Hybrid models of education to become the norm as countries evaluate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, research from Cambridge University predicts

Future access to education is likely to “morph into hybrid models of school attendance that will become the norm” because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from Cambridge Partnership for Education.

The study, What have learned about the Covid-19 impact on education so far?, examines what is known to date about how the global school shutdown affected access to education and the preparedness of governments to ensure teaching and learning continued while schools closed. It is estimated that by mid-April of this year, 90% of school world-wide were shut.

The overall impression, the report found, was that education systems were not prepared — regardless of the relative wealth and affluence of countries — and that ad hoc solutions were implemented that often side-lined teachers in the decision-making process, with limited evidence that education could be still be delivered effectively. These solutions will now have to be evaluated for impact so that better strategies can be planned for the future.

Chief among these solutions was digital technology, whose use in education was accelerated by the crisis.

The report said while this had increasingly become a feature in schools during the past 30 years, “nothing had prepared education systems to entirely reconsider a mostly universal education model based on attending school where learners and teachers work together in a classroom, with a weekly schedule carefully structured within an academic year, with high-stake exams taken by all at the same time, to be replaced in just a few months by entirely new models of education with digital technologies at the centre of it all”.

It went on: “School closures have gone hand in hand in many countries with the rapid expansion of remote learning using a range of digital tools. Teachers and school leaders have had to learn and adapt very quickly, usually on their own or with peer support rather than structured professional development. This period of extreme disruption has required teachers to develop new skills and knowledge at an incredible speed.”

However, the speed at which technology was adopted and embraced may have led to “a high risk of embedding detrimental practices that teachers then may have to unlearn”. Furthermore, technologies used during the pandemic might not be best suited to long term digital learning. The report said that more strategic approached to technology use needed to be considered in “what is likely to become the new blended education model of the future”.

One of the challenges was to identify the most effective ways of using technology to improve education for all, given the expense involved in infrastructure, equipment and staff training.

“An overwhelming amount of content has been made available for free, but with little curation so far to match these resources to national curricula or specific country needs, leaving this task to teachers also having at the same time to develop new technical skills with limited or no support,” the report said.

“The crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic will have an impact on governments’ financial resources in individual countries all over the world and as a result also on global development and aid organisations. The main challenge will be to identify the most appropriate and effective ways to invest in technology to improve education for all.”

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Dorothy Lepkowska

Dorothy is the Communications Lead on EDUCATE Ventures, and former education correspondent of several national newspapers.