The crisis generated by the coronavirus is highlighting an increasingly clear issue as educational institutions try to adapt to lockdown and self-isolation: how to adapt technologically during this pandemic is important, but much more so is focusing on what to teach, as well as thinking about what we should teach when the crisis is over.
Institutions that used to limit themselves to transmitting information in a linear fashion from a teacher to students who would take notes, now see how the crisis has exposed the fact that teachers are pretty much surplus to requirements. If the only thing a teacher did during a class was to recite some notes that the students copied, and solve some specific doubts, transferring that methodology to the net — bearing in mind the digital divide in many countries — reveals its limitations. The coronavirus pandemic clearly exposes educational institutions that, with slight modifications, simply perpetuated educational models rooted in the past, contrasting them with those that, for a long time, have understood how technology should shape teaching.
Discussing how technology can replace the classroom makes sense in a crisis situation like the present one. But in reality, what needs to be discussed is how and for what purpose: what added value can be obtained from face-to-face interaction so that it makes sense and generates what it should: better, more efficient and more meaningful education. Could the pandemic be the golden opportunity to implement edtech tools and perhaps even boost the use of virtual reality in educational contexts?
The same applies to many other areas: in a crisis like this, having people work from home will show that when the crisis is over, there will be no need to return to our old ways now that we are masters of tools like Zoom or Teams. Some sectors will change radically when it becomes clear that people can work perfectly well from home. The crisis should be turned into an opportunity for a whole new generation of students to understand the ways in which they can and should work when and how best suits them.
At the same time, this is also about what we teach: the coronavirus crisis has proved many things, starting with the fact that when the idiot in chief dismantle the infrastructure dedicated to planning actions in the event of a crisis or mismanages information, the problem is made harder to handle.
Management of the crisis at a global level has been a disaster, completely lacking in leadership, preventing countries from joining forces to work together or simply learning from each other’s experiences. Should we not introduce into the content we teach the importance of cooperation in resolving crises? The coronavirus pandemic has shown that we do not understand exponential spread of disease, and even that we may have to rethink the way we relate to each other in the future. It has taught us that, if necessary, we may be able to drastically reduce our emissions, and that we should make an effort to change our mindset and make that reduction permanent, especially now that renewable energies are already cheaper than fossil fuels. Should we not make an effort to introduce that into education at full speed?
The economy is changing: new measures are being considered to prevent the crisis from becoming systemic, which could be populism to buy voters with public money, or even redefining certain behaviors as criminal. Should we rescue all companies, or are there activities that we should significantly reduce? How important will robotics be in certain industries?
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And finally: how should we reinterpret privacy and surveillance in times of crisis? Compared to countries still reluctant to restrict freedom of movement, the successes of China, Hong Kong, Singapur or Corea del Sur, which are using monitoring technologies to stop the pandemic are raising questions about what we should consider acceptable in times of crisis. Should a crisis with the potential to become a pandemic justify severely infringing our civil liberties, whether it be using the geolocation of our smartphones, social networks or even satellites in order to prevent irresponsible behavior and ultimately to save lives? How can we ensure that, once the danger is over, we regain the freedoms taken away from us?
There is much we can learn from a crisis that has managed to bring the world to a standstill and avoid repeating mistakes down the road, as well as by introducing that knowledge immediately into education, so that the next generations are better prepared. It is not how we teach, it is what we teach, what human societies are capable of learning at times of crisis.
(En español, aquí)