Beyond the Pandemic: Opportunities for Design and Innovation in the Education Sector

How the COVID-19 pandemic opens opportunities for entrepreneurs in education

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education as we knew it. The interruption of schooling worldwide with imposed lockdown restrictions has been eye-opening at the very least; with parents working from home, the public has recognized more of the caretaking role that schools have on our children. We are increasingly grateful for teachers and social workers by realizing the labor that goes into shaping minds, which almost always includes the process of shaping hearts.

But despite the negative impact that the pandemic has had, this dire situation opens immense opportunities for entrepreneurs to design products and services within the education industry. With the accelerated education inequality and the growing awareness of the needs of students outside of academic resources, the market for educational products and services has grown exponentially, inviting entrepreneurs to take part in providing them.

“It takes a village…”

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the view of education from being centered on academics to a wider view of different facets of development among students. The interruption of schooling as we knew it transferred the burden of educating to parents, and in the process, parents have become more attuned to other aspects of their children’s growth. We have seen the rise of more conscious parents, keen on raising children who are not just academically competent but are also empathetic, disciplined, self-motivated, and resilient in an increasingly unpredictable world.

Efforts towards developing “holistic” children have redistributed the labor of instruction, shifting the work of “teaching” to parents, guardians and in some cases, domestic helps. This has widened the market for educational resources, with the demand rising for products that assist parents to navigate the shifting needs of their children.

Wider gaps in education access and quality

Educational inequality has also accelerated during this time, given the shift of most learning to online platforms. According to the Centre for Global Development, only 1 in 5 households have access to internet in low- and lower-income countries, and only 1 in 2 have access to either radio and television. Schools leveled the academic playing field for one, providing access to education to children from a variety of backgrounds. In addition to this, many schools across the world offered ancillary educational support, and acted as safe spaces for at-risk/vulnerable children, providing food, basic healthcare, counseling, and other forms of support for children.

Today, the academic development of children depends largely on parents being able to provide additional academic support to their children in the form of tutoring and online resources, setting apart children whose parents have the financial capacity (or even general awareness!)to do so. This has caused many to slip through the cracks, particularly if they come from lower-income families. Parents’ capacity to provide basic needs and hands-on support varies from child to child, widening the gap between students who have managed to thrive in the middle of the pandemic and those who have not.

Where do we go from here?

Given the vast needs within the sector, the global pandemic has opened opportunities for entrepreneurs to innovate across the education value chain. Aside from opportunities in innovating for the instructional core (teaching and learning), the sector would benefit from more entrepreneurs thinking about opportunities in research, strategy, data analytics, and monitoring and evaluation for the education industry. Moreover, collaboration across these functions will be beneficial for the ecosystem as well. Opportunities also exist in the provision of necessities such as food, affordable healthcare, clothing, shelter, all of whose availability facilitates learning. While the burden to provide these has been placed primarily on the public sector in the past, innovators and social entrepreneurs could play a role in partnering with governments to create scalable and sustainable models of access to these.

Entrepreneurs should also think outside the box when it comes to the end-user for which their educational products and services are designed. While centered on the student, the growing needs of parents, teachers, social workers, and guardians cannot be ignored. Education in the eyes of the entrepreneur ought not to limit itself to the academic needs of children, but also the varied pain points of other stakeholders involved. For instance, the rise of more conscious parents has resulted in the demand for resources that enable parents to instill values such as empathy, resilience, social consciousness, and grit among their children, despite their busy schedules. An opportunity exists in providing a product, for instance, that caters specifically to equipping working parents to instill these values to their children, in a time-efficient manner.

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Education is changing rapidly, opening more chances for entrepreneurs willing to creatively provide resources at scale. All in all, opportunities exist for businesses in the space, provided that entrepreneurs are willing to constantly think outside of the box.

Educator. Founder at The Learners’ Club. Harvard ‘19