Education: foreseeable changes in the current crisis climate

Education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels was firmly in the spotlight during the coronavirus crisis. As mass gatherings and possible virus transmission points but also a valuable export and source of revenue for Australia.

As soon as the Australian Government declared COVID-19 a pandemic, which was days before WHO made the declaration, attention was quickly placed on the safety of students and staff in schools. Children are usually highly susceptible to viruses and the school environment a breeding ground for contagious illnesses.

However, COVID-19 appeared to show a different trend with far less children contracting the disease and schools not seen as sources of transmission.

Countries across the world took a variety of stances on whether schools should remain open, partially opened, or closed completely. They assessed the impacts on learning for students in the medium to long term and the alternatives to face-to–face learning.

Domestic Education

In Australia, school systems are controlled by the states and while most followed the same line, the messaging led to widespread confusion amongst parents. Schools moved to a combination of online learning and in-school learning reserved primarily for children of essential workers, vulnerable children and those that could not engage in online education.

Most universities quickly moved to an online model and plan to remain at that level until the crisis is suppressed.

The upside has been the emergence of innovative teaching methods, including online and learning from home. But the downside for many families was the challenge of managing the learning from home, the cost of resources and disruption especially for those with several children.

However, it is highly likely that these online learning innovations will continue to be developed and be a welcome and very valuable resource for students in remote communities, for those not able to attend school due to injury and illness and as a possible export industry.

Education as an Export

Another side of education in Australia seriously impacted by COVID-19 was education as a major export and large contributor to the economy. Australia quickly closed its borders, first to people arriving from China and then to the rest of the world. As this occurred in the university holidays, hundreds of thousands of international students were unable to return to Australia to resume their studies at university. This has left the university sector seriously exposed financially with fees from international students a major source of their funding.

When the initial impacts of the coronavirus start to diminish, there will be questions to address around the reliance of Australian universities on the international education market and changes to funding, courses and other aspects may be required.