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Impacts of COVID-19 on primary, secondary and tertiary education: a comprehensive review and recommendations for educational practices

Abstract

COVID-19 lockdown has caused disruption to education of all levels with far-reaching implications and unveiled the shortfalls of the current education model. Cycles of tightening and relaxation of COVID-19 lockdown confer uncertainty to the continuity of education. This article aims to comprehensively present the impacts of COVID-19 on primary, secondary and tertiary education and propose sound educational practices in the COVID-19 era. Papers related to educational impacts and implications of COVID-19 were selected for this review through a PRISMA model. The review shows that a shift of learning remotely or online has affected educators and learners, especially in relation to learning loss among learners, limitations in instructions, assessment and experiential learning in virtual environment, technology-related constraints, connectivity, learning resources and materials, besides psychosocial well-being. These impacts are exacerbated by inequalities in the distribution of resources as well as inequities attributed to socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, learning ability and physical conditions. The recommendations for future educational practices comprise adaptability of curricula to embed independent and online learning options, concurrence of diverse learning modalities for seamless learning transitions and flexibility, flexible staffing and learning model, enhanced support, technological and curricular innovation with simplification and standardization, as well as interactive, responsive and authentic virtual environment. This review contributes significantly to enhance preparedness of education to crisis while ensuring continuity and quality of education in the era of COVID-19 uncertainty.

Introduction

Coronavirus disease 2019, more popularly known as COVID-19, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was first reported in Wuhan China on December 8, 2019. Since then, it has spread quickly to different parts of the world (Tang & Chin, 2021). As of July 15, 2021, 08:11 GMT, 189,190,520 people were infected by COVID-19 globally and 4,074,788 deaths were reported (Our World in Data, 2021). Lockdown has been initiated at the onset of COVID-19 and has been adaptively implemented in different countries depending on the number of COVID-19 cases. Many countries have undergone cycles of tightening, relaxation and lifting of lockdown. During the writing of this paper, there were countries in tightened lockdown such as Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia while lockdown relaxation was reported in China, Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand (Tang & Chin, 2021).

The control of COVID-19 has multiple impacts on the socioeconomic systems. Lockdown has resulted in the temporary and selective closure of businesses and services which prompts employers to adopt different employment patterns, for instance, by partially or entirely shifting from full-time employment to part-time and casual employment in relation to operational demands during various stages of COVID-19 lockdown (Fana et al., 2020; Tang, 2021a). The uncertainties brought by COVID-19 lockdown on businesses has an impact on the workforce, causing a significant reduction in the demand for workforce in sectors most affected by the lockdown, particularly hospitality and aviation (Fana et al., 2020). Self-isolation and travel restriction as a result of COVID-19 lockdown have catalyzed the deployment of online operational mode in many sectors such as education, retails, food and beverages as well as banking (Fairlie & Fossen, 2021; Tang, 2020a). Concurrently, it has affected the financial security of many, including employees and freelancers who rely on daily wages, as well as operators of nonessential sectors whose businesses are often forced to stop as lockdown tightens (Fairlie & Fossen, 2021). Without stable incomes, anxiety mounts, leading to distress especially in low-income families (Every-Palmer et al., 2020).

The education sector has been hard-hit by COVID-19 since the very beginning. While different countries have different policies on the operation of education centers, many education centers have been closed since the onset of COVID-19 (Tang, 2021b). On February 17, 2020 with COVID-19 more prevalent in China than other regions of the world, only Mongolia had implemented country-wide closure of education centers while those in China were partially open. This affected 999,014 learners (UNESCO, 2021). Two months later on April 20, 2020, education centers in 151 countries were closed, affecting a total of 1,437,412,547 learners (UNESCO, 2021). With the control of COVID-19 progressing differently in different countries, the number of education centers that remains closed at any one time differs. To reduce the impacts of COVID-19 on learning, education centers particularly higher learning institutions were quick to roll out online learning (Kundu & Bej, 2021). Students were hurried to online learning platforms and educators who had been engaging in face-to-face teaching would have to adapt to online teaching within a short notice (Kundu & Bej, 2021). The transition to online teaching and learning, in many instances, occurred in too short a timeframe to permit systematic and organized continuation of teaching and learning (Truzoli et al., 2021). The transition was particularly challenging for courses which require experiential learning such as field trips, experimental work and hands-on at all levels of education (Barton, 2020). However, the mandatory closure left educators with limited options, particularly in the execution of teaching and assessment. In many instances, examinations needed to be canceled, postponed or replaced with other forms of assessment (Rolak et al., 2020).

On a positive note, the necessary shift to online learning has been instrumental in opening up new horizons in learning. It promotes the development of online teaching and learning platforms and tools, as well as online courses (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020). It reveals that certain face-to-face educational elements could be moved online and certain courses could be delivered entirely online (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020). It is beneficial in catalyzing the maturation of online learning which has already been implemented and advocated as a form of flexible learning for part-time learners or learners who favor such flexibility without being geographically bound (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020). However, online learning also strips much treasured collaborative learning experience and the school or college life from some learners (Putri et al., 2020; Tang, 2020b). There have been numerous studies that probed the impacts of COVID-19 on education of different levels, often regionally and program-specific. Hanson et al. (2020) investigated self-perceived impacts of COVID-19 among medical students in the US on their application for urology residencies. Brammer and Clark (2020) reflected upon the impacts of COVID-19 on tertiary management education and the ensuing opportunities. Tiwari et al. (2020) employed a qualitative approach in studying educators’ views on the challenges associated with tourism education and revealed the need for educators to be well-versed in delivering the courses through different modes while keeping the curriculum updated. In an editorial, Carolan et al. (2020) underscored the shift of nursing education toward student-centered e-learning that could yield neutral or positive academic outcomes but there are barriers such as learning space, isolation, course structure and inadequate institutional support that need to be overcome to optimize the outcomes. A short review by Deery, (2020) on dental education in the US warned of the challenges in producing competent graduates especially with clinical teaching suspended or continued with implementation of social distancing. While this challenge could be overcome by technology, the support of appropriate education methodologies is crucial. Aristovnik et al. (2020) conducted a large-scale survey among tertiary-level students of 62 countries on their perceptions of the impacts of COVID-19 on their lives and found they were satisfied with the support provided by universities in online learning but faced a lack of computer skills and higher workload.

It now emerges that most of the studies on the impacts of COVID-19 on education focus on tertiary-level education and are frequently discipline-specific. The studies are survey-based or qualitative based on personal reflection. There are very few studies examining the implications of COVID-19 on primary and secondary educations. Engzell et al. (2021) assessed if school closures due to COVID-19 had an impact on primary school performance and revealed a learning loss equivalent to one-fifth of a school year. The loss was more significant for students from less-educated families. An experiment by Pozo-Rico et al. (2020) examined if teacher training program as an intervention to primary education during COVID-19 era was beneficial to teachers. This study showed teachers who underwent the program were better able to cope with stress and ICT. Nonetheless, it does not investigate the direct impacts of COVID-19 on the facets of primary education. Similarly, there are few studies looking at the effects of COVID-19 on secondary education. Hou et al. (2020) administered a survey among senior high school students in rural China on their self-reported mental health. This study disclosed that high proportions of students reported symptoms related to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as suicidal ideation. Some were even inclined toward suicidal attempt. Truzoli et al. (2021) studied the impacts of self-reported risk and protective factors on online teaching implemented after the COVID-19 outbreak through questionnaire and unveiled depression, stress, locus of control and self-efficacy as important determinants of online teaching satisfaction. High school teachers were the subjects of the study instead of students. A study to investigate how high school students spent their quarantine period during COVID-19 was performed but it did not delve into the educational impacts of COVID-19 (Asanov et al., 2021).

Numerous reviews of the impacts of COVID-19 have also been performed but they are frequently based on reflections and limited literature besides being region-specific and program-specific (Bokde et al., 2020; Brammer & Clark, 2020; Deery, 2020). There is a lack of comprehensive review that collates the major studies undertaken in this domain to present the impacts systematically and generate new insights. This review aims to comprehensively examine the impacts of COVID-19 on various levels of education, particularly primary, secondary and tertiary. From the review, it aims to highlight the emerging education trends in the COVID-19 era and propose sustainable educational practices which can help education centers to weather the storms of COVID-19.

Methods

To achieve the aims stated, this review referred to scholarly articles comprising primarily journal articles and secondarily conference papers published since the initiation of COVID-19. It also involved visiting official websites to gather latest data and statistics to reflect certain educational impacts such as the closure of education centers. It utilized scholarly databases, namely Web of Science, Scopus and ProQuest to source the relevant articles. The keywords used ranged from COVID-19, educational impacts and education implications to primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. The major findings from the review were presented in comprehensive tables. A PRISMA model typically employed for systematic review of intervention studies was adopted in this review (Stovold et al., 2014). Figure 1 shows the process of selecting literature based on the PRISMA model. The inclusion criteria are: (1) the articles must be solely related to COVID-19, not other outbreaks; (2) the articles must be published in English; (3) the articles must be related to the educational impacts of COVID-19, in line with the objective of this study; (4) the articles must focus mainly on primary, secondary or tertiary education or a combination of those since this paper examines the educational impacts of COVID-19 with a generalist approach. Articles of primary education which were extended to pre-primary education were also included; (5) the articles were published in peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings to ensure the quality of the findings; and (6) the articles must contain recommendations for reducing educational disruption during the era of COVID-19 for the formulation and synthesis of recommendations in this paper.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Flowchart of literature selection based on PRISMA model

This review excluded papers which discuss educational impacts due to outbreaks other than COVID-19, those related to pedagogical development of online or remote learning as well as those related to impacts on research, professional development and education system without making distinction of primary, secondary and tertiary education. Papers focusing on containing COVID-19 at educational institutions were also excluded. The major findings of the papers reviewed and the associated implications were subsequently summarized. The summaries were tabled based on levels of education. Papers covering both pre-primary and primary education were grouped under primary education, while those covering both primary and secondary education were grouped based on the predominant contents.

Impacts of COVID-19 on primary education

Pre-primary and primary education around the world has been disrupted by the sudden closure of schools during the COVID-19 lockdown. As there are limitations in involving pre-primary and primary school students in surveys, almost all the surveys conducted to identify how COVID-19 has impacted pre-primary and primary education were targeted at teachers and parents (Moss et al., 2020; Pensiero et al., 2020; Polydoros & Alasona, 2021; Putri et al., 2020). Non-survey studies revolved around quantification of learning gain or loss, and academic achievement through modeling. Figure 2 shows a list of the impacts and the number of studies reviewed which discussed the impacts.

Fig. 2
figure 2

The impacts of COVID-19 on primary education identified from the papers reviewed (n = 10)

From learning viewpoint, this review pointed to learning loss or slower learning gain among primary school students (Fig. 2) (Pensiero et al., 2020; Tomasik et al., 2021), particularly those of disadvantaged schools (Gore et al., 2021). In New South Wales, Australia, more advantaged schools actually reported 2-month additional growth in mathematics learning of Year 3 students (Gore et al., 2021). This implies inequality between students’ learning in the virtual environment.

In terms of learning, most studies reported an increase in screen time as well as challenges with technology and connectivity, in both developed and developing countries (Putri et al., 2020) (Timmons et al., 2021). Technological challenges frequently related to a lack of the necessary skills and equipment for online learning particularly in families with multiple schooling children while connectivity centered on internet and WiFi availability and speed for optimal learning experience (Fig. 2) (Aliyyah et al., 2020; Putri et al., 2020). Children from advantaged families had more learning time than those from disadvantaged families (Pensiero et al., 2020). There were also numerous challenges faced in teaching. Besides technology, connectivity and more screen time due to learning, teachers found resources and tools limited and they felt constrained in applying the diverse teaching methods and covering all the curricula they would in physical classes, as well as administering assessment (Aliyyah et al., 2020; Polydoros & Alasona, 2021; Putri et al., 2020). In the UK, the priority of teachers during school closure shifted from teaching to supporting remote learning, health and well-being of students. This included ensuring students of disadvantaged families had enough food and could learn without online access (Moss et al., 2020).

From parents’ perspectives, remote learning was time-consuming and they found themselves having to tend to the needs of their children who were engaged in online learning (Fig. 2) (Timmons et al., 2021). They were also concerned about the quality of teaching which aligned with teachers’ view of difficulty in engaging students as well as limitations in employing diverse teaching methods, choosing the right tools and teaching online effectively (Aliyyah et al., 2020; Polydoros & Alasona, 2021; Putri et al., 2020; Timmons et al., 2021). In terms of psychosocial well-being, resorting to remote learning has been reported to strip students of communication with peer and teachers as well as their social life (Fig. 2) (Putri et al., 2020). Confining to their homes during school closure negatively affected their physical activity, eating habits and quality of sleep (Siachpazidou et al., 2021). Moving to remote learning also produced psychological impacts among teachers due probably to increased workload and the challenges encountered with remote teaching and it was revealed that intervention via teacher training could alleviate their anxiety, skepticism, fatigue and adaptability to ICT (Pozo-Rico et al., 2020).

In primary schools, it was particularly challenging to gauge the psychological impacts of remote learning on students because they might not be able to articulate their psychological conditions well in addition to the regulations on their involvement in surveys. Such impacts were often drawn from parents or teachers. Supports to students and teachers during school closure were widely advocated with special attention to disadvantaged students due to inequalities and inequities (Fig. 2) (Gore et al., 2021; Pensiero et al., 2020; Polydoros & Alasona, 2021; Timmons et al., 2021). Inequalities and inequities which opened up to a host of other problems such as accessibility to internet, learning resources and reasonable learning environment were brought to the limelight. The former often refers to the unequal distribution of or accessibility to resources among societal groups while the latter touches on the conditions leading to inequalities such as corruption, poor governance and marginalization. While educational inequalities were a matter of concern, the underlying inequities were equally alarming. (Pensiero et al., 2020; Tomasik et al., 2021). Most studies did not make a distinction between the two facets. There was generally a call for differentiated instructions in teaching and argument about synchronous and asynchronous teaching but a lack of research on the pedagogy for online learning (Aliyyah et al., 2020; Timmons et al., 2021). Table 1 provides further information on the impacts discussed above and the implications.

Table 1 Impacts and implications of COVID-19 on primary education

Impacts of COVID-19 on secondary education

For secondary education, most studies are survey-based but students, particularly, senior high school students could be better involved in the surveys compared to primary school students as they are sufficiently mature to provide their consents and responses to the surveys. Similarly, there are studies employing mathematical modeling of learning gain or loss. Besides, there are narrative reviews of educational impacts and policy in relation to COVID-19. Figure 3 shows a list of impacts encountered by secondary education in the COVID-19 era.

Fig. 3
figure 3

The impacts of COVID-19 on secondary education identified from the papers reviewed (n = 11)

Learning projections revealed less learning among students and learning loss due to extended school closure, exacerbated by inequality and inequity experienced particularly by marginalized families (Fig. 3). School drop-out rates were projected to be higher (Azevedo et al., 2021; Dorn et al., 2020; Kuhfeld et al., 2020). As teaching and learning shifted online and remotely, countries such as Turkey initiated educational television channel to facilitate learning with provision of free internet, live courses, revision and support (Mahmut, 2020). However, there was a lack of critical analysis on the implementation of policy actions which is frequently complicated by factors such as availability of equipment, learning resources, connectivity, stability of internet and quality of teaching mentioned earlier. Dorn et al. (2020) pointed out that students still experienced learning loss in the US despite receiving average-quality remote learning. This implies a need to evaluate the effectiveness of policy actions. Further to this, Asanov et al. (2021) reported that only 59% of students had both internet access and computers/ tablets in Ecuador.

Unlike primary schools, there are comparatively more studies which directly probed the psychosocial well-being of secondary school students. In secondary schools, students were reported to experience symptoms related to depression, anxiety and stress, and some students even exhibited suicidal attempts and ideation (Fig. 3) (Gazmararian et al., 2021; Hou et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2020). Certain groups of students were more susceptible to these symptoms especially the ethnic minorities, those of lower socioeconomic status and female gender (Gazmararian et al., 2021). Female students were also more affected by negative self-concept, somatization, hostility and impact of events variables (Karaman et al., 2021). Inconsistency in the prevalence of anxiety was documented with Zhang et al. (2020) revealing junior high school students more prone to extremely severe anxiety while Gazmararian et al. (2021) disclosing higher susceptibility to anxiety among higher graders.

In addition, school closure had resulted in changes in sleep pattern with delay in bed time and wake-up time and this does not necessary implicate a deterioration in sleep quality and duration for those having shorter sleep time before the pandemic (Fig. 3) (Dias et al., 2021). There were impacts of other nature ranging from cognitive, emotional, physiological, physical and relational on secondary school students (Karaman et al., 2021). Together with technological and educational challenges, many of these impacts, particularly psychological, physiological and physical were similar to those experienced by primary school students (Siachpazidou et al., 2021). Surveys among teachers showed that their depression and stress could determine satisfaction of secondary online teaching. Their coping, locus and self-efficacy were the protective factors in their experience of online teaching (Truzoli et al., 2021).

In relation to the impacts above, it has been suggested that resilience and positive coping are beneficial to buffer against symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress while learning loss could be mitigated through parental and teachers’ support (Kuhfeld et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2020). The concerns of impacts worsened by inequities and inequalities are resonated here, particularly for the disadvantaged groups such as female students with poor academic performance, isolated children, low-income families, indigenous and disabled groups, as well as vulnerable groups (Fig. 3) (Asanov et al., 2021; Azevedo et al., 2021; Dorn et al., 2020; Gazmararian et al., 2021; Hou et al., 2020). There was almost a consensus that these groups require intervention, attention, support, psychosocial services and monitoring. Effective instruction and remote learning, flexible staffing and rapid catch-up period are some suggestions provided (Azevedo et al., 2021; Dorn et al., 2020). Truzoli et al. (2021) underscored the need of educational support and crisis psychology services for teachers. It seems that there is an obvious lack of studies examining the impacts of COVID-19 on secondary school teachers and it would be interesting to compare if they experienced similar impacts as primary school teachers. Table 2 provides further information on the impacts discussed above and the implications.

Table 2 Impacts and Implications of COVID-19 on Secondary Education

Impacts of COVID-19 on tertiary education

As with secondary education, most studies on the impacts of COVID-19 on tertiary education also took on a quantitative approach involving predominantly cross-sectional surveys and to a lesser extent, longitudinal surveys. There are comparatively more studies employing more diverse qualitative approaches such as content analysis, phenomenology, reflection, thematic analysis and narrative review. There are less restrictions in relation to research ethics for involvement of university and college students in surveys, compared to primary school and junior secondary school students. Due to a wide range of disciplines offered by higher learning institutions, many of these studies are discipline-specific. In terms of learning, there are relatively more studies examining the disruption to learning resulted from COVID-19 lockdown. Figure 4 shows a list of impacts faced by tertiary education and the number of studies reviewed which discussed the impacts.

Fig. 4
figure 4

The impacts of COVID-19 on tertiary education identified from the papers reviewed (n = 20)

For medicine and dentistry, clinical rotations were suspended, medical licensing exams were interrupted and applications for specialty and residency became uncertain (Fig. 4) (Rolak et al., 2020; Spanemberg et al., 2020). This aligns with stressors of rotations or residencies affecting fourth-year medical students in the US reported by Guo et al. (2021). Learning shifted to the virtual environment and this could be challenging to ensure competency of students (Deery, 2020; Spanemberg et al., 2020). Nursing students also faced the same challenges for clinical practice (Table 3) (Carolan et al., 2020). COVID-19 lockdown did not seem to affect the specialty choice of medical students in the US but reducing their exposure to urology which affirms the concern for competency (Deery, 2020; Hanson et al., 2020).

Table 3 Impacts and Implications of COVID-19 on Tertiary Education

In Indonesia, Irawan et al. (2020) found students to have already felt the boredom two weeks into online learning and the assignment loads increased. Doubts on the effectiveness of these assignments affected the mood of the students. Inequity was observed in that there was greater worry among students of low-income families on internet access for online learning (Fig. 4) (Irawan et al., 2020). Having surveyed 30,383 students in 62 countries, Aristovnik et al. (2020) also revealed higher assignment load among students and their lack of computer skills could hamper their improvement though they were generally satisfied with the support rendered by academics and universities. Besides, workload increase was experienced by students in New Zealand having to juggle different responsibilities and there was growing concern of financial stability (Table 3) (Rangiwai et al., 2020). In particular to migrant or refugee students, inequity and inequality in terms of infrastructural access to online learning were apparent as income stability was shaken (Mupenzi et al., 2020).

For science courses placing high weights on experiential leaning such as applied and basic biological, environmental and geophysical science, the field components were disrupted and there were plans among instructors to reduce field learning outcomes while moving them to remote teaching but this had the drawbacks of depriving students of fieldwork experience and teachers might not be technologically prepared. Remote learning could also widen the inequalities between students (Fig. 4) (Barton, 2020). Educators of tourism also raised concern on practical and placement. As tourism was badly impacted, uncertain career prospects deterred students’ recruitment (Tiwari et al., 2020). Similarly, there was concern for internships, tours and exchanges among management educators who also mentioned the challenges to adapt assessment to meet accreditation requirements (Fig. 4) (Brammer & Clark, 2020).

Universities as a whole were cautious in the disclosure of COVID-19 risk. Significant revenue loss was reported by universities in Australia, sparking proposal of strategies to cut cost such as staff retrenchment (Carnegie et al., 2021). In Ethiopia, Tamrat (2021) revealed that the sources of income and productivity of employees in private higher education declined, leading to negative impacts on institutional revenues. It seems that higher learning institution could consider taking care of the income and productivity of employees as a channel for increasing revenue, instead of focusing on retrenchment (Carnegie et al., 2021; Tamrat, 2021).

There were numerous studies examining the psychological impacts experienced by students in higher learning institutions (Fig. 4). Students of different disciplines generally felt anxiety, depression, stress and loneliness (Guo et al., 2021; Rangiwai et al., 2020). Guo et al. (2021) differentiated the stressors of medical students of different years and found first- and second-year students were affected by trust in government institution and third-year students affected by delay/availability of standardized exams. Lai et al. (2020) revealed higher perceived stress and severe insomnia among Hong Kong students studying abroad who stayed back during COVID-19 restrictions. In Greek, concern and anger were felt by students with female students experiencing greater fear, panic and despair than male students (Karasmanaki & Tsantopoulos, 2021). This is parallel to the findings of Browning et al. (2021) shedding light to higher psychological impact among women aged 18 to 24. Odriozola-González et al. (2020) demonstrated potential connection between disciplines of study and psychological state where they reported students from Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences & Law perceived more severe signs of anxiety, depression and stress. Psychological state is also affected by inequity whereby greater stress, subjective well-being, financial and academic impacts were perceived by students with parents having low educational level (Bono et al., 2020).

These studies point to a need to enhance virtual interaction especially for medicine and nursing via small group discussion, individual interaction with residents, exposure to hospital facilities, simulation of clinical practices and trainings in telemedicine (Carolan et al., 2020; Deery, 2020; Hanson et al., 2020; Rolak et al., 2020; Spanemberg et al., 2020). Parallel delivery of theory and practice and sharing of materials to offset time-consuming development of online learning contents are deemed helpful for these students (Carolan et al., 2020; Deery, 2020). When clinical rotations are resumed, safety should be prioritized (Rolak et al., 2020). Generally, there is a call for student-centered learning, redesign of curriculum innovations such as in timetabling, deployment of new technologies for online teaching and learning, and collaboration of multiple parties particularly in addressing inequities and inequalities (Aristovnik et al., 2020; Barton, 2020; Brammer & Clark, 2020; Tiwari et al., 2020). There are opportunities for policy reform, funding and practice which cater for migrant/ refugee students (Mupenzi et al., 2020). There is a need to improve external risk disclosures, as well as to sustain financial viability and quality of teaching and research by not overemphasizing the growth of institutions (Carnegie et al., 2021). Interventions such as tax exemptions, financial support and rent reduction would help in addressing keeping employees’ productive and financially secured (Tamrat, 2021). In terms of mental health, measures similar to primary and secondary students such as monitoring, support and psychological services are highlighted, especially for international students, migrant/refugee students (Lai et al., 2020; Mupenzi et al., 2020; Odriozola-González et al., 2020). Cultivating grit and gratitude among students could help with their well-being and coping ability (Bono et al., 2020). Table 3 provides further information on the impacts discussed above and the implications.

Recommendations for future educational practices

Currently, different countries are at different stages of combating COVID-19 with some countries in partial lockdown and others easing lockdown and travel restrictions. With progressive vaccination, there is hope that schools could reopen. However, there is much uncertainty hovering over education which now becomes dependent on the severity of COVID-19 complicated by the emergence of new virus variants. Possibilities remain that schools may need to be closed anytime intermittently after they resume operations and full implementation of protective measures is crucial when schools open. The future education could consider the following features:

  1. 1.

    Adaptability—Curricula need to be adaptive to the unpredictable switches between physical classes and online learning with cycles of school opening and closing, and this has also been advocated by Timmons et al. (2021) who proposed combining synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Curricula with alternative components of independent and online learning could be beneficial to learners to explore the new contents taught on their own through online or other modalities. For instance, additional instruction could be provided to direct learners in exploring certain concepts themselves, after which educators only need to check the progress made. Assessment has been adapted to facilitate accreditation and training materials have been modified to suit remote learning (Brammer & Clark, 2020; Spanemberg et al., 2020). This aligns with student-centered learning suggested by multiple scholars (Barton, 2020; Rangiwai et al., 2020).

  2. 2.

    Diverse learning modalities and concurrence of the modalities—More learning modalities could be explored (Spanemberg et al., 2020). Higher learning institutions have already offered fully online courses and blended learning to cater for different learners (Cahapay, 2020). This can be extended to senior high school students. However, for students opting for on-campus learning upon enrollment, a total shift to online learning could deprive them of the learning experiences they long for. It is crucial to check with these students on their preferences for learning modalities. Studies have underscored that students could get bored of online learning and online learning does not provide comparable face-to-face experience (Aristovnik et al., 2020; Irawan et al., 2020). They are nostalgic of and yearn to resume face-to-face learning (Kundu & Bej, 2021). Where possible, face-to-face learning for these students and merging of face-to-face with online audiences could be considered.

  3. 3.

    Flexible staffing and learning model—With possible alternation or concurrence of face-to-face and online learning, sometimes in the same space, flexible staffing model needs to be considered with potential recruitment of casual educators to fill in the manpower for concurrent implementation of multiple learning modalities and a smooth switch from working from home to working in schools (Brammer & Clark, 2020; Dorn et al., 2020). Flexible learning models comprising blended learning with thoughtful proportions of face-to-face and online learning, fully online learning for independent learners and an option of face-to-face or online learning by offering physical classes to both online and face-to-face audiences could be offered (Timmons et al., 2021). The concurrence of online and face-to-face learning is frequently translated to higher workload for teachers due to the need to prepare different materials suited to the different learning modes. In view of this, some higher learning institutions have offered lecturers the flexibility to determine the proportions of teaching, research and services they are comfortable with or increased teaching-focused positions with minimal research component (Miller, 2019).

  4. 4.

    Interactive, responsive and authentic virtual learning experience—If online learning were to continue, students are desirous of online learning experience that is engaging, interactive and responsive in the sense that they could actively participate in learning and get responses and feedback timely if not quickly (Cahapay, 2020; Moss et al., 2020). Authentic virtual learning is important for experiential learning involving fieldwork, clinicals, practical, etc. Such experience has been stressed in medical education with measures such as telemedicine visits, virtual meetings, small-group virtual case studies (Hanson et al., 2020; Shah et al., 2020). Besides, the incorporation of social affordances, for instance, through social-learning plugins of online learning platforms could be beneficial in creating a sociable and more gratifying learning environment (Weidlich & Bastiaens, 2019).

  5. 5.

    Addressing inequities and inequalities—With cycles of school opening and closing possible, it is important to pay attention to students from less advantaged families, migrant/ refugee students, female students, vulnerable students and disabled students in terms of their accessibility to internet, learning resources and support (Azevedo et al., 2021; Gazmararian et al., 2021; Moss et al., 2020; Mupenzi et al., 2020). While teachers have endeavored to identify, monitor and support the vulnerable groups, policy-makers need to ensure their financial, technological and learning needs are addressed in the COVID-19 era. Infrastructural and resource development to improve inequalities is as important (Mupenzi et al., 2020; Timmons et al., 2021). Infrastructural and resource inequality between developing and developed countries is worth noting where a lack of stable network connectivity is more prevalent in developing countries and many rural areas in those countries are without network, making online teaching and learning especially challenging (Chavez et al., 2015). Improving connectivity in developing countries may be affected by a nexus of social, economic and governance factors which prompts government plans and financial allocation, subsidies, price control and other market-based approaches (Bhandari, 2020). Technologically, the use of TV White Space (TVWS) internet connection has been proposed to improve rural connectivity (Chavez et al., 2015). At national level, there is a need for strategic planning and budget allocation for improving connectivity, in addition to market-based instruments through tax exemptions and subsidies for expenses related to information technology (Bhandari, 2020). At institutional level, budget cuts were common due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 but maintenance and enhancement of the existing infrastructure is necessary to accommodate the shift to online teaching and learning. Despite, supply or loan of digital learning devices and financial support to underprivileged students should receive proportionate attention. Exemptions of loan fees temporarily or conditionally, and reducing the fees of short online courses could also be considered (Sá & Serpa, 2020).

  6. 6.

    Support—As COVID-19 lockdown is taking a toll on the social and psychological well-beings of educators and learners, education in the COVID-19 era should incorporate psychosocial support to address their psychological and social need. Studies have suggested counseling and periodic social interactions (Gazmararian et al., 2021; Karaman et al., 2021; Karasmanaki & Tsantopoulos, 2021). However, there is a risk of overstraining school counselors. Decentralization of counseling services to involve educators in identifying and monitoring students at risk of psychosocial problems before referring them to counselors has been proposed (Karasmanaki & Tsantopoulos, 2021). There is also a need for support in using technology in teaching and learning via training (Polydoros & Alasona, 2021; Pozo-Rico et al., 2020). There are also instances of providing additional consultation and psychosocial support through social media particularly for individuals who require personal attention (Mukhtar et al., 2020).

  7. 7.

    Innovation with simplification and standardization—The switch to remote learning has catalyzed innovation in this domain. Innovation is particularly obvious in medical education, for instance, through pre-recorded lectures, interactive online workshop and case studies as well as online quizzes (Gomez et al., 2020). While innovation in teaching and learning is an important element of remote learning, there has been complaints of too many different tools used by different educators and these tools sometimes served the same purpose (Besser et al., 2020). Within a learning institution, it would be helpful to standardize the tools used for a particular purpose to prevent cluttering the memory and screen spaces of learning gadgets (Hermanto & Srimulyani, 2021). This would help streamlining learning process and reducing the impacts of inequity and inequality.

  8. 8.

    Quality assurance—With learning taking on multiple modalities concurrently or non-concurrently, there is a need for countries to have more accommodating quality assurance frameworks to safeguard the quality of contents, instruction and assessment, while facilitating adaptation of teaching and learning (Brammer & Clark, 2020). For instance, assessment for psychomotor skills could be replaced with analysis and simulation using datasets provided or secondary data collected. Where data collection or generation is required, students could produce videos of the process (Gamage et al., 2020). For courses accredited by quality assurance agencies, accreditation criteria could adaptively include facets of online synchronous and asynchronous learning, particularly the quality of e-resources, the use of learning management platforms, online student feedback and student support to maintain the quality of teaching and learning in spite of the disruption (Giatman et al., 2020).

Conclusion

COVID-19 has given risen to educational disruption which unveils shortfalls in the preparedness of various levels of education to such crisis. Teaching and learning have continued remotely during lockdown and have alternated between face-to-face and online modalities with easing and tightening of lockdown. Remote learning has affected educators and learners in multiple ways particularly in terms of learning loss and slower learning gain among learners, limitations in instructions, assessment, and experiential learning in virtual environment, technology-related constraints, connectivity, learning resources and materials, as well as psychosocial well-being. These impacts are exacerbated by inequalities in the distribution of resources as well as inequities attributed to socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity as well as learning ability and physical conditions. Education in the COVID-19 era also takes a toll on parents particularly of primary school children who require parental support. With COVID-19 likely to stay for some time, future education should focus on adaptability, concurrence of diverse learning modalities, flexible staffing and learning model, support, innovation with simplification and standardization as well as interactive, responsive and authentic virtual environment. This review contributes to teaching and learning in the COVID-19 era by systematically presenting and highlighting the challenges faced, implications made and providing recommendations to the future directions of education. It calls for a model of education in the COVID-19 era to increase preparedness of education at various levels and minimize the impacts resulted from unpredictability associated with changing COVID-19 situation.

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Tang, K.H.D. Impacts of COVID-19 on primary, secondary and tertiary education: a comprehensive review and recommendations for educational practices. Educ Res Policy Prac (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10671-022-09319-y

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Keywords

  • Adaptability
  • Disruption
  • Online
  • Learning
  • Modalities
  • Remote