The coronavirus disease 2019, known as COVID19, is an infectious virus, first identified in December last year in Wuhan, Hubei, in China. As of the end of September 2020, more than 33 million cases have been reported across 188 countries and territories globally, with more than 1 million deaths.
COVID19 has changed the very basis of what we do and how we do it. It has forced a radical look at how we assemble, our social patterns, and way of life, with most governments imposing laws and rules ranging from the closure of public events and institutions to the wearing of masks in public; the number of people allowed private gatherings at home and elsewhere.
The World Economic Forum has estimated it there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic. While in Denmark, children younger than 11 are returning to nurseries and schools after initially closing them back in March, South Korean students speak to their teachers online.
In an excellent paper written jointly by Cathy Li and Farah Lalani for the WEF, entitled ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever’. This is how’, Li and Lalani set out a researched argument that with so many students worldwide out of the classroom and being educated at home through e-learning on the Internet, it is likely that whatever the outcome of the pandemic, we are looking at the new normal in Education.
Even before COVID19, there was already a high growth and adoption in education technology, with global Ed Tech investments reaching more than $18 billion, and that’s predicted to reach $350 billion by 2025. “From language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing, and online learning software, there has been a surge in online education,” the pair conclude.
Although the last to call himself a prophet, William Erbey has been banging on the online education drum for years. He established an educational service known as Scholarly, which facilitates the seamless distribution of knowledge from the best teachers and colleges to the students and working professionals.
To quote its official website, “We utilize our broadcasting capability to deliver live online Education from the best teachers in doing so, we add value to both the recipient and the provider of the knowledge.
But Erbey’s views on Education are no knee-jerk reaction to the vicissitudes of the coronavirus epidemic. “My wife and I are highly committed to Education, how you can improve the world is to get people better educated, and that’s the challenge. I’m not sure our education system has kept up with the explosion of information and data in the world,” he said in an interview with Ed Harrison.
“With the technology that has come out, and that has yet to come out, will eviscerate mid-level jobs. They are just going to go away. This means that we need people to be well educated, think of new things, and create new value. This is probably one of the first times in history where Education hasn’t kept up with the new prosperity”, he said.
Erbey thinks that today’s educational levels in the population on average lags significantly behind what’s demanded for the new jobs being created. “I believe that Internet education is going to be the way of the future. We need to use our Rockstar professors who are brilliant at teaching a subject and have them teach tens of thousands of students over the Internet”.
William Erbey analyses the education system wearing his business hat. But to confuse his methodology and conclusions as someone only interested in the bottom line of a financial ledger is a mistake.
Both Bill Erbey and his wife Elaine – who both sit on the board of Scholarly – have made educational philanthropy one of their life goals. The Erbeys have donated over 90% of their net worth to higher learning; however, they believe that a significant proportion of the population is being priced out of receiving a college education.
“Education today has not changed in its primary business model since the beginning of time. You bundle the kids up, send them to the scholar, and they sit there for a while and learn. From a retail perspective, higher education is pretty much like a brick and mortar retail store.
“It’s the last bastion of where physical presence is required to sell the product. That’s not to say there isn’t a real value in having young adults being able to go away to school. It’s a maturation process where they are in a protected environment, and they get to socialize with other young adults” he said.
Erbey advocated a shift where perhaps one or two years would be spent on campus and the remaining time studied online, highlighting that it’s also a lot cheaper than getting students and bundling them up, then sending them to the Hilton hotel for quite a while. “There are many of them who become broke-indebted up to their eyeballs and never able to pay off their fees,” he added.
The World Economic Forum’s report talks about ‘changing education imperative,’ noting that “this pandemic has utterly disrupted an educational system that many asserts were already losing its relevance.”
The report quotes Israeli public intellectual, historian and professor, Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century, outlining how educational institutions ‘continue to focus on traditional academic skills and rote learning, rather than on skills such as critical thinking and adaptability’, more critical for success in the future.
Finally, Li and Lalani posed the question of whether the move to online learning could be just the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of educating students. “What has been made clear through this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across borders, companies, and all parts of society. If online learning technology can play a role here, it is incumbent upon all of us to explore its full potential”.
The Erbey’s Scholarly.co has developed outreach programs to match international students with colleges and universities on-campus and live virtual classrooms utilizing System73, where students can interact in real-time with their professors and fellow students from all around the world.
Not only will this enhance revenue, but in some circumstances, it enables colleges and universities to deliver higher quality education at a lower cost. Bill Erbey says he agrees with Benjamin Franklin and passionately believes that better education leads to a better life. And it’s good to see a positive outcome, perhaps, arising from the current pandemic.