The education crisis of the century

The health crisis is taking on an unprecedented scale, partly based on the progression of the epidemic, partly fueled by the virus of fear and death anxiety.

The economic crisis stems from containment, negative consumer expectations, shutdown of production chains, speculative movements in oil and other raw materials.

The financial crisis is fed by these crises; markets collapse in chains, gold becomes (again) the safe haven.

Nothing seems to be able to stop THE crisis!

But what if there was a more serious and more lasting one? The education crisis.

In 2019, according to the UN, nearly 260 million children did not go to school. Conflict areas are particularly affected: around 50% of out-of-school children of primary school age live in these areas.

Four days ago, Unesco listed 13 countries forced to close all their schools, affecting more than 290 million students. The arithmetic is simple: 260+290= 550 million children are out of school due to war or coronavirus and the number will increase. The right of children and young to education no matter who they are, regardless of race, gender or disability is a fundamental right of children (article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

The question posed by NGOs, often in vain, becomes – finally – topical: What to do to guarantee their right to education?

It is easy to imagine that the problem does not arise in the same way in Italy, in the UK or Syria or Iraq. On the one hand, organized, developed countries, on the other, countries devastated by wars. And yet in both cases, children on both sides are deprived of school. Some are “confined”, “locked up at home”, others are left to themselves, most often in the street. Inequality before school also exists for children without school. Better to be born French than Afghan.

How can we guarantee the educational continuity for all children? This question is at the heart of the statements of ministers of education in developed countries. This question is most often absent in countries at war and NGOs do their best to replace the failing political power.

What is said today in developed countries affected by the Coronavirus? All those in charge insist on the continuity of the educational activity.

The answer can of course only be digital! This is in any case the guarantee that is hastily given to parents and children. Digital workspaces, digital textbooks, remote conference tools will replace the “traditional” class.

Schools quickly inform parents of the solutions implemented. Here is an example from a french “lycée”;

- Regarding the absence during class, the teachers will use the e-mail and the school learning management system so that the child can continue to work at home.

- Concerning the absence to a school test, the teachers will be able to offer the child a written or oral question when he or she returns.

- Concerning the written exams: the teachers will be able, after the test will have taken place in the school, to send by e-mail the subject to the student.

These solutions seem rather poor. A week ago, we were talking of adaptive technologies, of deep learning, of artificial intelligence and we are back to emails!

But other questions arise: How do we really ensure the continuity of education when schools are closed, teachers poorly trained in the use of digital technology with poor internet infrastructure? What about personalized attention, interaction between students, social mix, educational innovation? Everywhere of course, the closure is presented as temporary. It will certainly be so even if the provisional is already part of a random temporality.

Paradoxically, here are the richest countries on the planet confronted with the questions that the poorest have been raising for decades. How to do without school? How to guarantee equality in school when the school is closed? How to reduce the digital divide, this invisible gap inscribed in the heart of the territories and which irreparably separates connected families from others? Back in 2017, a UN report found that 52% of the world’s population still has no access to the internet. There are so many figures to describe differently the inequality in front of the school which persists and worsens in the Coronavirus crisis!

The Coronavirus crisis is revealing in rich countries what NGOs are experiencing on a daily basis in the countries where they operate: the need to innovate.

Think of the NGO “Libraries without Borders” which brings its Ideas Box to refugee camps to allow children to read and write when schools have disappeared from their daily lives.

What is the ideas box that developed countries in turn need?

©Shutterstock Ververidis Vasilis

©Shutterstock Ververidis Vasilis

What if the Coronavirus crisis was an opportunity to rethink the role of digital in and out of school, to help teachers strengthen the social bond at the heart of their practice and commitment? Digital technology does not create innovation, it supports it by giving teachers, families and students shared responsibility for learning.

We thought that digital was a “plus”, “the icing on the cake”, a luxury item for learners of school age; in any case not an essential aspect of our pedagogies. Nothing was to replace physical presence. This myth is collapsing.

We can, we must know how to educate from a distance. Not by email or through Digital Workspaces, but by giving the educator a central place at the heart of digital solutions.

Nothing can replace the teacher – there are 69 million teachers missing by 2030 to ensure primary and secondary education for every child in the world – and digital innovation must do nothing but strengthen its very “presence” when he is physically absent.

Problem: teachers mostly restrict the use of digital solutions to their private communications and social life outside of school. Many immediately put digital out of their daily teaching lives. As for children, the abuse of digital leads to the same conclusions as those observed for young “dropouts”: aggression, anxiety, loneliness. According to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry and by a researcher from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health. ( « teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to report high levels of behaviors that may be indicators of mental health problems compared to adolescents who do not use social media at all. »

What should educational continuity look like when there is no school?

  • To a motivated, respected teacher who is capable of animating a distance course in an intuitive way by not reproducing the traditional model of the course “one against many” but of the course “each with everyone”;
  • To mobilized and united families pooling digital resources and educational attention;
  • To children who seize the chance to learn with others in an interactive way;
  • To an education system that accepts to assess differently;
  • To “Edtech” solutions that are designed by and with teacher to replicate an innovative educational experience, not a pale copy of a shared workspace specific to companies’ meetings.

Tomorrow when the Coronavirus crisis is over, educational practices will have evolved. We will know that we can do without school as we knew it. We will also know how to do it better with school. We will finally know why countries which have no schools are in dire need of our help.

A real reason to hope? Innovation is on our doorstep and innovators are ready.


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