Hawkesbury Gazette

How lockdowns have changed the education system

How lockdowns have changed the education system

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The COVID-19 pandemic held a significant impact on all corners of industry here in Australia, with education being front and centre throughout mainstream media's coverage of lockdown disruptions.

Australians across the country were able to follow the plight of both students and teachers as they transitioned from in-classroom learning to totally digital or online learning.

Whilst the past two years of lockdowns have been difficult for teachers and students alike, the evolution of new learning styles, course constructs, and digital advancements in the field of learning tools and resources, has naturally left quite a lasting impact on Australia's education system as a whole.

We'll be exploring just how lockdowns have altered the landscape of our education system below, as well as what these alterations mean for the future of teaching and learning both in Australia and abroad.

Developing distance learning initiatives

Traditionally, distance learning initiatives were designed to provide rural students with access to high-quality secondary and tertiary courses.

Following our COVID-19 lockdowns, however, many courses have introduced distance learning options available to both rural and local students.

For rural students looking to explore city planning, urban horticulture or even urban design distance learning options are now available for all of these areas of study.

As the course materials for these areas of study were once thought to be impossible to deliver without excursions or in-depth classroom explorations of case studies, the development of these distance learning initiatives holds great promise for other similarly design-focused courses.

Students who may not have once had access to their preferred courses due to distance alone may be able to study at their ideal institutes in the future without having to relocate.

Students from all backgrounds have expressed that remote learning has held some major benefits for them with regards to maintaining a balance between work, life, and study.

Young parents and other students who have family members they need to provide for are also amongst demographic groups that have greatly benefited from emerging distance learning and blended learning models.

Teacher upskilling and redesigning tertiary education courses

Of course, remote and blended learning is reliant on both students and teachers having proficiency with using digital learning technologies like Zoom and the Google or Microsoft Suites, as well as online learning platforms like Compass.

The introduction of personal technology into the classroom predates the COVID-19 pandemic, however, and as a result, some established teachers have already heavily engaged with these digital learning resources and platforms.

The issue is that the COVID-19 pandemic saw teachers not only rapidly learning how to use these digital technologies themselves, but also essentially learning how to use them in a manner that will keep students engaged during remote learning experiences virtually on the fly.

Aussie teachers who worked throughout the pandemic expressed that their daily workloads increased exponentially the longer their lockdowns dragged on.

The main reason for this was simply because there was no template or blueprint for these teachers to follow. The lockdown brought on an unprecedented challenge for teachers across the globe.

This will not be the case for emerging or aspiring teachers, however. Tertiary education courses were already being redesigned in 2020 to reflect all the new industry findings and teaching methodologies that were developed over Australia's first few months of lockdowns.

In the present day education, students are able to engage with all the unique challenges that the pandemic heralded in a classroom setting themselves, building a strong contextual understanding of the theories behind the solutions that Aussie teachers were able to develop themselves.

Even established teachers who made it through remote learning are able to reap the benefits of their own hard work in the form of these redesigned education courses, as established teachers can undertake courses purely for upskilling and personal professional development purposes.

In essence, the pandemic has left this profession with a wealth of knowledge and modern resources that the education industry will be able to use to structure courses and curriculums in the near future.

Is blended learning the future of education?

So what does the future hold for Australia's education system? The answers to this question may lie in analysing the developments experienced by other countries, such as the United States.

Colleges across the U.S. were inundated with inquiries and study applications from international students throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, as international students were hopeful that they could study at their preferred Ivy League institutes while they were currently offering solely remote learning alternatives to their existing elite courses.

These institutes have expressed that they're likely not to continue offering solely online class schedules in the future, and that hybrid courses with some in-person learning elements are likely to be far more common and available to both international and domestic students over courses that are fully online.

Of course, institutes will continue to offer their modest selection of courses that are actually 100 per cent online, but the pandemic won't have inspired this selection to grow.

It's looking highly likely that this will be the case for Australian tertiary institutions as well, with many universities and technical colleges across the country investing in hybrid or blended learning resources and course structures.

With blended learning courses, the flexibility and opportunities for independent learning and study that online learning offers can be enjoyed alongside the collaborative aspects and other educational enrichment that in-class learning experiences have always provided to students at all levels.

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There's no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has well and truly changed the face of education forever. Over a billion young people across the globe experienced unprecedented levels of disruption, and many avid learners had to put their education on hold for a myriad of reasons, including limited internet access.

The pandemic raised our attention to the realities of under-resourced learning, revealing to Australians just what school can look like outside of their own known world.

As a result, millions of young learners have moved on from the pandemic with a newfound respect for their learning opportunities and their right to develop a knowledgeable foundation that can support them throughout the rest of their academic and professional lives.