*A teacher using the iDEA.org.uk platform from home to set up work for his students (Photo: Katie Rushworth)

Ella Smith from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Katie Rushworth from the University of Huddersfield UK, discuss how educational providers are helping communities recover from COVID-19, in and beyond the classroom.

Educational providers in the UK are supporting their local communities through charitable donations and online courses aimed at professional up-skilling.

In the English county of Cumbria, bordering Scotland, Ramsden Robins School Hub provides pre-nursery school education for children aged 2-4 years.

Like most educational providers, Ramsden pivoted to online teaching during the COVID-19 lockdown. Since then, the school has found additional ways to help the local community, according to the School Hub Manager Clare Johnson.

“As well as facing the challenges of online education we have become community focused by delivering essential food packages to the elderly and disadvantaged around us.” 

— Clare Johnson

While selected UK secondary schools returned to face-to-face tuition on June 15, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by COVID-19 school closures.

Online education remains a lifeline for those communities. Offering free courses in digital enterprise and employability skills, online education charity iDEA.org.uk has seen a 20 per-cent increase in traffic since the start of the UK lockdown.

“iDEA is being used to help deliver lessons at home and we have received some really kind feedback from educators and learners who are enjoying using the platform,” Programmes Manager Polly Morgan said. 

While primary and secondary students have returned to Australian classrooms, focus has shifted to the role of higher education in stimulating the country’s weakened economy post-pandemic.

With the unemployment rate jumping to 6.2% in April from 5.2% in March, which represents the highest jobless rate since September 2015, the Federal Government is encouraging Australians to upskill or retrain by subsidising university courses in sectors needing staff, and by offering fee-free short courses at vocational education provider TAFE.

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) was the first to release short courses, offering 12 courses encompassing allied health, ICT and education, according to a UWS spokesperson.

“Initial demand for the short courses has been strong – 186 students are enrolled in the Undergraduate Certificates, which commenced online teaching this week.”

— UWS spokesperson

At roughly half their normal price, subsidies for university courses are capped at four subjects and for newly-commencing students only for both graduate and undergraduate certificates.

Graduate certificates “should help job seekers in some occupations,” Professor of Higher Education Policy Andrew Norton said.

But undergraduate short courses should not be overestimated.

“[They] did not exist until very recently, would be unknown to most employers, and are too short to form the basis of professional employment. Students should treat them as pathways to other qualifications,” he said.

TAFE courses are limited to two per student, and have given a confidence boost to restaurant manager Zoie Cooper who attained two ICT statements.

“Having already studied a Bachelor of Commerce I was surprised at my current lack of practical short-term day to day skills,” she said.

“Anything that I can add to my CV that enhances my employability is a huge competitive advantage, the confidence in practical skills combined with Government Certification is a positive asset to my employability post pandemic.”

— Ella Smith and Katie Rushworth