On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
Student life Kirill Delikatnyi

How Has Covid-19 Affected Education?

The impact of Covid on education has been profound, prompting a shift to remote learning and online tools that were available long before the pandemic but underutilised. While traditional education systems are reverting to their pre-pandemic norms, the period of remote education exposed alternative pathways that resonated with Gen Z and challenged the conventional view of learning. Despite critics citing drawbacks like reduced interaction and oversight, the transformation towards online education seems inevitable. The emergence of technologies like AI and the Metaverse is set to revolutionise education and workspaces, posing a potential mismatch if educational institutions don't adapt swiftly. The fear lies in the disparity between businesses eagerly embracing these advancements and educational institutions lagging behind, potentially leading to a significant transformation led by independent entities like Coursera and KhanAcademy. The resistance to change from traditional mindsets poses the most significant obstacle to embracing this educational shift.
Let’s start with the obvious - remote learning, online assessments, individual schedules - has been a shake to the education systems across the globe, which now seems to recover from the fact. Now as we are back to the classroom, back to individual examination halls and 8 am alarms, I keep wondering whether remote education is simply a short fix for the time the world was in shutdown? Or, was it the final push that we needed to take the whole world online? Let’s examine.
What surprises me the most is that services such as Zoom, concepts such as remote tutoring and technologies such as the computer have been around for long before Covid happened. Why then did so few educational establishments adopt this idea? There were platforms such as Coursera and KhanAcademy that offered officially-recognised certificates of graduation handed out for completing courses, yet they were still perceived as lesser modes of learning one could take compared to the traditional pathway. Skills and knowledge gained on these platforms could go into your ‘other skills’ section on your CV, but they would not fall under your ‘education.’
When Covid happened, the majority of schools and universities, the recognised giants of education services, had to turn to these “lesser” companies for advice on how to implement their services in their systems. Did the tables turn? Quite significantly. If you have read any report about GenZ attitudes toward education, you will notice that an increasingly large proportion of this generation finds alternative routes to the traditional pathway of education just as appealing. Covid only lasted 2/3 years, and GenZ is fine substituting university attendance for acquiring an MBA from their bedroom. Honestly, I do not see any problem with that.
Critics will say that the lack of human interaction, oversight and individualistic approaches will inevitably harm experience of student life and academic performance. They will be banning their children’s iPads, pushing them to come back to school, giving their children no sick leaves. They can be relieved, to an extent, that Covid is over, and hence the education system is returning to its standard ways. But will it be for long?
We had all the tools we needed to create this online education system, which the learning population clearly prefers. The fact that we didn’t, shows that the world needs to experience before it can transform. This does not apply solely to the educational sector, all aspects of the world will transform digitally too, but the education sector is a great example of how this will happen. Covid-19, although devastating, opened the world’s eyes to its potential. Because education is critical and cannot stop, devastating global-wide occurrences, such as Covid-19, inspire innovative ways of adapting to these occurrences. Gen Z got a glimpse of the foundations on which future learning will be based on, and are now back to the classroom forgetting all about it. However, in my belief, the chain reaction has started and its effects will become apparent a little later.
The traditional education system will not transform. Maybe it will try to, but its institutions are so old and solidified that it is very hard for them to be adaptive. Teachers have learnt to turn on a camera when delivering a lesson and they have figured out how to grade pdf essays; but, if you have ever spoken to any teachers during Covid-19, they will tell you what a pain it has been remembering to record a session or how incredibly difficult it was for them to read standardised text and not 50 different ineligible handwritings. They had trouble adjusting to a new space, but what we are about to see is education switching not to a different space, but to a totally different realm.
Critics will, again, come out and cheer that Covid-19 was over before long and now we can put all of this remote nonsense behind us. The chain reaction has started and it is evolving faster than students will get a chance to feel what it is like to be back at their desks. Artificial Intelligence and the Metaverse have been developing rapidly, and in my belief, the first thing they are after is to replace the classroom. Why? Artificial Intelligence’s most recognised and most used aspect is acquisition of knowledge and data processing skills. Metaverse has gained significant inspiration from the accessibility of the remote space in which we can still keep interacting and do so much easier than in the physical realm.
These technologies will start transforming the workspace and the education establishments simultaneously, and my fear is that one will adapt faster than the other. If the workspace transforms faster than the classroom, it will become a big problem. Many fear, for example, that ChatGPT allows for students to cheat easier and so their qualifications won’t match their actual knowledge and skills required for employment, but that is as backwards as you can get it. If children do not learn how to use ChatGPT to their advantage, then they will not be able to even qualify for sophisticated employment. Any future job will require interaction with Artificial Intelligence, but Artificial Intelligence is by its very definition opposed to the standard method of delivering learning and assessing it. If you need to cooperate with AI at work, but cannot learn it at school, what will happen to tests, to admissions processes, to examinations, to qualifications, to the skillset of the population? If this is the problem that we do not fix, only then will we need to start worrying about malicious AI takeover.
It is my belief that transformation in the education sector will stem from independent business - private schools and universities not integrated into standardised progression routes, but moreover, a decentralised system of education with players like KhanAcademy and Coursera will take the place of those giants that considered them “lesser” before.

In this train of thought, I notice a pattern of facts being very true at this moment, but also being flipped on their side in the future. Covid-19 is over now, so it is back to the classroom, but not for long. Teachers adapted to the online learning environment, but they won’t be able to adapt further for long. Artificial Intelligence harms your chances of becoming actually knowledgeable in and skilled at something - yes, but not for long. Spending time gaming instead of doing homework, watching movies instead of reading books, interacting on social media rather than in person is ruining your chances of success in this world, but not for long. Why? When then?

Soon. Today, we are in a period of transformation. As I said before, the world needs to experience before it can transform. Just as Coursera and KhanAcademy were small, additional resource providers, and then they became the pillars of Gen Z education, so will AI and the Metaverse become the new realm of education. It will be hard for the whole world to experience these transformations for a multitude of reasons:

a) the technology has not been unveiled and implemented to a perfectly functional state

b) there are places in the world that will be late to adopting this technology

c) most importantly, there are those who push against this transformation - the critics
Problem a) is a matter of time and problem b) is actually not that much of a hiccup because this technology is not expensive, it is not secretive, it is not like acquiring a nuclear warhead. However, problem c) is my biggest disappointment, because as we have learnt, the world needs to experience before it can learn; and, I do not want to wait for a devastating occurrence like Covid-19 to happen again just so that it can push us to open our eyes on how we can transform to a better life. I would rather want the public discussion to open about these new avenues in which learning can be adaptive to the current state of the world and have businesses, teachers, educational institutions and students start using these tools and experiencing their benefits naturally. This is what I hope I am doing writing for Clevermagazine. However, the greatest opposition to the evolution of this conversation and, consequently, the transformation of the education sector is the complacency with traditionalist thinking rather than openness to new experiences and solutions. I wonder how countries who have not gone back to classrooms, for any reason, will emerge on the international educational market. My bet is that what concerns educational quality they will become the Scandinavia of the future.