While remote and technology-assisted learning was already on the rise, the COVID-19 pandemic made it an inevitability for millions of students of all levels around the world. Depending on their local and national public health regulations, some educational institutions have re-opened, some experiment with hybrid models of learning, and some continue a fully remote education.
Nevertheless, education experts believe there’s no replacement for learning in a classroom environment and schools. They’re imperative not just for engagement, but they also support students’ physical, social, and mental well-being.
While virtual classrooms are a better alternative than stopping formal education altogether, particularly younger learners struggle with it. On the other hand, older ones, such as university students, cope with some aspects of remote learning better. But they still face emotional challenges and miss out on the campus opportunities.
However, once the video classes are over and schools and universities permanently re-open, how will COVID-19 shape the future of educational institutions?
Adjustments in Short to Mid-Term Future
Precautions to prevent the COVID-19 spread in educational institutions have been different in each country. However, beyond opting out for remote learning, these precautions typically included hand-washing and sanitizing rituals, wearing masks and physical distancing in classrooms, as well as improving air circulation and general hygiene at schools.
Many educational institutions have already been experimenting with spatial restructuring. Creating one-way traffic in hallways, using physical barriers to separate crowds, and installing no-touch entrance systems help schools and universities minimize contact.
Doors are among the most touched items everywhere, and educational institutions are no exception. However, it’s possible to handle doors without hands, using sterile entrance systems like automatic sliding or swinging doors. While no technology can substitute good personal hygiene, minimized touch can enhance it.
Another crucial part of reducing health risks is improved air quality. As air ventilation can prevent viral spread, some countries such as the UK and Germany, where schools re-opened, are imposing an “open windows no matter the weather” policy.
Other innovative solutions to curb the viral spread have been emerging for the regions or communities with means. In Germany, Frank Helleis, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, invented a system of fume hoods that can purify the air in 10 seconds and be individually installed above each desk.
In the US, some schools installed tents outside to continue the classes outdoors. Likewise, in African nations that enjoy a milder climate, many schools could also carry out learning activities al fresco, in addition to using tools like radio and WhatsApp messages.
The Long Haul: A New Architecture for Learning
Despite the manifold challenges it poses, there’s no doubt COVID-19 forced educators, students, and policymakers to re-think what works and innovate the architecture of learning — whether it’s physical buildings or a virtual highway. Even though a fully remote education doesn’t yield the results of in-person learning, in the long run, EdTech innovations and further familiarization with new tools can only have good outcomes.
“The crisis has revealed the enormous potential for innovation that is dormant in many education systems,” states a recent OECD report.
An overwhelming number of education experts and scholars are also considering the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity for a radical overhaul in school and education systems.
While it’s hard to know how exactly these changes will manifest in different countries and communities, writes Douglas N. Harris, author of Charter School City, communities will likely get used to options and flexibility.
For instance, the rise of open-air education can kickstart a greater movement towards outdoors-focused learning in touch with nature. Research shows its substantial benefits, including faster and more engaged learning in all subjects, lower absenteeism, better leadership skills and health. Some even consider it a strategy for climate change mitigation.
Turning Crisis into Opportunity
With the right measures and steps, many experts agree that COVID-19 can help schools, universities, and other educational institutions to fill in the loopholes in the architecture of learning.
Even beyond the pandemic, a hygienic environment with minimized touch improved air circulation, and other EdTech innovations, are poised to make learning better for all.
No matter how these innovations play out, schools aren’t going anywhere and will remain important community centers globally. But students will benefit from a more flexible, hybrid, and hands-on approach to learning, in more optimized school buildings that can support physical and mental well-being.