So far, the year 2020 has been exceptional for a number of reasons — a great many of them bad. The arrival of Coronavirus forced changes across all aspects of our lives and the education system certainly was no exception.


Now, as we enter the final third of the year and lockdown restrictions begin to ease around the world, what effects did Coronavirus have on education and how has it changed the possible teaching methods of the future?


College and residence closures


When lockdowns were announced, they were immediate across all areas of society, including our education establishments. Not being able to attend classes caused massive upheaval for students, particularly as the virus struck just when many were gearing up for end-of-year exams.

However, while college closures were inconvenient, bear in mind the many students living in campus accommodation or rented apartments. Lockdown meant precisely that — staying home — and with most student accommodation only offered on a temporary basis, many were forced to leave their short-term housing and return to their parents’ homes.


Estimated year-end exam results


Coronavirus’s impact was most potent just as the academic year was beginning to draw to a close, and at a time when most students were preparing for end-of-year exams.


These exams clearly couldn’t be held safely under lockdown conditions, resulting in most students having to accept final year grade estimates based on their performance in lesser assessments through the year, rather than a typical finishing exam.


While this lack of final tests was clearly an inconvenience for younger students, it may prove to have enormous implications for those who should have taken SATs and ACTs. The loss of final exam results could cause so much turmoil this year that there are calls for independent exams to be held at home to allow colleges and universities to assess applicants before entry.


SATs and ACTs are the gateway into further education for most students and are therefore an essential building-block in career progression. This year’s exams have already been hugely affected, but there is also a real risk that, moving forward, the graduating classes of 2021 and beyond may suffer a similar fate.


Education experts suggest continual assessment could be the best way to combat problems in the future. Course design is likely to be revised with more regular testing to get a better picture of student ability throughout the year.


A lack of formal graduation ceremonies


It may seem a small consideration, but after four years of study, a final graduation ceremony is almost like a rite of passage for students. It is a definitive endpoint marking the transition from classes to the big world of employment.


Due to Coronavirus and distancing rules, most graduates this year will have to be content with online ceremonies and congratulations delivered over social media, which is a somewhat stifled conclusion to their time in education.


An overnight shift to education online


Over recent years, several forward-thinking education authorities have been moving increasingly towards online learning and provisioning for teaching students remotely. However, with lockdown forcing the immediate closure of real-world teaching facilities, all universities had to move their operations online, regardless of whether they had an operational infrastructure or not.


In truth, really, there isn’t much new about educating over the internet and the technologies to allow for online teaching have been with us for many years. In most cases, the reason for their slow take-up has been caused by a reluctance to change by educational authorities.

Some universities have been operating purely online for many years, with several institutions offering advanced courses and qualifications. For example, the pioneering Wilkes University offers FNP studies (Family Nurse Practitioner) up to degree level in a fully online setting, with everything from enrolment to final graduation taking place over the internet.


Future employment opportunities


The physical dangers of the virus have already been extensively documented; however, the long-term economic implications of Coronavirus are only now starting to become apparent. Students graduating in 2020 face a more uncertain world than ever. With rapidly diminishing employment opportunities and extremely volatile markets, it’s hard to remember less secure or stable times.


Experts reckon the total debts caused by the virus have already totaled $6 trillion in America alone and could be significantly higher by the end of the year. Globally, economies could contract by as much as 8% and most analysts predict a worldwide recession — if not a global depression. With many companies facing downsizing just to survive, the employment prospects for the graduates of 2020 are bleaker now than at any point since World War II.


Of course, while we all hope the immediate dangers of Coronavirus soon pass, for now at least, students graduating this year face potentially very tough times ahead. Until countries can find an acceptable trade-off between economic activity and public safety, the effects of social distancing and lockdowns will continue to cause uncertainty and adversely affect employment opportunities.


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