If there is a silver lining behind the COVID-19 pandemic clouds engulfing the world in darkness, it would be ‘education’. The disruption caused by the pandemic has reminded us of the skills that students need in this unpredictable world and raised public awareness of guaranteeing continuous, fair, and quality learning opportunities. Educational innovation can become a positive and powerful catalyst to transform the world for a better future in the post-COVID era.
According to the speakers at the virtual forum co-hosted by the Global Strategy Institute (GSI) and Korea Policy Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (KPC4IR) at KAIST on June 24, the recent transition to remote education amplifies the existing socio-economic disparities between the haves and the have-nots, and narrowing the digital divide is the most urgent challenge that should be addressed in this ever-evolving technology-dominating era. They also called for students to be resilient despite the numerous uncertainties ahead of them and prepare new skill sets to better adjust to new environments.
KAIST launched the GSI as its think tank in February of this year. The GSI aims to identify global issues proactively and help make breakthroughs well aligned with solid science and technology-based policies. The second forum of the KAIST GSI, following its inaugural forum in April, was held under the theme “Envisioning the Future of Education for a Non-Contact Society in the Post-Coronavirus Era”.
In his opening remarks, KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin stressed that “distance teaching and learning will eventually become integral components of our future education system”. He then called for close collaboration between the public and private sectors to better shape the future of digital education. President Shin said that global cooperation is also needed to continue offering inclusive, quality education that can equally benefit every student around the world. “We should never let a crisis go to waste, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception,” he added.
CEO of Minerva Schools Ben Nelson described the current coronavirus crisis as “an earthquake happening deep down on the ocean floor – we don’t feel it, but it can cause a devastating tsunami.” He continued, “Online learning can totally change the current education system forever.”
Saying that blended education, which combines online and offline classes, will be the new norm in the post-coronavirus era, Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda anticipates that institutions will have to offer more and more online courses and credentials, and should at the same time prepare to drive down the cost of education as students expect to pay much less in tuition and fees for online learning options. “With the economy slumping and unemployment soaring, job-relevant education will also be a must,” Maggioncalda said.
National University of Singapore President Tan Eng Chye further pointed out that future education systems should prepare students to be creative lifelong learners. President Tan encouraged students to be able to integrate knowledge and technical skills from multiple disciplines for complex problem solving, and be adaptable and resilient with bigger appetites for risks and a higher tolerance for failures. He also mentioned digital competency, empathy, and social responsibility as virtues that students in the post-coronavirus era should possess.
Rebecca Winthrop, Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, raised concerns over the ever-growing digital disparities caused by the recent shift to online teaching and learning, claiming that insufficient infrastructures for low-income families in developing nations are already causing added educational disparities and provoking the inequity issue around the world. “New approaches to leapfrog inequality and provide quality education equally through faster and more effective means should be studied,” she said.
In response to this, Vice President of Microsoft Anthony Salcito introduced the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, which provides practical advice to develop strategies for digital education transformation with a holistic, long-term view implemented in discrete phases that the global community can begin today. The Framework reportedly shows how emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, support new approaches to building efficient and effective physical and digital infrastructure, modernizing teaching and learning, empowering research, and managing student success.
The GSI will host two more forums in September and November.
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