Over the last decades learning has changed a lot: partly in response to digitalisation in the post-industrial era and accompanying introduction of ICT, and consequently due to different skills and competencies being required at today’s labour market. When speaking of technology and education, the Indian expert K. Kumar rightfully distinguishes between two aspects: the technology “in” education, and the technology “of” education. The first refers to the use of technology in the teaching process (like beamers, laptops, mobile phones, etc.), while the second aspect deals with the very methods of teaching. The second aspect has unfortunately been receiving less attention, than the first, but - as computers have become an essential part of our life - more recently this seems to be changing.
And now, when the pandemic has imposed social distancing, a sudden acceleration of the changes in and of technology of education took place, making online teaching practically the only option possible. Many education specialists are claiming that learning will never be the same as before the pandemic.
Though youngsters actually like going online, now they are obliged to do it not for fun, and that can be effective only under the condition that teachers are also readily and fully embracing the new technology. Conducive with the requirements of modern educational doctrine, the students have to be much more proactive and expect teachers not to focus on the presentation and description of facts, but on their analysis and interpretation. They should explain why and how some phenomena develop, how they interact within their context, what is their overall impact, and their practical relevance to students. This implies a major shift in the education process: from traditional transmitting of knowledge to developing analytical capabilities and practical skills. This is particularly true for universities, which were a century ago primarily the breeding ground for the future elite of society (where over 80% was illiterate), while now graduation is the normal achievement of almost every second young person in advanced countries (and nobody being illiterate).
As our civilization experiences accelerated digitalisation in every domain of life and work, though unfortunately with some delay, also the domains of education and training are now increasingly affected, and preliminary research confirms overwhelming positive results in terms of learning outcomes. As Prof. R.M. Unger from Harvard University is claiming in his new book on The Knowledge Economy (p.16), this advanced type of inclusive economy requires a holistic approach to changes in education, culture and politics. As a consequence of the pandemic, this is now happening. Fortunately so, because placing more attention on education as an instrument of building quality of human capital is essential for improving productivity. At least so far, unfortunately, only a few countries around the world have really recognised this and effectively introduced appropriate policies and measures. And, these countries are richly rewarded for doing so by achieving higher international competitiveness and better living standards for their populations.
The Covid pandemic has contributed to the process of digitalisation in education in a dramatic way, and many of the advantages of online, flipped classroom, and blended learning are being applied and increasingly appreciated throughout the entire educational system – starting from elementary schools. It may sound cynical, but the pandemic has forcefully contributed to the faster acceptance of these novel teaching/learning techniques, which go along some of the critically important criteria of modern interactive education methodologies. These are requiring students to familiarise themselves with information and data mostly on their own (through reading, viewing video lectures and various documentary presentations). At the same time, these techniques are opening incomparably bigger opportunities for students to gain a deeper understanding of the subjects through interactive seminars and exercises to be guided and coached by teachers and their assisting staff.
Contrary to the traditionalist prejudice, and surprising many observers, these modern teaching methods are even more student-teacher interactive, and have proven to be much more effective than conventional ex-cathedra teaching.
At the same time, the new situation revealed that some students – from economically weaker families – face an urgent need for improved access to the technology required for modern learning, and the authorities have started to address the issue. The schools will of course need additional funding to bring all students into the same situation concerning access to the computer and programs of Internet-based education.
As the Ancient Greeks would say, let us not waste this crisis, but turn it into an opportunity to expedite the implementation of necessary changes. Actually, the authorities, as well as the whole education community, should act accordingly and speed up the modernisation of education also, but not only, as a response to the pandemic.