Diana Cristina Culincu - Authordiana.email@example.com
Méline Parent - Illustratormeline.firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s 8AM. You wake up, pour yourself a cup of coffee, open your laptop and join Zoom. It’s dark and snowy outside, and you are in your PJs. Your teacher is talking about Advanced Quantum Mechanics and the meeting is being recorded. You take a sip of coffee. Life is good.
I should have stayed at home. I should have stayed at home. These were the words I kept repeating to myself last year when it turned out all my classes were online. I was alone, in a foreign country, ready to meet other people and experience real student life, and KTH had just pulled the plug on campus-based attendance right before classes were due to start. In retrospect, was that a bad thing? Or did it force the push of education to its next evolutionary stage?
“Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity”, said Aristotle nearly 2400 years ago. While there is no clear evidence of modern-like schools in Ancient Greece, the public Ancient Agora and the Ancient Greek Academy were the places where Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle met to discuss and teach pupils about philosophy and ethics. During the Middle Ages, schools were centered around religion and access was granted exclusively to boys from aristocratic families. You would probably not have had the privilege of education were you born during those times. Education was a privilege for the wealthy. What about now? Universal access to education without discrimination has been universally recognized since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
The right to education is a fundamental human right. The unfortunate reality is that not everyone is born in an area where the best education is available to cultivate their specific skills. Getting a good education is not always affordable for everyone due to varying financial circumstances. The global revolution in literacy evolved from 1 in 10 adults who could read and write, to 9 in 10 adults with these skills in 200 years. Perhaps the continuing gap in higher education suggests that universities gatekeep the way for students by forcing on-campus attendance.
5 billion people use the internet today, around 63.1% percent of the world’s total population. PC penetration rates are not standardized worldwide, however, we can safely assume that the share of households with computers is steadily increasing alongside the spread of internet access. Students' grades and attendance are already being registered online in many places, along with calendars and course modules, supporting materials, and class notes. There are millions of videos on YouTube and other platforms from teachers and experts explaining advanced course topics for people to understand and research at their own leisure. With the advent of the internet age, it is conceivable that the rigid frameworks of classical education need to be restructured.
By integrating digital learning with drop-in hours on campus or simply live-streaming courses from the classroom, we could combat educational elitism by making learning programs accessible to students from remote areas. Distance-learning students are not the only ones benefiting from “edtech”. Parents who want to go back to school but don’t have the time, working professionals who cannot abandon work to further their studies, older individuals who might be ashamed of the social stigma of being the old student. Anybody anywhere can become Student X. Flexible, unrestricted by location or economics, equal.
What superhero gadgets does one need to be Student X? A working computer or tablet, access to the internet and headphones to avoid sound pollution and protect privacy.
What about sustainability? Student X reduces their carbon footprint. While screen time increases, transportation time and the associated energy use is reduced. Nearly 45% of the decrease of fossil fuel CO2 emissions during lockdown was due to surface transport emissions. Reducing transport frequency is also beneficial for eliminating dead transit times and increasing productivity and comfort.
Digital access has its downside, though: social isolation. Interpersonal interactions are as much of a feature of university education as learning and academics. Depending on your location, you might be relegated to a 2-dimensional figure slaving away in front of a screen with little contact with your peers. The process of finding friends isn't only important from a social perspective, but also from an educational perspective, since many projects require teamwork and teams are not predetermined. People are social animals.
What could be our expectations? Attending class from a beach in Bali, taking an exam from a café in New York, presenting our project from the International Space Station. If there is just one unmitigated insight to be carried forward from the Covid Era, let it be the realization that one can learn without being tied down to any place. Many have likened information to oxygen in the modern age, so let us step forward and change the foundation of access and delivery to education.