Let’s avoid giving education the same fate as digital advertising

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Education has gone online because of COVID-19. This is good because it means that education can at least continue in most countries. It is bad because it cannot continue in countries where internet access is patchy or non-existent. This will obviously trigger new and urgent initiatives to get as much of the world online as fast as we can.

If education continues from home, as it looks very likely it will, in part, the way it is managed will need to adapt and change.

In advertising, the first attempts at digital advertising were clumsy and ineffective. The creative people thought that you could take a physical advert and slap it on a computer. Job done. Only slowly did advertisers realise that digital meant a complete rethink of how advertising works and engages with people. Companies such as Procter and Gamble led the way and went as far as slashing the amounts they spent with companies such as Facebook and even took their content creation in-house.

It is harsh to expect education to react at lightning speed. After all, kids have been home learning for just three months, but if that continues, it will affect a whole year’s worth of schooling. And a year is a long time in education.

Statistics are already emerging that highlight the potential problem. Business Insider reports that children are not learning as much or as effectively as in school:

As a consequence of the switch to remote learning, US students in grades 3-8 are anticipated to make only an estimated 70% of the reading gains and 50% of math gains compared with what they would typically learn in a school year, according to NWEA estimates based on a national sample of 5 million students. 

This may be because parents are not so good at math and therefore cannot solve both x and y equations themselves (it would be good to see that survey!), and it must be affected by the fact that parents have jobs that demand much of the time that should be devoted to teaching their kids.

Either way, there is an enormous opportunity to extend, expand and tailor education to an online environment. There are some interesting experiments, most of which were knee jerk reactions to the crisis. Celebrities going online to help with reading makes sense – combine education with entertainment, and you have the perfect recipe for maximum absorption of the material.

In some countries – the UK, for example – educators have persuaded the Government that it is simply not viable to bring children back to school before September at least. That will translate into at least half a year lost. Add to that the deficiencies of online education as it stands and we are looking at a year lost. And that is significant.

Education is so valuable, so vital for life, that we must design the best possible models and not just slap math courses onto the internet.

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