As we look back at the two years of COVID lockdowns and frantic changes in all fields of life: transportation, housing, healthcare, work, and more – it is tempting to say humans adapted to dealing with the challenges nature throws into the mix.
We moved our jobs online. We invested in virtual reality and other immersive technologies to travel and experience events without having to leave our homes. We moved to smaller towns and started enjoying the benefits of affordable housing. The world adjusted – or so it seems.
In reality, it’s enough to take a look at a single field – school and after-school education – to see that governments and communities are far from finding a definitive solution to COVID-related challenges.
Is standard remote education coping with the strain of the pandemic?
By now, we have 2 years’ worth of data to examine the gains and losses of remote learning as we got to know it.
Here’s what we accomplished:
- Built infrastructure for online education. eLearning was already a powerful industry in 2019 but it exploded from 2020 onwards. At the moment, the market is developing at a 9% growth rate is expected to reach up to $376 billion in value by 2028. The frontrunners of online learning saw unprecedented growth – the number of edX users increased 15-fold (not 15%) in April 2020 alone.
- Introduced students to the benefits of online education. Throughout both K12 and college, learners were able to make the most out of increased learning flexibility, commute-related time savings, more ways to interact with the content (slides, interactive quizzes, games, etc.), and personalized learning strategies.
- Improved learning accessibility to students with disabilities by allowing students to follow classes at their own pace in a virtual classroom. In fact, through remote learning schools leveled the playing field for impaired students, 90% of whom didn’t attend classes before the pandemic.
Where the system is losing:
- Lack of practical experience might result in trillions of losses globally. The education crisis set in motion by the pandemic is not outright obvious. It is a ticking bomb set to explode decades later – once the younger generations of students enter the workforce. Studies estimate the world will lose up to $17 trillion in lifetime earnings due to the strain placed on education.
- The share of children living in learning poverty will increase from 50% to 70% of the population following school closures. Reports from Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa signal growing learning losses in math and reading.
- Participation and engagement are plummeting. A shift to online classes encourages more learners to listen and observe rather than engage in conversations and start proactive discussions. In a survey among 96% undergrads, around 75% didn’t engage with the professor and classmates.
- Learners struggle to adapt. The shift to remote learning was too sudden for students with traditional mindsets and high change resistance. They struggled to adapt to new ways of knowledge acquisition and felt constrained by the absence of in-person teaching.
These and other remote education challenges prove that we are far from creating an open and universally accessible digital learning environment.
There are solutions designed to help traditional education gain back the lost ground. Governments set up radio and TV learning stations to make knowledge more accessible.
Communities run social media campaigns to guide parents, students, and teachers through the remote learning transition, while programs like Aprendo en Casa help reach more learners with special needs.
Improving the accessibility of K12 and college education is a slow process – still, over 2 years, we’ve made significant progress.
But there’s a blind spot, rarely addressed in the discourse of the COVID education crisis: clubs and after-school programs.
Why clubs are a big deal
With the efficiency of the standard education system on the line, parents, teachers, and governments might overlook the state of after-school programs. After all, sports, arts, debates, theater, and other clubs are not essential for basic survival the way math, reading, and sciences are. As we are focusing on keeping schools and universities together it’s understandable that building an infrastructure for clubs takes a back seat.
Also, it’s wrong.
Let’s quickly delve into the irreplaceable benefits of after-school programs to show why, even during the pandemic, the education system can’t afford to give up on them.
- According a study on a group of 6,400 children in England, school clubs bridge the gap between children from low- and average-income families.
- On top of that, after-school clubs contribute to social, behavioral, and emotional development.
- After school clubs encourage kids of different ages to interact with each other, making friends across different age groups: a thing impossible in a standard classroom.
Before the pandemic, after-school programs were severely underfunded. Over the last decade, the budget for clubs was cut by 70%, limiting the resource pool for digital transformation.
The pandemic was a tough challenge for after-school clubs and activities. Teachers and instrouctors note that COVID restrictions limited the room for playing and restricted the freedom of building relationships.
To boot, a lion’s share of clubs couldn’t deal with the pressure of growing safety concerns among parents and keep up with the changes needed to ensure a safe environment – leading to a massive shutdown in the after-school infrastructure.
Education professionals and policymakers are right about ringing the alarm for the school and university education crisis. We should ensure clubs and after-school activities are not out of the spotlight and are actively supported in the transition to digital.
The good news is: the right tools for revitilizing clubs exist
One of the reasons why bringing after school education back to normal is harder compared to the standard curriculum is because of the high level of mobility, interaction, and immersion it requires.
From the latency and bandwidth standpoint, running a functional choir or orchestra class remotely is challenging. Even small groups of people will experience time lags that put the integrity of the experience in danger.
That’s why education technology alternatives to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other traditional video conference tools are called for. The alternative will likely be the metaverse – at least, its simplified, accessible version.
Virtual reality enables remote sports training
Sport practices were jeopardized by the pandemic, not allowing athletes to experience the dynamic, ever-changing landscape of team sports like football, soccer, and others. To compensate for the loss of connection with teammates, amateur and professional high school clubs turn to virtual reality.
Apps like Eon bring VR to quarterback training and are adopted by educational institutions across the US. These education technology solution companies give athletes room to practice with minimal body strain. The trade-offs are accessibility (an average VR headset costs $100+ ) and time lag between the movement of the athlete’s body and the platform’s reaction.
Art and science classrooms: virtual spaces for “minimal lag” classes
Following the pandemic, a new generation of tools saw the world: 2D spaces that enable spontaneous interactions, freedom of movement, and simultaneous interactions of hundreds of users.
Among other benefits, these platforms enable after-school instructors by:
- Supporting both audio-only chats and video calls with crisp sound quality
- Giving students an opportunity to move around the virtual classroom and spontaneously talk to their friends.
- Offering customizable layouts that help personalize and gamify education
- Creating an easy-to-use environment even for non-tech-savy students.
oVice, a Japanese virtual space provider, is among the leading education technology companies in building easy-to-use, high-performance spaces. They allow holding music classes, theater, debates, and other clubs without losing the joy and spontaneity of casual social interactions and group activities.
Recently, we help hosted a music class for AVEX Artist Academy online, allowing music students to rehearse their music in groups without being interrupted by others. Through the easy-to-use interface, spatial audio, and chat features, teachers were able to connect with students in a natural way.
All things considered, there’s no way for technologies like VR or metaverse classrooms will single-handedly to solve all issues clubs and after-school programs are facing right now. Some concerns persist, like the lack of accessibility and disparity driven by technology in education.
However, the advent of innovation capable of mimicking natural social interactions marks a new chapter in standard and after-school education: the one where it can become more globalized, open, and efficient.
Over time, product teams, governments, and communities will develop policies for making the innovations of today freely accessible. In the meantime, it’s up for classroom teachers and after-school instructors to bring forth innovation: one student at a time.
oVice is a virtual space platform designed to enable seamless connections and enjoyable interactions between employees, students, and event participants. If you want to try using oVice and see whether it works as a virtual classroom for your club, visit our space!
Τhаnks for sharing your thoughts. Regards
Hello. Thank you for taking the time to read the post.