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Photo: Mint (Hemant Mishra/Mint)
Photo: Mint (Hemant Mishra/Mint)

Opinion | Education in the post-pandemic world cannot be the same again

We could soon see the impact of coronavirus on a global education sector worth some $10 trillion

Professor Scott Galloway of the Stern School of Business does not mince his words: “I’m good," he says, “maybe even great, at what I do. But on Zoom, people are going to discover I was never worth $100,000 per class—what kids pay to hear me rant…" Galloway is referring to education in the post-pandemic era.

I have been writing a series of columns in Mint on how the pandemic and its lockdowns have spurred a “great decentralization" in many industries. Education seems to be another candidate. Work-from-home, or actually work-from-anywhere, has been one major effect. Study-at-home seems to be the other one. As schools and colleges across the world have shut down their physical classes, they have all resorted to online instruction. Students are perched in front of their computers, and in many cases in front of their mobile phones, straining to follow their teachers. Indian School of Business has started its 2020 Master of Business Administration, or MBA, programme by onboarding hundreds of students online. The University of Cambridge has declared that most of its classes will be online till early next year, prompting a rash of similar announcements by leading universities across the globe.

Galloway has a different take on it. He claims that higher education will actually become more centralized: “There will be a flight to quality and concentration of power among a small number of brands." He foresees a culling among universities, and hundreds of them might not even open after covid. The Harvards, Stanfords and Oxfords will become larger and even more powerful.

But even they will have to change. Galloway presents an intriguing case for universities and technology companies to join hands: “MIT/Google could offer a two-year degree in [science, technology, engineering and math]. The myth/magic of campuses and geography is no longer a constraining factor—most programmes will be hybrid soon, dramatically increasing enrolments among the best brands. MIT/Google could enroll 100,000 kids at $100,000 in tuition (a bargain), yielding $5 billion a year (two-year programme)..."

I believe that covid will be a tidal wave that will sweep education off its current moorings in the following ways:

First, education is actually a series of events strung together, with each class an event. We know that covid has stopped the broader event industry in its tracks. The event model of education will also have to change. There will be smaller socially-distant classes at a premium, which will be broadcast to thousands of online students at a much lower rate; a hybrid model where you pay a premium for the “campus experience", but can choose to be educated online for less money.

Second, one of the key tenets of the Future of Work is lifelong education, and this will get accelerated. It will no longer suffice to have a graduate and post-graduate degree. You will have to learn all your life. So, perhaps you’ll need a 50-year subscription, under which you pay Harvard, say, an annual fee to learn something new every year till you are 70 years old. This will keep individuals up-to-date and continually skilled. The covid effect on jobs will lead to this model. Galloway seems to agree: “More kids will not attend school right away, and more adults in their thirties and forties will return," he says.

Third, much like work, the future will be an online-offline hybrid, not one of either. Education-tech startups will get more funding. Much better technology will emerge to make you feel as if you are on a campus or in a classroom, and this will blur your offline and online experience. I have discovered some amazing platforms, like Virbela, which use some virtual reality technology to create fantastic experiences. In fact, virtual education could become the biggest use case for Extended Reality (XR)—virtual, augmented, mixed.

Fourth, business houses and tech companies will see education (along with healthcare) as the next big opportunity. Even in India, I see a significant possibility of corporate houses, technology firms and education institutions working much more closely together. If this happens, it’s likely to have a big positive effect on the sector.

Fifth, a negative fallout could be that the country’s digital divide will get more pronounced. Poor students with less access to devices, connectivity and private space will suffer greatly.

I have consistently maintained that covid has slowed down the world but accelerated change; and we will soon see the impact of this acceleration on the $10 trillion global education sector.

Jaspreet Bindra is the author of ‘The Tech Whisperer’, and co-founder of Unqbe

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