No return to a pre-COVID-19 education world – Pearson international survey

We will not return to a pre-COVID-19 education world, concludes a major international survey undertaken by educational publisher Pearson. The report, entitled The Global Learner Survey (August 2020), surveyed 7000 people in 7 countries, including more than 1000 in Australia.

Many of the findings have direct applicability for Australian skills, vocational education and training, including the adult and community education (ACE) sector. The key points from Australian responses:

  • Online learning is here to stay
  • Post-secondary education is becoming less affordable
  • A large majority believes VET is more likely to result in a good job with career prospects than a university degree
  • A large majority is worried about equity in education, particularly the impact of the digital divide on online learning
  • The post-COVID world means new skills are needed
  • Institutions need to respond to changing learner needs, partly through shorter courses or lower cost options to help those who are unemployed

Community Colleges Australia Comment

CCA’s CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, comments:

“The Pearson findings have major implications for Australia’s ACE providers. Our providers need to develop a sophisticated approach to online learning; even if the pandemic were to disappear tomorrow, online learning is here to stay; we have made a major leap.

“Skills delivered through Australia’s VET system are crucial, with a large majority of respondents believing they are more important than university study. The JobTrainer program is an important start, but needs to be implemented properly followed up with a sustained increase in Australian VET funding.

“People actually do care about equity in post-secondary education, and are deeply worried that many of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged will be left behind in an increasingly digital world. Australian ACE providers cater superbly well for these groups; many providers have developed comprehensive programs that engage, teach and upskill key groups and communities in digital access. Digital inclusion needs major expansion to ensure that Australia is ready to deal with the next employment and economic challenges.

“Skill needs are rapidly changing. This started prior to COVID-19, and has only increased in velocity since then. One of the great strengths of Australia’s ACE sector is its ability to respond quickly to changing needs.”

Detailed Summary of Australian Responses

The following are specific Australian survey responses to issues relevant to ACE providers.

1 There is no returning to a pre-COVID-19 education world. Globally, more than 3 in 4 people believe that education will fundamentally change as a result of the pandemic. Online learning will be a key part of experiences for learners of all ages, and economic uncertainty will drive more people to upskill and reskill for job security. Australian findings:

  • Primary and secondary education will fundamentally change because of the COVID-19 pandemic – 78% agree.
  • Colleges and universities will fundamentally change because of the COVID-19 pandemic – 80% agree.
  • Online learning will be a part of children’s education experience moving forward – 88% agree.
  • Online learning will be part of the university experience moving forward – 90% agree.
  • Fewer people will be able to afford university education – 73% agree.
  • Fewer people will seek out traditional university degrees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – 65% agree.

2 Trust and confidence in education systems is on the rise nearly everywhere. In turbulent times, people look to the institutions that instil hope and opportunity. Education does just that. This year, a growing number of people say education is an important stepping stone in life, with more people than ever giving their country’s education system high marks for quality. Australian findings:

  • A degree or certificate from a vocational college or trade school is more likely to result in a good job with career prospects than a university degree – 76% agree (up from 68% in 2019).
  • Formal education is an important stepping stone. You need to invest in a formal education to achieve your work and life goals – 63% agree, and an additional 23% agree with the importance of formal education; only 14% believe: “A formal education is not relevant today. You can create your own success and prosperity without it.”

3 Learners expect schools to catch up with the times on issues of equity. People are demanding equity in education. They don’t believe that everyone has equal access to education, which is critical for future success. They believe that education inequality will get worse during the pandemic, and 9 in 10 learners want education systems to do more to address the problem. Australian findings:

  • Not everyone has access to the technology that they need to learn effectively online – 88% agree.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has made the digital divide more obvious between those who have access to technology for learning and those who don’t – 85% agree.
  • Online learning will increase the inequality for those who can’t access or afford technology – 83% agree.

4 If online is here to stay, learners want a better experience. Learners are practical and realize that online learning is a reality during a global pandemic. But, there are clear calls for more investment in and better use of technology for learning. Australian findings:

  • More college/university students will attend school virtually (online) vs. attending a traditional school within ten years – 81% agree.
  • Education should take advantage of technology to maximise the learning experience for students of all ages – 88% agree.
  • Education institutions are less effective at using technology than other industries (such as healthcare or banking) – 60% agree.

5 The pressure is on to build skills that will sustain people through the pandemic and beyond. With more than half of employed respondents in need of education because their job status has changed, there is a palpable urgency to build skills for employment. This includes a new breed of digital soft skills as well as an emphasis on English language skills. Australian findings:

  • New jobs and skill-needs will arise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – 83% agree.
  • In the last 24 months, have you found yourself in need of further education because your job or job status has changed? (% Yes, asked among those employed) – 47% agree, up from 36% in 2019.
  • The skills people need for work are different than five years ago because we are now using more technology in our day-to-day work – 87% agree.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the way people work – 80% agree.
  • People will need to develop more of their soft skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity – 91% agree.
  • People will need to develop more digital skills, such as virtual collaboration, virtual communication, analysing data or managing remote teams – 91% agree.
  • People will need to be comfortable working in a highly digital environment, regardless of what kind of job they have – 91% agree.

6 Universities have more opportunity than ever to help drive economic recovery. Learners are clamouring for universities to provide more adult learning, shorter courses, soft skill training and more affordable options for the unemployed. Australian findings:

  • Colleges and universities need to adapt faster to the needs of today’s students – 87% agree.
  • Colleges and universities focus too much on young students and should offer better options for working adults – 75% agree, up from 71% in 2019.
  • Colleges and universities should offer shorter courses or lower cost options to help those who are unemployed – 91% agree.

The full report can be downloaded from this link (PDF).

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