Education in times of crisis

The closure of establishments to limit the spread of coronavirus has caused a real upheaval in the world of education and revealed the central role of school in our societies. This crisis has undoubtedly exacerbated problems already present in education and created new challenges.

Several of the constraints imposed on educational circles amplified the inequalities already present before the crisis. In normal times, the social ties existing in the establishments alleviate some of the difficulties associated with these disparities. The health crisis has undermined this social function of the school and has contributed to the precariousness of the situation of many people.

While some young people were able to take advantage of a favorable situation (parental support, workspace, etc.), others had to deal with significant constraints that affected their perseverance, their motivation and their ability to work. success. The effects on mental health have also been raised repeatedly.

While the school environment cannot do everything, it offers young people a space for socialization and expression which is essential for their development. The repercussions of the pandemic, including some delays and abandonment by others, will take time to subside. Better understanding how the pandemic affected students, taking into account their socio-economic conditions is essential in order to better define the actions to be taken to reduce these effects. The issue of success, already at the heart of many debates in education, should receive our full attention. For example, what will be the effect on boys, almost half of whom were not already entering college?

An accelerated digital revolution

Without digital technology, the pandemic and containment would have taken on a whole new face. Who could have imagined that tens of thousands of students would be taking their courses remotely so quickly? From classes in confinement from primary to alternating days in secondary, through distance education in CEGEPs and universities, digital technology has been present for better and for worse, we could say.

It is undeniable that the digital revolution underway before the crisis was only accelerated by the latter. Between 1995 and 2015, for example, the university environment had experienced a growth of 220% in its online course offer, while the college network was already experimenting with synchronous or asynchronous distance courses. However, these courses represented only a tiny proportion of all the courses offered. We must be aware of the importance of these practices in teaching and of the possible dematerialization, in space and in time, that they can lead to.

In time, because the work can be divided between production of the course, supervision of young people and evaluation. The potential transformation for teaching practice and the precariousness of work is important. The issue of the lack of a physical place to offer this type of course is also notable. On the one hand, at the Quebec level, we could fear increased competition between establishments; on the other hand, an online course offer can be synonymous with the commodification and privatization of education.

Going beyond the sole issue of offering courses, distance learning is perhaps the tree that hides the forest of the digital revolution in education. New issues such as the value of the national diploma compared to a diploma obtained online at a prestigious foreign university, the place of companies in education or the increase in the success gaps according to the ability to afford private tutors remotely could make their appearance. A space for reflection is therefore necessary to avoid unhealthy competition and to better assess the impact of this revolution on student success and on the work of education personnel. In addition, since digital technology is there permanently, it must aim to strengthen the social fabric rather than shatter it.

Education and social ties

Another lesson from the pandemic is undoubtedly the fragility of social ties. The tensions caused by the conspiracy movement are an illustration of this. It symbolizes a loss of confidence of part of the population towards public governmental or media institutions. And if future research on the social makeup of these movements revealed correlations between education level and participation in these protests, would we be surprised?

If the crisis exacerbates these tensions, let us hope that we will manage to take the measure of the challenges that we have to meet collectively and that we will be able to take them into account in our reflections on the future of education.

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