copyright 2021, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 60, spring 2021
Mapping the promises and perils of distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic: Peru’s case
Education under the pandemic
On March 16th 2020, the government of Peru ordered its borders closed due to COVID-19, along with a series of other decrees, such as instructing people to stay at home, impositing curfews, and requiring the use of masks or protective face shields. These decrees brought the country to a grinding halt. The government deployed the army and police to patrol streets, making sure people complied with the orders. The pandemic reached Peru as summer was winding down and students getting ready to return to school. However, as COVID-19 raged like wildfire across the world in the early months of 2020, schools in the northern hemisphere shut down to discourage the spread of the infection. In the southern hemisphere most governments, including Peru’s, ordered that schools, about to open, remain closed.
In less than a year, education and how students learn have been drastically transformed. Due to the pandemic, over 1.2 billion children have been out of classrooms worldwide (Li & Lalani, 2020). In Latin America over 150 million primary, secondary, and college students have been attending school remotely from home (Garcia Jaramillo, 2020; di Gropello, 2020). To continue education during these unprecedented times, Peru as well as other Latin American countries have incorporated more e-learning platforms for distance education[open endnotes and references in new window] in. And this use of the e-learning platforms in the region is often combined with that of legacy media—radio and television.
Prior to the pandemic, many educational technology (EdTech) firms were delivering educational content through digital technology, but the pandemic accelerated these platforms’ adoption around the world. In 2019, global investment in EdTech was around 18.66 billion USD which is now projected to reach 350 billion USD by 2025 (Li & Alani, 2020). Peru’s 2020 fiscal budget for education was about 4% of its GDP, including monies for improving physical infrastructures and expanding the acquisition of digital technologies (ChannelNewsPeru.com, January 20, 2020), leading the government to increase its education budget by 2.83 % for 2021, especially due to the pandemic (Minedu, 2021).
COVID-19 has propelled active adoption of e-learning platforms, applications, and legacy media for education, and it has forced governments to pay close attention not only to the health crisis in their countries but the educational crisis as well. One of the biggest questions facing governments, students, teachers and parents is what the consequences of the pandemic will be in terms of education in many countries, particularly those already suffering from learning poverty. In this article we will discuss various efforts in the education sector for coping with the pandemic through digital platforms combined with legacy media. Emphasizing trends, insights and lessons in Latin America, we deliberate on Peru as a case study.
We based the article primarily on our observations on the ground in Peru from March 2020 to January 2021. There’s little literature about the new use of digital platforms and technologies combined with legacy media for mass education, although some datae is beginning to emerge. Reports from world organizations like UNESCO, World Bank, UNICEF, CEPAL, and a few other groups are surfacing. Thus we hope to contribute to an emerging body of information by analyzing trends and patterns in how Latin American countries, especially Peru, are now using technologies for educational praxis. We want to develop concepts to can help us better understand the gains and challenges of distance education during this health crises and into the future.
Global overview of education technologies under the pandemic
As educational institutions prepared to meet the increasing demand of distance education, numerous learning platforms began to offer free access to their content, such as BYJU’s—an educational technology firm based out of Bangalore, which is now the world’s most highly valued EdTech company in the world (Warrier, 2019). As soon as it announced free live sessions on its Think and Learn app, its number of new students shot up by 200%.
In China, after the government ordered a lockdown in early February, around 7, 30, 000 [what is this number?] or 81% of K-12 students were attending classes via Tencent classroom in Wuhan, another e-learning platform that offers online courses in coding, languages and various hobbies (Li & Lalani, 2020). To support the online expansion, DingTalk, Alibaba’s distance learning enterprise, used Alibaba Cloud in March 2020 to deploy around 100,000 cloud servers in only two hours (Chou, 2020). And as online companies bolstered their digital capacities, Singapore- based collaboration Lark, originally developed by ByteDance as an internal platform, started to offer its services of unlimited video conferencing, translation and co-editing projects to students and teachers, and rapidly propped up its global servers and infrastructural engineering to bolster reliable connectivity (Li & Lalani, 2020).
Since April 2020 in the United States, Latin America and some European countries, Zoom, an application designed for videocalls, has become one of the most used communication platforms for distance teaching, working, and socializing. According to the BBC (2 June 2020), at its peak Zoom had 300 million customers utilizing the app. Many educational institutions have accounts with Zoom to facilitate class meetings and interactions between colleagues. Zoom provides the “host” the ability for screen sharing, creating breakout rooms, controlling microphones, admitting people into the virtual space and removing unwanted visitors, thus constituting a seemingly ideal video-conference platform for education. However, issues of security breaches and data privacy riddled Zoom for a while as people were grappling to find the most suitable online platform to communicate. Despite the controversy, Zoom remains one of the most used videoconferencing tools used for education.
Educators did not restrict themselves to professional education platforms but turned to social media and creatively used it to share short videos of their lessons. For instance, TikTok was used as an informal source of learning content where teachers shared bite-size snippets of teaching, feedback on assignments, motivational speeches, and simply showed the students their coping mechanisms (Ketchell, 2020). WhatsApp turned out to be a useful platform for education in countries like Peru, India and Ghana where it was easily accessible and did not need extensive digital training. It was already used by masses. In fact, even prior to the pandemic, WhatsApp was incorporated into education, although experimentally, in some of Peru’s public schools where teachers were using it for improving oral and writing competencies (Escobar-Mamani and Gómez-Arteta, 2020). Then, after its extensive proliferation as an education tool, this Facebook subsidiary rolled out resources for educators that included tips on engagement strategies, assignment feedback, and group activities among many other features (WhatsApp, 2020).
Additionally, to facilitate educating ongoing classes via an interesting and personalized pedagogical method, school districts established partnerships for broadcasting local educational segments; they teamed up with different media channels catering to different ages, classes and digital platforms. For instance, BBC launched Bitesize Daily that collaborated with subject specialists, teachers and celebrities to teach students in the UK. David Attenborough was roped in to teach about oceans and the natural world, Manchester city footballer Sergio Aguero used football to teach counting in Spanish and award winning musicians Mabel and Liam Payne tried out combinations of music and reading for students in secondary school (BBC, 20 April 2020). Peru’s Ministry of Education hired actress Patricia Barreto to help hosting the televised programs developed for secondary school as part of the Aprendo en Casa (I Learn at Home) team (Aguilar, 7 de Abril, 2020). Other less resource-intensive solutions, yet no less creative, were abundant as schools and governments scrambled to switch from in-person to distance mode of education. For instance, a school in Nigeria deployed plain asynchronous learning tools such as reading material and supplemented it with synchronous face-to-face video teaching (Tam & Al-Azar, 2020).
Education trends in Latin America in the pandemic
Since the countries of Latin America are heterogenous, we cannot generalize their diverse educational landscapes, technological adoptions, or learning challenges that span throughout the region. Adopting information and communication technologies (ICTs) for education, especially online platforms, has been uneven, but several countries in the region have striven to improve and expand its access, such as Plan Ceibal in Uruguay, Plan Huascarán in Peru, Conectar Igualdad in Argentina, Enlace in Chile and Fundación Omar Dengo in Costa Rica (Tedesco, 2016). However, those initiatives obviously did not consider planning for a pandemic situation in which over 150 million primary, secondary, and college students would be attending school remotely from home (Garcia Jaramillo, 2020; di Gropello, 2020).
In the time since the pandemic reached the region back in March 2020, most countries in the region have implemented various types of measures to meet students’ learning needs—while most schools remained closed throughout the school year. Countries swiftly implemented a variety of strategies, some based on their own previous models that included use of radio and television; others incorporated online platforms and cellular phones (García Jaramillo, 2020; Pais, 24 April 2020; di Gropello, 01 June, 2020). Although most teachers are familiar with using the Internet and some ICTs in the classroom, teaching long distance through online platforms, ICTs, and cell phones was new to most. That situation forced teachers across the region to enhance their technological knowledge overnight, and to learn how to creatively deliver educational content through digital platforms. Based on individual countries’ long standing and pre-pandemic initiatives, some countries outperformed others. For instance, the World Bank lauded Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia in tackling distance education efficiently (Pais, 24 de Abril 2020).
In 2007, Uruguay created Plan Ceibal to promote inclusion and equity in education through new technologies across the country. Plan Ceibal offers access to a computer and free Internet to every student at elementary and secondary levels in all public schools. In addition, it offers educators a variety of improvement programs and professional development opportunities for enhancing their teaching using virtual platforms (Plan Ceibal). The program has various platforms for in-class instruction and long-distance learning. For instance, one of its platforms, CREA, acts as an education social network that aids course management, distribution, collaborating materials with students and teachers, grading homework, and connecting with students for school-related conversations. The other platforms of Ceibal, PAM and Matific assist in teaching math, with the latter using gamification for math learning and teaching, especially for early learners ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade (Plan Ceibal).
Similarly, a decade ago Chile implemented access to digital platforms for enhancing the educational experience. The country’s government offers two digital platforms for distance learning— Aprendo en linea and Aptus. The first platform is designed with materials for students, teachers and parents/guardians and includes digital files of textbooks for all grades, a digital library with access to more than 10,000 books, and materials for the teachers to be able to guide their students. Aptus, the second platform, provides resources for educators to enhance their ability to deliver content and sustain engagement with their students (Aptus). According to Emanuela di Gropello (Pais, 01 Junio, 2020) Chile is also sharing some of the resources and model created for the Aprendo en linea with some other countries in the region.
Mexico is perhaps one of the countries in the region with the longest tradition for distance learning through radio and television. Years ago, this country developed Television Educativa, a network of educational television programs broadcast across the country for different grades. The pandemic has brought new attention to this network, which is now widely serving much of the student population. This broad reach assumes critical importance as there are large disparities in access to Internet, digital devices and digital platforms in Mexico. Although it considers the use of legacy media as important as that of newer technologies, the government has also invested in digital technologies to ease the quick transition to distance education both for students and teachers (Pais, 01 Junio 2020). Started two years ago, Aprende en casa (Learn at home) facilitates digital learning where students, teachers and parents can access a variety of tools and materials.
Colombia, like most countries in the region, has also developed a digital platform Aprender Digital: Contenidos para todos. This platform has over 80,000 educational resources for all grades. The Ministry of Education has partnered up with Radio-Television Colombiana or RTVC, Google, Khan Academy, Microsoft and Oracle among others to help produce and disseminate educational content and also provide network security for students, teachers and others accessing these materials (https://www.mineducacion.gov.co). In addition to the platforms offered by the Ministry of Education, there are others created by the private companies (Pais, 01 Junio 2020).
ICTs, including digital platforms and educational media content have become more relevant than ever since the pandemic. All countries in the Latin American region have adopted combination of ICTs, television, radio, cell phones and online applications. However, technology has not been a complete solution, and most cases indicate that it can’t be. A solid partnership between teachers, students, and parents is a prerequisite for the educational success of students, particularly at elementary and secondary levels. Also, both students and teachers are eager to return to classrooms, seeking some sense of normalcy. Some countries have begun to consider a hybrid model in which students may alternate in-person classes combined with distance learning from home—at least until there is a vaccine or after the pandemic ends.
“Getting together” in Peru: using TV, radio and digital platforms for education
In Peru, distance learning is not a new phenomenon, but as in many other parts of the globe it has accelerated and become widespread, taking on new significance due to the pandemic caused by the deadly new virus COVID-19. Since the 1960s, Peru has utilized radio, and later television, for elementary and secondary school distance education, especially to reach those in the most remote areas of the national territory including the highlands and the Amazon. Since the arrival of the Internet and other technologies in late 1990s, the educational system has incorporated the use of ICTs, for both elementary and secondary school, following a global trend in education and development. Peru’s Plan Huascarán from 2001 to 2007 initiated the introduction of technology. The use of ICTs since then has increased, particularly in private schools but also in many public schools, especially in urban and semi-urban areas where Internet is more accessible.
When COVID-19 reached Peru in March 2020, teachers and students were getting ready to go back to school after summer vacation. The government’s declaration of a state of emergency and order for all to stay at home prompted generalized distance learning, beginning in April at public and private schools and universities. That same month, the Ministry of Education launched the program Aprendo en casa or I learn at home. It embraced three different modalities: radio, television, and the Internet to teach across the national territory. To have broad national reach, the national television network TV-Peru and the national radio network RPP along with a few other radio networks committed some of their airtime to this educational effort, helping reach low income students, students in peripheral urban areas, and those in semi-rural and rural areas without a computer or Internet access at home. In addition, the Ministry of Education distributed 719,000 tablets with Internet access to rural students and 124,000 to urban students for virtual classes (Pérez, 24 de Setiembre, 2020).
Peru, a country with approximately 33 million people (INEI, 2020) has close to 40 million active mobile lines (Larocca, May 19, 2020). According to the Instituto Nacional de Economia e Informatica (INEI) 92.1 % of Peruvian families have access to mobile telephony while only 35.9% have access to Internet at home. The combination of people using radio and television and having access to mobile phones, including those living in remote areas of the national territory, has meant that a good number of students are able one way or another to get connected to Aprendo en casa program and to their schools or teachers. Since Aprendo en casa started, about 20% of the students learning through radio or television are digitally connected to their teachers via cell phone using the WhatsApp application. That app is used to message students about general course work, homework guidelines, and questions they may have (Diaz, 2020). Students from private schools do not use as much radio or television since many of those schools already incorporated online systems of learning. In addition, students in these schools tend to own a computer at home and so can access their education unit directly from digital platforms.
However, despite mammoth efforts to rapidly develop the Aprendo en casa program for the public education sector and despite the creative work of most teachers, students haven’t received more than five to ten hours of lessons per week. Under normal circumstances in-person schooling requires and delivers about 30 contact hours per week (Díaz, 2020). In addition, many students both in elementary and secondary school are suffering with a radical change in procedure and ethos. Now self-discipline is key for succeeding as well as having adults involved in the educational process at home. Isolation is another factor that works against many students’ formal learning. In addition, against what believers in distance education may have thought, many students are deserting schools for these reasons, but also because of economic hardships. In this way, private schools are especially suffering the consequences of an economic crisis brought about by the pandemic. Many parents with students in private schools now don’t think distance education is worth their money and are asking for tuition or are placing their children in public schools (Alert@Económica, 30 Julio, 2020). It is clear that connectivity alone is not a solution for distance education, nor is access to technologies—whether legacy or new.
(De)construction of educational environments
The pandemic is shifting paradigms of teaching and learning, thus facilitating the deconstruction of physical learning environments—including school buildings, classrooms, roads, electricity and concomitant facilities. As educators, parents, and legislators question the relevance of physical infrastructure for education, their concerns underscore the significance of spaces over places. The place propped up by the physical infrastructure of schools has been subsumed by platform-based spaces, created by a digital device and Internet connectivity. As a result, there is a shift in how and where education occurs. And this shift strengthens and somewhat normalizes a pattern of not being rooted in a single geographical place to learn and gain knowledge.
Such a symbolic deconstruction of physical places, in turn, has led to the construction of digital environments where schools and classrooms have become spaces anchored in the idea of coming together to learn on digital platforms. The idea of places of learning has been reduced to redundancy. As teachers still act as mediators in creating content for these platforms and managing the delivery of education and knowledge, these spaces act as “mediated flux.” The mediated flux is a transient digital space inhabited by people or their avatars to communicate, teach, learn, socialize, work and more. Our interactions are mediated by the different digital platforms we use and inhabit in daily life, and the flux is the ease with which we navigate changing from one digital space to another digital space. Digitality enhances our communicative abilities and populates our presence across various mediated flux sometimes simultaneously and other times discreetly.
Under the pandemic, mediated flux is more apparent given the need to embrace multiple digital platforms and social media technologies for the mass delivery of knowledge. We witness the increase of digital traffic and flux as it affects billions of students and teachers from around the world. Their learning experiences and school relationships must be now almost entirely mediated by digital technologies and spaces. This phenomenon facilitates a process similar to cloning of digital identities, one that enables the simultaneous presence of individuals across and within the virtual spaces. For instance, a teacher using Zoom to connect with students creates breakout rooms assigning groups to each room within the digital space, leading to the systematic segregation of spaces that act as separate digital environments within the larger digital classroom. Thus students “are” in the digital classroom while also being at the same time in the breakout rooms with their groups. At the same time, students could be taking notes on Google Drive, and simultaneously chatting with a friend on WhatsApp about a doubt or homework assignment that is being talked about in the group or in the virtual class. This navigation from one digital platform to another constitutes mediated flux.
Though the mediated flux enables simultaneous presence of users in more than one space, such as WhatsApp, Google Drive and Zoom, we argue that it creates a fragmented educational experience, especially for the student. It is precisely the mediation, especially of technology, that causes fragmentation of the educational experience. To fit the distance mode of instruction and cater to the ever-decreasing attention span on screen, the content is deliberately truncated into lessons that are shorter than those developed for teaching in-person in the conventional classroom. As a result, the combination of shortened lessons and divided attention caused by constant navigation within the mediated flux raises questions about repercussions in the poverty of learning, this time not only for those in elementary school but also those in secondary.
The educational conditions due to the pandemic herald a new era of engagement with digital and legacy technologies while also prompting deficiencies and more potential flaws in the learning process. Disadvantaged students are the ones that would suffer the most, but also more affluent students and in private school. In the realm of distance education all are subjected to the mediated flux and the educational fragmentation it creates, and all are lacking the important physical presence of in-person mediation.
Problematically, governments may take advantage of the shifting paradigm from place to space and cut expenses, placing the burden of costs on students and teachers who are providing their own places, electricity, Internet, and devices for accessing or delivering educational content. Moreover, the unpaid labor of parents and families has expanded as they must assist in educating their children, and that social labor is not receiving either the credit or compensation that it should ideally receive.
In March of 2020, right before classes were about to start and as the pandemic reached Peru, the Ministry of Education announced that out of 54,890 public schools across the country about 21,017 required repairs to their infrastructure; in some cases about 70% of numerous schools’ infrastructure needed to be demolished (RPP, 3 de Marzo, 2020). However, given the pandemic, schools did not open. In theory, this gave some time to the government and the Ministry of Education to improve the deficient infrastructures. But it is not certain to what extent school repairs have taken place during this year’s closure because the Ministry of Education has been focused on shifting gears for distance education and reacting to the pandemic.
As we postulate that schools’ physical infrastructure may not be as central as it was pre-pandemic in the educational system, now media, digital spaces of education, and equitable access assume paramount importance. Though students do not need physically to commute to schools, ownership of electronic gadgets and devices, along with access to data suddenly seems indispensable. To augment the concept of a digital divide, the current paradigm underscores the significance of a space divide. That is, there’s an inequitable access to digital and physical spaces where education is delivered and consumed.
Numerous challenges influence equity, inclusiveness and accessibility of educational space. Broadly speaking, the place of school acts as an equalizer levelling all students as equals in a classroom. The provision of books, activities, classrooms and teachers constitutes learning opportunities that are offered equally to all the students, consequently putting all of them on equal footing. However, when the responsibility of learning is decentralized, parceled out to discreet units of students and parents in their homes, not all of students stand an equal chance to access or inhabit similar or equal learning spaces. Homes, where parents or guardians living at home might be struggling to feed all the siblings, face many problems. These include
Many social and economic problems can act as detrimental factors in disturbing the learning environment and inhibiting the access to the learning space, thus widening the space divide. Thus, a conceptual understanding of space divide also means knowing about the social, economic, and physical barriers that influence access to education.
Several schools hired private EdTech companies to aid online education, but these eventually required high fees for their services. Despite owning digital devices, the educational spaces remained out of bounds for thousands of children due to the lack of financial resources. With precarious employment conditions of parents and guardians due to the pandemic, an additional burden of paying for distance education seemed difficult for families. Thus, dearth of financial resources, compounded by the pandemic has been an important factor in shaping the space divide in education.
In Peru, as massive unemployment is negating the results of acclaimed initiatives to fight poverty, the number of people living below the poverty line is going to be around 27% (Chauvin and Faiola, October 16, 2020). While some families can afford continuing to pay for private schools and study in rich online learning environments, many students have none of that. Thousands have their education reduced to 30 minutes lessons broadcast on national Peruvian television or radio networks with instructions for self- study on brief phone texts, which could be accessed through the family cellphone. As low-income families are hit disproportionately, the dropout rate of children has increased from 11.8% in 2019 to 17.9% in 2020 (Chauvin and Faiola, October 16, 2020). With university dropouts in Peru also surging from 12% to 19% in 2020, analysts are also warning of mass desertion of educational institutions as relying only on distance education risks leaving many students out.
Challenges of distance education during the pandemic
While most students have been highly adaptive in transitioning to the online mode of education and educators have been innovative in their approaches to deliver content, there are opportunities to improve and strengthen existing capacity. There are disparities between urban and rural areas in terms of full digital access and conducive home spaces for learning. These impact educational outcomes, even more so during the pandemic. Radio and televised Aprendo en casa(I learn at home) lessons for various grade levels, including curricular units in the local indigenous languages, can reach a broader number of students without access to digital platforms. However, a lack of access to digital devices with connectivity or with enough data regularly impedes many students from completing homework or connecting for guidance with their teachers.
Even though most Peruvians own a cell phone, including those in rural areas and poor urban areas, not everyone has access to big data plans for cell phone use. As a result, households that have mobile phones but restricted data plans do not constitute a conducive environment for children’s learning at home. One common educational strategy has been to use WhatsApp for messaging between teachers and students, and teachers and parents. However, according to conversations with a few teachers in the town of Urubamba and city of Cusco, we learn that connecting with students via the app has not been enough as many children did not get sufficient help at home, leading them to fall behind and sometimes drop out from school.
Another major challenge comes from asynchronous modes of teaching, where students must engage with materials on their own or with help from an adult at home. Asynchronous education requires self-discipline on the part of the students as they need to administer their own time for contact hours and engagement with the materials. Additionally, if the students are young children in kindergarten and early grades of elementary school, they require the help of an adult at home, which has put tremendous pressure on working parents or on older siblings who also need to attend to their own classes. Furthermore, in many rural and poor urban areas in a good number of mixed households, the children are gaining an education but the adults in their lives may have only gone to elementary school or are illiterate. In those mixed households, parents or guardians are unable to help young children follow lesson plans or complete remote homework.
Also, when the burden of schoolwork and learning primarily falls on students and their families, an intergenerational gap in handling technology becomes more apparent. Many adults responsible for their children’s education struggle to learn the technology and its educational purposes. Not just parents, even teachers struggle to cope with the variety of digital platforms and apps to deliver course content to the students. Though some educators are trained to disseminate and impart distance learning, ground implementation has been starkly different. Furthermore, the pandemic has made clear that teachers need ongoing professional training to enhance their pedagogical methods and technological abilities.
The pandemic has transformed the context of implementing a curriculum, not just because using digital platforms means a teacher has to consider conditions other than those for which the curriculum was designed. In fact, we know that some learning competencies are more relevant in the context of the pandemic. In Peru, and other Latin American countries, adjustments to the new context may also focus on values revealed as necessities in the current conjuncture:
Teaching these social skills takes place in addition to regular curriculum (CEPAL-UNESCO, 2020). However, new demands find teachers’ training and availability of resources insufficient for the challenges of quickly adapting pedagogical formats to students’ needs, especially in disadvantaged environments (CEPAL-UNESCO, 2020).
We cannot say yet what the impact and consequences of distance education during the pandemic (and in the future) will be among a diverse student population. However, teachers and experts are already pointing out that the learning gap will widen due socio-economic inequities and uneven access to curricular materials, furthering already existing issues of learning poverty and school desertion.
Conclusion: how does the future look?
Though distance learning pedagogy is not a new phenomenon, COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for the expanded scale of its adoption and innovation. During the pandemic, the EdTech companies started to provide free services for a temporary period such as livestreaming and video conferencing, along with celebrity figures delivering educational content and guest lessons, sometimes on behalf of the government (Williamson, Eynon & Potter, 2020). As the importance and usage of distance education technologies has become more pervasive, moving across social sectors, it has provided an educators an opportunity to be more creative, despite tense conditions. It not only delivers information via interesting and varied methods but also helps families, especially parents, who are now responsible for their children’s education in absence of physical classrooms and conventional instruction.
However, as the financial markets are seeing a slump across various sectors, distance education has gained capitalists’ sudden surge of interest in its financial opportunities. Emphasizing a need to consider ethics while augmenting digital capabilities of e-learning platforms during the crises, Williamson, Eynon and Potter (2020) not,
“Yet at the same time, it appears clear that certain actors in the Edtech industry are treating the crisis as a business opportunity, with potentially long-term consequences for how public education is perceived and practised long after the coronavirus has been brought under control.”
The pandemic may have presented an excellent opportunity for e-learning platforms to increase profits and gain a substantive leverage on educational practices (Williamson, Eynon & Potter, 2020). Several technology giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have now rapidly increased their infrastructural capacities and are experimenting with creative ways of delivering educational content.
While the journey of transitioning from physical schools to online mode during the early months of the pandemic was bumpy, some believe that this “unplanned and rapid move’ might contribute towards a new hybrid model of digital learning and human interaction, and that this probably will be a major component of future life (Li & Lalani, 2020). The increasing influence of EdTech firms in the sphere of public education warrants more deliberation.
During the past several months, schools as institutions have been “broken-up, decentralized and marketized,” running the risk of diminished state regulation of public education in future (Hillman, Bergviken Rensfeldt and Ivarsson, 2020). Distance education has put the onus of education on disaggregated units of teachers and students, now anchored in their own homes, detached from pedagogical and institutional principles. Educational spaces are mediated by EdTech businesses or governments working in conjunction and input from EdTech companies. Re-thinking EdTech’s commercial motives, Williamson, Eynon and Potter (2020) note,
“The current state of 'pandemic pedagogy,' in other words, may not be seen by some businesses as simply an emergency response to a public health and political crisis, but as a rapid prototype of education as a private service and an opportunity to recentralize decentralized systems through platforms.”
A UNESCO report titled, “Education in a post-COVID world: Nine ideas for Public Action” further cautions about the role of technology companies in pushing educational and digital transitions, and it calls for increased participation of students, teachers, civil society, government and policy representatives in the decision-making process around EdTech (UNESCO, 2020).
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented disruption to education and other sectors, including initiating a new era in the realm of education. The future points towards the very slow return to the classrooms, most likely using a hybrid model of face-to-face instruction and distance education. This will require that governments in Peru, and other Latin American countries, provide more adequate training to teachers and better engagement with parents to support the students. Also, governments must provide investments for repairing or improving physical infrastructures as well as expanding access to digital tools and Internet connectivity—guaranteeing equitable access to learning spaces. In addition, governments must continue to attend to socio-economic issues and set in place policies for improving the social circumstances that impact both the digital divide and space divide.
1. For the purposes of this article, we use the term “distance education/learning” primarily because it not only covers the component of digital platforms for online teaching/learning but also entails the inclusion of television and radio for education.
2. Learning poverty is defined by the proportion of children who at 10 years old are unable to read fluently or comprehend a simple text.
3. Plan Huascarán begun in 2001 and it was folded in 2007 to give way to other similar projects by the Ministry of Education for distribution of ICTs to public schools along with access to the Internet.
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