*painting by Pierre Soulages, title: Black and Blue – horizon in the dark
Severe crisis – immediate transition
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, so do the risks we face. The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped at national borders. It has affected people regardless of nationality, level of education, income or gender. In the field of education, the lockdowns in response to COVID-19 pandemic have interrupted conventional schooling with nationwide school closures in most countries, worldwide.
According to the United Nations’ official survey, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94% of the world’s student population, up to 99% in low and lower-middle income countries.1.
The current crisis is testing our ability to deal with large-scale disruptions. With the combined effect of the pandemic’s worldwide economic impact and the school / university closures, the learning crisis could turn into a generational catastrophe.
In order to deal with the complex challenge and to ensure learning continuity, governments developed alternative means.
The massive efforts made in a short time to respond to the shocks to education systems remind us that change is possible. The crisis has stimulated innovation within the education sector. We have seen innovative approaches in support of education and training continuity. Distance learning solutions were developed, education systems turned to ICT, requiring teachers to move to online delivery of lessons. Online platforms became the most popular tool used during school and university closures.2. What if the direct lockdowns provoke an indirect openness within a global digital framework of shifting rationales? The accelerated changes force us to change our values, and to reflect on the future of learning. Plus, interconnectivity, inclusion and interdependence aren’t substantial ingredients of internationalization?
The Greek success
It could be argued that some countries responded effectively to this unprecedented situation, seizing the opportunity to find new ways to address the learning crisis and bring about a set of solutions previously considered difficult or impossible to implement.
Greece has met the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic efficiently. The country succeeded to adapt to new models of online and blended provision as the government eased the implementation of distance learning. Learning continuity is guaranteed, and teachers all over the country conduct virtual real-time classes in conjunction with other online learning tools. All necessary measures were taken and networks are upgraded constantly to enable teachers and students attend online courses via livestreaming, aiming to achieve 100% participation.
Especially Greek higher education institutions were quick to replace face-to-face lectures with online learning.
A significant number of courses in each department of tertiary education institution are in place, combining existing asynchronous teaching platforms with synchronous distance learning. Based on official data gathered by the education ministry from tertiary education institutions nationwide, the University of Crete and Harokopio University offer 93% of their courses via distance learning.3.
Despite some dysfunctions in technical and vocational education and training systems, semesters and academic calendars are harmonized, given the fact that all students are included in distance learning strategies, and most of the programmes are successfully implemented on-line.
Furthermore, in many higher education institutions, the move to distance learning has been an opportunity to expand flexible learning modalities, setting the stage for a sustained shift towards more online learning in this sub-sector in the future.
In the light of the above mentioned, we realize that this unforeseen situation has triggered cooperation between the public and the private to support the education system and equip Greek youth with the necessary digital skills for the 21st century.
After the pandemic – is there any light behind the clouds?
The COVID-19 pandemic has put mankind in a real dystopia. By posing strict limitations to our social and private lives, as well as by causing unprecedented disruptions to the diverse social mechanisms throughout the world, the pandemic left nothing unattached. As far as it concerns the educational system, during the pandemic, remote learning became a lifeline for education but the opportunities that digital technologies offer go well beyond a stopgap solution during a crisis. The current exigency reveals the significant role that technology can play, particularly in the domain of higher education.
Tackling the challenges we face will require universities to unlock the full potential of our young people, and to nurture future leaders with skills, values and competencies which will enable them to respond to future challenges. We should strengthen, in addition, the mechanisms for international collaboration and provide a platform for higher education to engage, recognizing the sector as a key stakeholder alongside our colleagues in civil society, the teaching profession, youth and private sectors. It goes without saying that professors and students need to renew their skills regularly in order to be able to innovate their practices and adapt to the rapid transformations inherent in the 21st century.
Our capacity to react effectively and efficiently in the future will hinge not only on governments’ foresight, readiness and preparedness but also on the individuals’ strong willingness and cultivated talents. The disaster could provide us with a unique opportunity. It will be the nature of our collective and systemic responses to the disruptions that will determine how we are affected by them.
Unfortunately, tragedy is a basic element of human history. Solidarity, collaboration, creativity, innovation and effective adaptation to the demanding circumstances are precious paths we are called to take in order to be able to face disasters and crisis – like the ones we are experiencing nowadays. The COVID-19 pandemic has an overwhelming impact on nearly every sector of our lives – public and private, but, sooner or later, the pandemic will constitute a chapter in mankind’s memoirs.
Nevertheless, the deathly virus gives birth to new mentalities, and a new era with different social mechanisms and mindsets seems to emerge, at a global scale.
What if every challenge is a nod of an unknown world that is waiting to be lived?
- United Nations, POLICY BRIEF: EDUCATION DURING COVID-19 AND BEYOND, August 2020.
- Andreas Schleicher, THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON EDUCATION – INSIGHTS FROM EDUCATION AT A GLANCE 2020, @OECD 2020.
- europa.eu., Greece: responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.
*Dr. Theodoros Papaioannou is Director of Academic Affairs at Study in Greece