Education’s outlook in a post-COVID world

Like climate change, COVID-19 has emerged as a highly complex systemic challenge, sparking a catalyst of rapid transformations across countless sectors, especially education.

If you have a school-aged child, you have likely experienced a sharp increase in the use of online tools and the shifting roles between teachers and parents.

Perhaps, the prolonged practice of social distancing has taken a toll on the mental health of your family.

In the past, scientific models have been able to forecast impeding crises, natural disasters, and catastrophic events, but not in the case of COVID-19. Endless uncertainties flutter around our post-pandemic future, casting shadows on the bright prospects of secondary education.

“This new situation brings us to a point in which prediction is not so useful. We must now adapt to what is coming. This is the new normal and we need to teach this way of thinking to students,” said Prof. Olga Mayoral, a Young Innovators partner from the University of Valencia.

Any deep systemic change required to future-proof our society will begin with our educators, young people and the school system itself.

The Young Innovators programme aims is to provide students the best possible chance of reaching this goal by offering the tools and skills they need to become changemakers.

“People are realizing that we need systems change in order to understand what is happening around us. We are managing to link COVID with biodiversity issues, with preserving ecosystems, with climate change…This is actually very attractive to students because they are more motivated to learn about topics related to our current situation,” explained Mayoral, who leads trainings for pre-service teachers in secondary education.

Survival mode?

While some see an opportunity to rebuild a better future, others are more sceptical.

Patrick van der Hofstad, another programme partner and the director of the Netherlands-based Technotrend Foundation, is not fully convinced that the pandemic will increase our capability to combat climate challenges with systems thinking.

For him, falling back into survival mode is an equally plausible scenario. 

“We have witnessed how much the world can change in a very short time in order to be safe. Will this have implications to how we react to the climate crisis? I find it so difficult to predict,” admitted Van der Hofstad. “I would not be surprised if the education system recovers quickly and without much change. On the other hand, COVID could also be a reason why the Young Innovators programme grows, and we need to see that.”

Although no one can predict the long-term effects of this “experiment,” we can channel the best learnings into positive action. An innovative systems renewal can ensure that our recovery is climate resilient and works toward a zero-carbon economy.

“Now, there is an increasing awareness that the measures we must take to transition to a more sustainable society are not so far fetched. This is a turning point; it’s about deciding what our future will look like,” explained Dr. Salvatore Ruggiero, a Young Innovators partner from Aalto University in Espoo, Finland.

Green growth

The ways in which we measure wealth and prosperity are currently in question. What does a flourishing society really look like? Perhaps, new parameters will determine growth, not in terms of economics but in the advancement of ‘green’ values.

“COVID will make many people realize that gross domestic product is an insufficient measure of economic growth,” added Ruggiero. “It should be integrated with other metrics that measure progress, such as healthcare or people’s personal well-being.”  

Undoubtedly, the world will emerge with different priorities in the aftermath of COVID.

Instead of defaulting on the status quo and the sway of powerful industries, it will be imperative to ‘build back better.’

From a EIT Climate-KIC perspective, that means continuing to push the limits of innovation, education and increased community resilience.