Coronavirus lockdown impact: The rise of virtual-only K-12 schools

September 01, 2021 7:57 PM

The more young students who receive a comprehensive education, the better chances they will continue their education in a post-secondary setting either domestically or internationally where even more essential skills are developed.

With this sudden switch to e-learning, debate is on whether the: virtual learning will continue even after the pandemic has abated?

By Karunn Kandoi

The worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 led to the closure of schools around the world. Globally, nearly 1.2 billion children were forced out of their classrooms and into some form of remote learning. As a result, education systems have been impacted dramatically with an incredible rise of virtual learning, wherein teaching is conducted remotely on digital platforms. With this sudden switch to e-learning, debate is on whether the: virtual learning will continue even after the pandemic has abated?

The technology that is driving the remote learning throughout the pandemic has resulted in widespread adoption and a high-scale growth rate even prior to the pandemic with global edtech investments touching US$18.66 billion in 2019. The total market for virtual education is even estimated to go up to $350 Billion by 2025. Be it language apps, online tutoring, video conferencing software and tools, international student platforms, or virtual learning software, there has been an incredible surge in their usage throughout the Covid-19 pandemic out of sheer necessity.

New-Age Education: Rise of Virtual K-12 Schools

Though numerous students, teachers, and parents have leapt at the chance to return to physical classrooms as soon as possible, others have found the virtual mode of learning to be an amazing fit. As a result, many school administrations have seized the opportunity and fast tracked their plans of setting up virtual-only schools which will continue to educate students remotely, even post-pandemic. This, in and of itself, is meeting accessibility needs for many young students.

Educators already feel the benefits of the virtual learning model. It has revolutionised the methods of teaching and empowers every teacher to reach out to their students much more efficiently, easily, and conveniently via chat groups, voting polls, video meetings and even document sharing. Students too find it convenient to communicate with their teachers on the video conferencing platforms. Some school administrations are also advocating a hybrid model wherein traditional offline learning and e-learning both can go hand-in-hand.

Though there are challenges yet to be overcome, such as students who lack a reliable internet connection or facing technological barriers in digital learning, enrolment in virtual schools is nevertheless finding more takers.

For the ones having access to appropriate technology, evidence shows that learning online can be more beneficial in a number of ways. Research shows that on average, students are likely to retain 25-60% more study material and information when learning virtually as compared to only 8-10% in an in-person classroom. This is mainly possible because students tend to grasp faster online, as e-learning requires about 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom because students can study and learn at their own pace, going back, re-reading, and skipping wherever needed through the concepts as they choose.

But the effectiveness of online learning tends to vary amongst different age groups. The general consensus with regard to children, especially the younger ones, is they require a structured environment, because they easily get distracted. So, to derive full benefits from online learning, there has to be a concerted effort made to provide this structure and move much beyond replicating the physical classes through video conferencing tools. Instead, there should be an advertent use of a range of collaboration and communication tools and engagement methodologies that can promote inclusivity, intelligence, creative thinking and personalization.

Also, as studies have shown that children use their senses extensively to learn, it is imperative that schools make learning fun and effective. For instance, it has been observed that over a period of time, clever integration of games has resulted in higher engagement levels and enhanced motivation towards learning, especially among the younger kids, truly instilling in them the love for learning.

Summing Up

The integration of technology into the learning process was already ongoing before the pandemic. COVID-19 merely sped up the adoption. It has been a challenge but experts believe that schools need to stop laying emphasis on traditional academic skills and rote learning methods alone, and instead focus more on essential skills like critical thinking and creativity.

And it is anticipated that the move to virtual learning can very well be the catalyst for ushering in an era of a new and more effective way of educating young students. The more young students who receive a comprehensive education, the better chances they will continue their education in a post-secondary setting either domestically or internationally where even more essential skills are developed. While some are concerned that the hasty transition to the online mode may hinder this goal, others are planning to make e-learning an integral part of education going forward, after having witnessed the benefits first-hand.

(The author is General Manager & Head of India Operations at ApplyBoard India. Views expressed are personal.)

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