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The Future You Will Not Get

The Editorial Board

The closure of school during the COVID-19 crisis made online learning a critical lifeline for students to ensure their future. However, this modern method of learning seems accessibly limited only to a particular group of children. Will the rest of the groups get the “future” in the future at all?

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and borderless, so do the risks we face. A new virus that appeared in 2019, Corona Virus Disease or COVID-19, served as an example of how the spread knows no boundaries and affects the whole world regardless of nationality, level of education, and gender. However, the consequence of COVID-19 has hit the most vulnerable segments of the population hardest than any modern virus before, Organization for Economic and Development (OECD) Economic Outlook 2019 stressed.

While the media often highlights the economic and social impacts of COVID-19, its impact on education is by no means extraordinary. The efforts to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing and self-isolation have urged the closure of primary, secondary, and tertiary schooling in over 100 countries. This action was based on a study by Kawano S. in his paper Substantial Impact of School Closure on the Transmission Dynamics during the Pandemic Flu H1N1-2009 in Oita, Japan which explained that the closure method had been effectively decreased the number of infected 2009 H1N1 Flu Pandemic in multiple countries such as Japan, United States, and the United Kingdom.

The closure of schools made online learning a critical lifeline for education, as education institutions complied with the authority to close the face-to-face learning process. The online learning process is envisioned to be an alternative solution with the motto “study efficiently anytime and everywhere”. Besides requires less time investment, online learning is the greener option according to a study by the Open University in Britain. However, the consequence of this “new type” schooling is the exposure of many inadequacies, injustice, and inequities in our education systems which unfortunately escorted us back to the worst period for humanity; the time where education is only for an exclusive group within society.

The UNICEF and ITU have found the alarming truth where 63% or 759 million of young people aged 15-24 remain unconnected at home, with two-thirds of the world’s school-aged children or 1.3 billion children aged 3-17 do not have internet connections in their homes. These findings were outlined in both organizations' joint reports in 2020 “How Many Children and Youth Have Internet Access At Home?”. The report also reveals that the disparity of income and different living locations could affect people’s ability to access the broadband and computers needed for online education and the supportive environments needed to focus on learning, up to the misalignment between resources and needs.

Substantial inequality to digital connectivity can also be seen by living location. Globally, 25 percent of rural children and young people aged 25 years or less have internet access than 41 percent of their urban peers, a difference of 16 percent. However, some regions show a much more significant rural-urban gap, such as in Latin America and Caribbean Region, where the difference in internet access at home reaches 35 percent.

Household wealth has been shown to be the most critical factor to access online learning effectively. The most significant gaps between the poorest and wealthiest households are observed in the upper-middle-income countries. In those countries, 82 percent of children and young people from the wealthiest households have internet access at home, while only 28 percent of their counterparts from the poorest households do. This pattern is also seen in high-income countries, where 97 percent of children and young people from wealthy households have internet access at home, compared to only 74 percent of their poorest peers. Lack of internet access is not only preventing students from being connected online but also isolates them from the learning process and work, which prevents them from competing in the modern economy.

To coup the dire situation, in the short term, some countries have implemented immediate financial measures to support students and education systems in coping with the disruptions and economic impact of school and university closures. Examples of financial supports are the Higher Education Relief Package 2020 by the Australian Government, the Internet Relief Package by the Indonesian Government, Financial Support Plan by United Kingdom Government, and many more. However, these relief packages only will be a fata morgana oasis for a while.

The relief package and government funding on education overall depend on national tax money, and it often fluctuates in response to public policy. For instance, the slowdown of economic growth associated with the spread of the virus may affect the availability of public funding for education as tax income declines and emergency funds are funneled into supporting increasing healthcare and welfare costs. Thus, the future we can predict is where the government will reprioritize other sectors. For people of all income levels to have access to education, governments will need more money. Even then, financial support still will not free the families to make a great sacrifice in order to invest and benefit from digital infrastructure.

This unfair condition will not just affect our present but also our future when school reopens. The effect of limited access to education is learning loss, which, according to a study by Hanushek and Woessman, will impact the long-run economic growth with the equivalent of losing one-third of a year of schooling for the current student cohort. Because the learning loss of today’s students will lead to skill loss, it will eventually contribute to a decline in the gross domestic product (GDP) averaging 1.5 percent for the remainder of the century. In the United States, it would be equivalent to a total economic loss of USD 15.3 trillion. Of course, the student cohorts who came from financially privileged backgrounds could find their way past closed school doors to alternative learning opportunities. However, those from disadvantaged positions often remain too hopeless to the absence of learning.

Everyone should have the same opportunity to succeed at school and develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will allow them to contribute to society. The aim of these universal and fair opportunities is not just for individuals, but also for the future and continuity of humankind. Unfortunately, however, the current crises escorted us back to a time where education is an exclusive thing for an exclusive group of people. If the authorities around the world will not cooperate together to find the solution, then it will not surprise us that the world will see the darkest future in the history of humankind: where to be educated means having a superpower from God.

This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 01 Issue 01 — June 2021

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