in their learning journey.

Technology can be both a solution and a problem

The future is digital. While the world is in search of a vaccine for COVID-19, contactless transactions using digital technology will control almost everything including education systems. Learning using technology, whether using high or low-tech channels, will be part of the future of the education sector post-COVID. That’s one takeaway I got from the session.

Bikkrama Singh, Co-Managing Director of the Central Square Foundation and also one of the panelists in the session I participated in, shared that they are seeing more state governments in India accelerating digital content integration in low tech channels like radio and television to reach as many students as possible. Aside from this, school administrations can now leverage technology to train teachers, conduct orientations, and monitor school performance in just a few taps and clicks.

In the Philippines, the Office of the Vice President started a gadget donation drive to prepare for the distance and blended learning schemes. They also started looking for partners in the creatives industry to help them produce instructional materials for teachers and parents.

Local governments are also raising funds to provide gadgets for students within their communities. An example is the local government of Pasig City that raised PHP1.2 billion to provide tablets and laptops to public school students.

Don’t give up school. Just enroll. You won’t have to spend extra. — Vico Sotto, Mayor of Pasig City

In terms of community-driven initiatives, I am seeing teachers and educators using social media to distribute learning content. One group I saw in the news today launched #TikTokU or TikTok University to teach young audiences about science, do-it-yourself and life hacks, and motivational content using the popular video app. It’s a celebration of creativity in the digital space! Filipinos are also looking at informal approaches to reach students.

But are these approaches reaching people? Probably. But at what cost? How can we ensure that no one is left behind? There was one viral story about a grandmother named lola Emma who bought her grandson a cellphone for his online classes. She saved as much as she can despite only earning Php 20 to Php 50 a day from selling vegetables. You can see in the image below the grandmother smiling from ear to ear seeing her grandson try out the new gadget.

Some say it’s an inspiring story of unconditional love and persistence. However, let us also look at this reality about the inaccessibility and exclusivity of digital learning. She could have used what she saved for food and other immediate necessities.

The new normal is an opportunity to revolutionize education systems

The COVID-19 pandemic is a living proof that we live in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. Suddenly, we had to adapt to a new normal — a new normal in which we are all unprepared to face. What can we do so this doesn’t happen again in the future? What is the role of the education sector in all of this?

In another education session I participated in, Dr. Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted the urgent need for education systems to adapt to the VUCA world. One of the ideas he presented is student agency. According to Dr. Andreas:

Student Agency is the belief that students have the will and the ability to positively influence their own lives and the world around them. It is the capacity to set a goal, reflect, and act responsibly to affect change.

Simply put, learning about agency allows a student to realize that he/she can make independent decisions. As the VUCA world continuously disrupts our concept of normal, students must be able to know confidently that they can navigate their way through the uncertainties. For me, this is a crucial skill to learn as it boosts students’ self-esteem. It’s empowering to know that you can make things happen. Schools can be a support system of students in developing their ideas and projects instead of simply feeding them concepts.

Another important highlight Dr. Andreas made is that in today’s world, knowledge is merely a starting point. It’s what you do with what you know that matters. It’s all about creating new value. Google will be there to give students the answers, but how can they use those answers to make education more inclusive? Discover scientific breakthroughs that will end pandemics? Provide access to justice for all? Mitigate the impacts of climate change? I think the world will spur innovations once students go beyond ‘knowing’ and start ‘doing’.

In 2018, Dr. Andreas wrote a book titled, World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System that demonstrates how education systems can be reformed to ensure global improvements in education.

Research and evidence are keys to navigating the new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has established new conditions and ways of doing things. As Bikkrama Singh notes, almost all organizations are still figuring out how to navigate the new normal, and this is where evidence and research play a big role. This new normal is an opportunity to collect cases, best practices, and data to help shape policies that will design the future. Collecting evidence can help in filling in the gaps and scaling the impact of the best solutions. Yes, experimentation is okay but we have to act fast and learn faster because our future and the future of the next generations are at stake.

As I’ve mentioned previously, knowledge is only the starting point. Reflecting on the lessons I gained from the panelists, I learned that we can do a lot more especially when we do it together. One common observation among experts during the sessions is that the COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for more partnerships and collaborations to flourish. From here and as we continue to sail through uncharted waters of the VUCA world, I hope we always remind ourselves that we are stronger together.



Adriel Nisperos
Age of Awareness

A Development Communication practitioner working with youth leaders towards amplifying their stories and advocacy | Based in the Philippines