The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially disrupted education. Within a matter of months, schools have gone almost fully online, accelerating virtual education, and with it bringing new questions and opportunities for the future of learning. Will disruption allow students to attend university at cheaper rates and learn more tangible skills to earn higher incomes? What role will technology and the tech industry play? How will K-12 and universities facilitate genuine human interaction and connection?

This week, the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology organized a roundtable discussion on ‘Reimagining Education.’ The conversation was moderated by SCET Chief Learning Officer, Ken Singer. Alongside Ken, SCET Faculty Director, Ikhlaq Sidhu, and several distinguished panelists – Danielle Gonzales (MD Education & Society at Aspen Institute), Kim Smith (Co-Founder of New Schools Fund), Alex Bruton (Teaching Professor at the University of Calgary), Shomit Ghose (SCET Lecturer and Industry Fellow), Julia Freeland Fischer (Director of Education at Christenson Institute), Tracee Worley (Senior Design Lead at IDEO Education), and Mike Magee (CEO at Chiefs for Change)  – engaged in discussions surrounding the future of education, from K-12 to higher-ed and beyond, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The roundtable started with a discussion on how the environment of learning has transformed over the last few months. The focus of the hour-long fire chat was how can innovation help organizations adapt to make the biggest impact on society now. 

A few important takeaways from the roundtable conversation: 

  • Earlier, the in-person classroom environment placed the onus of learning on the teacher: to make sure students were paying attention in class and many more such examples. The new virtual environment places the onus of learning on the student more so than the teacher. Some students benefit from the self-driven, flexible learning and want to preserve the flexibility when schools reopen, while many find the virtual environment not conducive to their learning style. Moreover, some students are able to find new ways of utilizing time while studying at home that would otherwise have been impossible during the in-person school day. This disparity between two types of students is going to become more evident as this new model of school education continues, where one group will prefer remote learning while another will want to return to an in-person classroom setting as soon as things reopen. 
  • In terms of how parents are responding to their children’s educational needs, it is becoming evident that early-learning is most difficult to manage while middle-to-higher-school learning has observed an easier transition to becoming remote. The educational priorities can be broken down into four main categories for parents: custodial care (a criterion that is more important for parents with younger children); academic content (which has improved greatly as the child is now able to go through lectures in 2 hours over video versus 6 hours during a normal school day); social and emotional development (this mainly comes from peer-to-peer learning and collaboration); and enrichment (through sports, after-school activities, other extracurriculars, etc).

    Interestingly, parents with young children are starting to become more comfortable with giving up custodial care if the child’s social and emotional development improves via virtual education. Schools have been realizing this and are attempting to provide more research and project-based opportunities where students can collaborate amongst each other and learn social skills through interactions. An increasing appetite to send one’s child to a private school over a public school has also been observed for the families that can afford it. This has been mainly due to the shift in importance to social and emotional development – where private school teachers can spend more time with the children due to smaller class sizes, thus becoming more accountable for their personal growth.   
  • Public schools themselves have been constrained with state laws that govern how a calendar year is measured and how seats are being assigned. To be able to plan for the long-term, they need to make four critical changes:  
    • Redesigning time – public schools need to change the structure of calendar years and flexible daily schedules for students who prefer the self-driven learning that remote education provides. 
    • Redesigning the role of every adult in your school community – with online education, the interaction that students have with adults apart from their teachers is fairly limited. It is critical to consider how non-teaching staff can fit into the online model, which is once again important for a child’s social development. 
    • Redesigning the set of social, emotional, and mental health supports that you have in your school community – to ensure a child’s prolonged social, emotional, and mental growth, it will be important to develop support systems that can work seamlessly in a virtual setting as well as an in-person setting. 
    • Adopting a new set of curriculum and instruction that can move seamlessly between at-home and in-class environments – some clear strengths and weaknesses of at-home education have been observed because of the pandemic, ensuring that there will be a significant number of students and parents who would prefer at-home learning more than in-class education. Public schools will have to design a hybrid curriculum over the long-term to keep these systems in check. 

The roundtable conversation then proceeded towards tangible solutions for high-schools and universities and what the future of higher education would look like post the pandemic. To hear more about how education will be revolutionized over the long-term, do check out the event recording and hear from our esteemed panelists below!

The Berkeley Innovation-X Initiative is focusing on ‘Innovation that Matters’ to help organizations adapt to make the biggest impact for industry and society now. Don’t forget to check out our future events!