Viris crisis raises questions over the future of education

As we go to press, the coronavirus crisis is in full swing, bringing the education system to a halt and raising immediate questions as to how this academic year is to end, with big implications for exams and qualifications.

As a periodical, we can’t cover this news cycle which is changing by the hour. But the impact on education brings forward a central issue with which education has been grappling for the past 20 years and that is: what is the role of technology in teaching?

In February an expert review on the use of iPads at a school in Meath recommended that traditional school books be reintroduced following problems with distraction and monitoring online activities.

Less than a month later, our education system moved in its entirety from bricks and mortar to online. Without a doubt, that school in Meath is better prepared than many others because it was already carrying out many of its activities online. I know this because my daughter attends a secondary school that uses iPads. All the teachers and students (and parents, to a lesser extent) were already versed on the software needed for texts and homework.

Other schools will have had to start from scratch, a very difficult place to start when you can’t gather teachers and students together to train and plan. Agreeing on which technologies and software to use is also going to be a huge task.

This is the biggest experiment in education we have ever had. The immediate problem will be resources and this is going to have different outcomes for people of different incomes. A lot of students won’t have access to good laptops or tablets. They won’t have access to the broadband required. Their home life may make it very difficult to carry on learning as in school or university.

Two take-aways from this. Firstly, having venues for education, schools, colleges and universities, is a fantastic resource. Secondly, technology is here to stay. We need to make it work, and for everybody.

Niall Gormley