• 2021-09-06

During times of crisis, the importance of education is appreciated more. Education may be the strongest protection against unemployment and a lack of job experience. According to OECD study, persons with higher education levels adjusted to distant work more readily during the Covid-19 pandemic, and educated people have a lower unemployment rate.

According to statistics, more than 1 billion pupils are presently affected by school closures as a result of the pandemic, and institutions are anticipated to lose billions of dollars as a result of a decrease in overseas students. According to studies in the United Kingdom, one out of every five high school graduates is considering changing their autumn plans, and The Impact of Coronavirus on Global Higher Education report found that 47 percent of international students have decided to defer their university place for the following year. Gap year activities, temporary work, and living closer to home are becoming increasingly popular among students throughout the world.

Meanwhile, Latvia, like the other Baltic nations – Estonia and Lithuania – has shown that it can adapt to distant learning problems. The Baltics' education system turned digital overnight, with one of the fastest internet speeds in the world and 94 percent of pupils having access to a PC or laptop for schoolwork. Latvia created an educational TV channel for remote learning Your Class within three weeks after the lockdown, which was later acknowledged by the OECD as one of the world's top solutions for education during the pandemic. For some years, universities have had e-earning systems in place, and even some kindergartens have begun to Zoom with children and assign work online. The number of students enrolled at Latvia's top institutions has grown, and international students have joined as expected, albeit the balance of nationalities has moved from Uzbekistan and India to Germany and Scandinavian countries. This autumn, Lithuania experienced a 40% rise in vocational education, indicating that students are opting for more concentrated education with immediate employment opportunities.

How did these three little countries manage to be so adaptable and tech-savvy? There will be no shocks, only hard effort and appropriate preparations for the inevitable digitization trend. By 2015, Estonia had digitized all of its educational resources, and Latvia had declared the Year of Technology for Educators, well before Covid-19 broke out in China. The Baltics have built a digital infrastructure that provides virtually universal access to low-cost mobile broadband. During the pandemic, society somehow mobilized for cooperation and implemented digital education projects, with great examples of effective public-private partnerships involving government officials, private companies, start-ups, and non-governmental organizations – all co-creating in an agile and proactive mode.

What were the communication problems that universities faced? 

The victors were those that were able to move scheduled recruitment events online, such as Riga Stradins University's Open Door Days, which were held digitally in the #StayHome spirit. The marketing messages had to be adjusted; for example, a recently established university posture – ‘Open to the World' – was discovered to be ineffective during these times. Instead, a focused Master's degree marketing with the slogan "Upgrade Your System, Apply for a Master's Program" produced the best postgraduate admissions outcomes in history. Students became innovators at the hackathon CrisisLab, where they produced numerous ideas remotely to combat difficulties posed by the pandemic, thanks to the collaboration of the major institutions.

Internal contact with current students and teachers, as well as direct communication with prospective candidates, was the most difficult task. Although there was a lot of uncertainty, everyone anticipated concrete messages and acts. Internal support systems were developed at universities to provide psychological, IT, and remote teaching approaches assistance. Schools that had already created a culture of teacher collaboration were able to more effectively share the finest remote learning practices. International students who used to travel home on weekends but were no longer confined to their study houses, as well as universities with larger internal student communities, organized remote chat and game evenings. Municipalities were concerned that arriving international students might spread disease, and Tartu, Estonia's largest student city, battled multiple viral outbreaks in its nightclubs. All arriving overseas students eventually needed to find a location to isolate themselves, and institutions aided them in this endeavour.

Students have been affected particularly hard by rising unemployment. Many people in the hotel business lost their part-time work. Parents who contributed financially to their children's education saw their finances dwindle. Students around Latvia rallied and launched a well-organized digital campaign called #IWantToStudy. Hundreds more tales were posted on Instagram and Facebook, prompting the Ministry of Education to quadruple the number of scholarships available. Increased inequality continues to be a source of concern.

This educational crisis has caused us to reconsider the role of the teacher. Remote learning can be a success or a failure, depending on the capacity of the teachers to adapt, their attitude toward digital technologies, and their talent. Teachers' expectations have risen as they were required to reorganize their teaching style and resources in a short period of time, and those who had previously employed digital technologies in learning were the winners. Is it possible to study without an instructor if the learning is done remotely? According to research on professional robotization, there is only a 1% possibility that a teacher will be replaced by a robot.