At the onset of the pandemic, school closures affected 1.5 billion students across 191 countries[i]. Overnight, educators had to pivot and introduce new modes of lesson delivery to keep learning alive. We’ve seen education models upended from traditional classroom-based pedagogy to fully online delivery. The pandemic accelerated an unprecedented digital transformation in education.

With the changes we’ve seen in the last year alone, there is no doubt that the landscape of education has changed forever. As we continue to reimagine education and step towards reopening campuses, what lies ahead?

The digital divide

While the pandemic initially set students back everywhere, learners with limited access to an internet connection or devices felt the full brunt of the pandemic as they were unable to embrace the new normal of remote learning. Of the 1.5 billion students affected by the pandemic, half do not have access to a computer. Furthermore, 40 per cent[1] do not have internet access at home.

Even before the pandemic, students from disadvantaged communities sat at the driveway of fast-food restaurants, waited for mobile Wi-Fi on school buses or relied on public libraries for the internet access they needed to complete homework.  The pandemic has widened this digital divide and disproportionately affected lower-income and rural households.

Fortunately, we’ve seen states and districts such as the Canutillo Independent School District in Texasworking to close this gap. Their Canutillo Connect initiative extends a secure, private wireless network across the district to allow students free internet access from their homes to conduct remote learning. Bridging this divide will help disconnected students continue learning and access educational opportunities that can help them achieve a brighter future. Building an inclusive future must remain top-of-mind for governments and educators.

Reimagining education

The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of schools faster than anyone ever anticipated. Rome-based Luiss University introduced their secure digital teaching platform overnight. Using Cisco Webex, Luiss University not only kept lessons going but also increased student engagement. The university recorded higher levels of involvement and interaction with its digital lessons. We’ve seen Webex unlock flexibility for students to learn synchronously and asynchronously, and provide greater student-teacher engagement with functions such as interactive polling, collaboration spaces and office hour scheduling.

Since the initial response of schools to move lessons online overnight, conditions for remote learning have improved as schools have experimented with new ways to better student-centred learning. Virtual classrooms allow teachers to add huddles, interactive activities, virtual field trips, and guest sessions from speakers around the world to their existing modes of lesson delivery.

Technology is here to stay, and educators continue to leverage digital platforms and capabilities to optimize the teaching and learning experience.

What are safe school reopening best practices?

Public-health officials and educators continue to balance between minimizing the spread of the virus, addressing the needs of underserved and economically disadvantaged students, and reopening schools safely.

In the forever-changed landscape of education that lies ahead, hybrid learning helps schools to continue to thrive. Shaped by the synergy between in-person approaches and technological innovation, a hybrid learning model combines the best of both to create a robust learning experience for students, regardless of where they might be.

As we enter an increasingly unpredictable future, hybrid learning will be essential for a resilient education system that can keep learning alive through disruptions. Now is the time for us to build an inclusive, student-centric education experience where learning can take place anytime and anywhere.

More from #EducationNow

Be a part of critical conversations happening around higher education like the safe return to schools and the future of hybrid learning! Join Cisco at ASU REMOTE 2021, this all digital event is taking place June 9-10, 2021.

[1] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062232


Renee Patton

Former Global Director of Education and Healthcare

Global Industry Solutions Group