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The Future of Education: Part One

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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been defined by near unprecedented disruption to the way people live their daily lives. This disruption has in turn catalysed a massive global uptake in technologies as people have sought to adapt to this new reality. Now, economies around the world are beginning to test the waters of loosening lockdown and quarantine restrictions, but in many areas, the global shift to technology will last well beyond the end of the pandemic. The education sector is a case in point, where COVID-19 has given us a glimpse into the future. In this two part series, we examine how education as we know it will change going forwards.

Assessments

First and foremost, COVID-19 is likely to impact the way students are assessed. For example,  testing may shift towards an emphasis on analytical research, rather than written exams. With students at home increasingly reliant on internet search engines such as Google, the use of reference materials will show that immediate recall is less important than developing a deeper understanding of a topic, which can be acquired through wider reading and research. The future of education may also include an uptake in competency-based learning, which holds that a student may progress through the curriculum at their own pace. With the highest high school education attainment in the GCC, at a rate of 85 per cent, Bahrain has been keen to identify innovative ways to serve its highly educated diverse population. This approach would allow students greater flexibility, and support those with diverse knowledge and literacy levels which in turn increases the inclusivity of educational needs.

Collaboration

Collaboration between students may be difficult to replicate digitally. Social distancing measures in many countries will mean that even as schools and universities reopen, students will have to sit two metres apart; hampering group activities. However, features on video-conferencing platforms allow for breakout sessions which will ensure that students can continue to work in small groups. Holding classes virtually also leaves room for inter-institutional collaboration. Bahrain enjoys an international network of partnerships with world class educational institutions including the RSCI Bahrain – a world leader in health education – Strathclyde University, Bangor University and DePaul University. The network is always growing – The American University of Bahrain (AUBH) has announced its plans for a partnership with the CSU Northridge part of the California State University network, which is America’s largest university network.

Access to facilities

It is not just in the classroom where social distancing measures are being felt. Transport to the classroom has become a difficult issue for many countries to tackle. In densely populated cities, public transport has had to slow, reducing capacity. This could be another reason for education, in at least the short-term, to continue online. Some tertiary educational institutions already publish their lectures online so that their students can access the material at any time, and work through the content at their own pace. CSU has become one of the first US university networks to do so, and Bahrain was one of the very first countries in the world to temporarily close all its educational institutions in order to halt the spread of infection. Students and teachers were able to continue their work with minimal disruption, thanks to the Ministry of Education’s online learning platform.

Investment and funding

According to the OECD, most governments invest between 2 and 4.5 per cent of GDP in education. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments must channel these funds into a robust digital infrastructure to support students in the virtual classroom. The market for digital learning was growing even before the pandemic, as the World Economic Forum stated that the overall market for online education is projected to reach $350bn by 2025, but now it is most likely to experience a significant boost.  In Bahrain, rapid population growth is driving demand for formal education, with the country’s population projected to increase by approximately 25 per cent to over 2 million by 2030. In particular, the K-12 segment is growing fast – in fact the fastest growing segment in Bahrain’s education sector – and has recently welcomed two new entrants: The American School of Bahrain and the UK curriculum-based Quest International School. Both will be opening their doors to students in September 2020.  This has solidified the impetus to invest in a forward-looking, digitally strong education sector that has already allowed the Kingdom to navigate the disruption caused by COVID-19.

Next week in The Future of Education: Part Two, we explore evolving role of educators, the future of professional development and the impact of schooling on families.