How does the coronavirus impact education for our children? Will it change the way schools and colleges work? Find out from our education expert.

Our lives have changed with the coronavirus crisis. But have they changed forever? In Does This Change Everything? European Investment Bank experts examine the implications of the COVID-19 crisis for sectors from education and digitalisation to urban mobility and medicineand for your everyday life.

To find out what coronavirus means for education, we spoke to Anna Canato, head of education and public research at the European Investment Bank, the EU bank.

Read Does This Change Everything? from the European Investment Bank, the EU bank. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunesAcastPlayerFM and Spotify 

Does the coronavirus change the future of education?

It really changes the present of education. As we speak, 156 countries have partially or completely shut down schools to contain the spread of COVID-19 and this shutdown affects 82% of learners worldwide, counting schools and higher education. So, the answer is: yes, it is currently changing education worldwide and it will probably do so in the future as well.

Why does it need to change education? The disease seems not to impact children.

I’m not a doctor, but what we know is that schools are very important places for social integration, even if children may not be affected as much as their parents. You have a lot of teachers and other professionals who work in schools, where children mingle with each other and then come home to their parents. Therefore, schools are complying with social distancing as much as other places. Of course, there is also a cost to that. The cost is a slowdown of learning and of social interaction between kids and a slowdown of social inclusion.

What new approaches do you think might be needed to cope with this new situation and what might go on into the future?

I believe that schools worldwide and universities now are making extraordinary efforts to cope with the current situation. Most of them were caught by surprise and unprepared to cope with a sudden prolonged shutdown of face-to-face courses. Most of them answered by using the internet, by using television in some countries, by printing materials out and sending emails to parents for the kids to work on. So schools and teachers are coping as best they can, but I think what we are seeing is that education systems, also in developed countries, were not highly prepared for this kind of situation. This is something that needs to change for the future. I believe—and here I speak as a parent—that we are all seeing that there are a lot of applications, digital alternatives for teaching. Yet, all these alternatives are still suboptimal as compared to what we see and experience when our kids go to school, no matter the level of schooling. What will need to change in the future is that countries, schools, regions will have to think how they want to prepare themselves for a situation like this one, and they will be forced by this experience to think how they could better integrate distance learning in what they do. So I don’t believe that education will go suddenly entirely digital or entirely to distance learning—or that we will discover that online education is much better than face to face education. But I believe that schools will need to be better prepared to face situations like these, and that all levels of education, and above all higher education and adult training will start considering how they can better blend digital education in their operations.

What effect will this have on everyday life for children and their parents in the future? And also for adult education?

It’s difficult to think of it now. My wish is that for everyday life nothing will change a lot, because face-to-face education, social integration, social inclusion between kids and young people is extremely important for society. I wish for us to go back to that as soon as possible. But I hope that some of the changes that we will see include that countries will invest more in their digital infrastructure to make sure that all schools and families have good access to benefit from distance of learning. Also, it would be important to make sure that educators are well-trained in the use of digital platforms and can be prepared to blend distance learning in their courses. I would wish that school districts will invest in preparation strategies and will pay attention to see which of their kids come from disadvantaged families and may need more support during this period.

Would that support include actual hardware, for example when there are families with several children but only one computer or maybe not even a computer at all?

Probably. The average household—also in Europe—might not have as many computers as they have kids. Or maybe your home network or telephone line would not be sufficient to properly connect all of them simultaneously

In these changes you’re describing, Anna, what will the European Investment Bank’s role be? How can we help?

As in the last 20 years, we will be very much on the side of countries, regions, municipalities, private promoters that want to invest in the preparation of educational systems. We have been financing school infrastructure since the year 2000, and this increasingly also includes support and investments to prepare digital infrastructure and to ensure teacher training for handling distance learning and digital tools. So the role of the European Investment Bank would be on the one side to make sure there is awareness of how important education is in the preparation for pandemic events like this one—so it is important to have a strategy for education. And we will be there to support, through our funding, the efforts of education providers in schools and digital infrastructure.

One final question for you, Anna. Like everyone else at the European Investment Bank, you’re teleworking at the moment for social distancing, and you have a couple of children at home as well, because the schools have closed. Do you have any tips for parents on teleschooling?

Try to cope as much as you can. My strategy is to do yoga alone in the morning, to have some me-time and focus. What I feel is important is to try as much as you can to have some sort of schedule, but also to have enough resilience not to get too upset when it suddenly falls apart. And to keep a good reserve of positivity and smiles, no matter what. But also, watch out for the possibilities around you. For example, my kids study in French, and we now found out that French public television has a very nice programme for kids in the first year of primary school. My kid watches television, there is a teacher with a whiteboard, and for her this is useful and adds to all the schooling she can do with us and the material she receives from her regular school.

Read Does This Change Everything? from the European Investment Bank, the EU bank. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunesAcast and Spotify.