This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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As part of an OECD Forum series, the virtual event Empowering Workers, Delivering a Jobs-rich Recovery took place on 13 July 2021 —watch the replay below!
COVID-19 has exposed many issues we’ve put off for too long—including the difficult work of transforming higher education to meet the needs of today’s learners and help citizens of the world reach their true potential.
This work has grown even more difficult as the pandemic has widened equity gaps and raised access barriers. Hit hardest are those already struggling, including students of colour and low-income adult learners. Data show that in 90% of countries, access to higher education is unequal. And in 76 low-income countries, the poor are 20 times less likely to complete a college credential than their wealthier peers.
In all, the pandemic has forced students across 188 countries out of their schools, causing massive disruptions to their lives. Institutions leaned hard on technology as they scrambled to move classes online. (Many provided free Wi-Fi and computers; others in areas with scarce connections handed out study materials or broadcast classes all day on TV, as China did for rural populations).
In the process, we learned some lessons and found many opportunities to improve. Now, as a recent OECD report urges, it’s time to “build on the lessons of the pandemic to reconfigure the people, spaces, time and technology” for a better, more equitable system of education that prepares us for the future.
Read the report "The state of education —one year into COVID" and explore the data highlighting opportunities for improvement in education systems
That’s our mission every day at Lumina Foundation, where we work for racial equity as we help all Americans get the education and training they need beyond high school. As a statistician at heart, I’ve seen how smart technology, advanced data and predictive analytics can make learning more effective and equitable. It can help get students back on track and prevent them from “stopping out”.
Leading the way
Some innovative educators are leading the way:
- The United States, Germany and other countries use predictive analytics to identify struggling students. At Georgia State University in Atlanta, when a computer algorithm spots risks a student’s files are coded yellow as a sign that they need help with classes or family issues. Dozens of newly hired academic coaches then step in. Meanwhile, Germany’s Stuttgart Media University created the Learning Analytics for Exam Performance and Study Success (LAPS) data solution, which identifies 200 risk factors and alerts staff if students are falling behind on credits.
- Researchers at Germany’s University Hohenheim in Stuttgart use technology to help teachers adapt their teaching methods to specific student needs. Data is collected during and after class to give immediate feedback—a feature that is especially helpful in online instruction.
- In Helsinki, Finland, an AI-based system supports large numbers of students who choose vocational education and training, or VET. Since VET is competency-based, graduation can take up to a few years. The system helps students with reminders, problem-solving, and offers of one-on-one coaching.
- In the state of Kentucky, schools crunch data to make better evidence-based decisions. For instance, the University of Kentucky noticed that resident student retainment falls by 40% with every USD 5,000 of unmet financial need. Now, the school is investing more money in need-based scholarships.
These are just a few of the models that use data mining, learning and pattern analytics, along with machine learning, to improve results. In each case, experts ask and answer essential questions—such as who owns the data and how will students’ private information be kept confidential.
Read the latest OECD Employment Outlook 2021: Navigating the COVID-19 crisis and recovery and find out more about the challenges brought about by the crisis and the policies to address them
Turning tests into games
Ideas on the horizon hold great promise. Advances in digital technology are leading to a new generation of game-based, standardised tests that assess complex skills—and are a lot more fun, too. GlassLab created a test, based on the popular video game SimCity, which puts students in the role of a virtual city’s mayor challenged with fighting air pollution. And ACTNext created a “Crisis in Space” test that asks two students to work together to find solutions, one as an astronaut and the other on the ground in mission control.
As technology evolves, so does our understanding of today’s learners: they are older, more racially and ethnically diverse; balancing many responsibilities, often struggling to pay the bills for food and Wi-Fi, much less classes; and less likely to complete the degrees or credentials needed to compete in the global economy.
It’s our most urgent mission to fix this. To survive, stay relevant, and meet the needs of learners and labour markets, higher education must rethink, reimagine and quickly adapt. As technology opens the door to fresh ideas and solutions, it’s up to us—educators, employers, governments and advocates— to help people the world over reach their full potential through the transformative power of learning.
|Tackling COVID-19||Future of Education & Skills||Future of Work||Digital Inclusion|
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