Covid-19 and higher education

After more than six months of adopting the first measures of social isolation in the State of São Paulo, educational institutions at all levels still live with a scenario of great uncertainty about the resumption of their face-to-face activities, which are expected to gradually return from the 7th of October.

The uncertainty about the reopening of educational institutions is a global issue to be solved, presenting a series of difficulties for the return of its functioning. As good as the teaching and learning tools and possibilities used to conduct classes and other remote activities, it is still impossible to transfer all the training experience in higher education to the screen of a cell phone or computer.

In the 13th Letter from the USCS (Municipal University of São Caetano), I addressed the theme of the changes brought about by the pandemic in higher education – available at Transformations that took place at a smoother pace, such as the virtualization of learning processes, became issues of top priority. The consultancy Educa Insights projects, in a study released by Abmes (Brazilian Association of Higher Education Maintainers), that the volume of students in online courses should surpass those enrolled in the face-to-face model as early as 2022.

The adoption of distance learning was the most common attempt to remedy the consequences of social isolation that we are still subjected to. However, in a country like Brazil, where countless inequalities still exist, this solution served only part of the public attending higher education in the country.

The socioeconomic questionnaires, answered in the Enem (National High School Examination) registration process in the last five years, point out that one in three students does not have access to the internet and devices that allow access to distance education programs. The analysis points to the difficulty of universalizing this educational model, generated by the socioeconomic difficulties and the precariousness of the telecommunications infrastructure in some parts of Brazil.

Private colleges and universities are experiencing considerable problems for post-pandemic survival, especially small and medium-sized institutions. Semesp, the sector’s representative association, pointed out in a recent survey that there was a 56% decrease in the number of students enrolled in private higher education institutions in the country between the first and second semesters of 2020. A situation of difficulty also affects the three São Paulo public universities (USP, Unesp and Unicamp), which will suffer from the decrease in operating resources, much of which is linked to a percentage of the State’s ICMS (Tax on Circulation of Goods and Services) collection, of at least R $ 1 , 2 billion.

This scenario of higher education, both in Brazil and throughout Latin America, was the basis of the document Covid-19 y Educación Superior: de los efos inmediatos al día después, prepared by Iesalc-Unesco (Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean), which presents a plan composed of three phases, aimed at facing the consequences of the pandemic and measures to resume activities: pedagogical continuity through distance learning, return to classroom teaching practices according to the instructions of health authorities and the structuring of a hybrid teaching model, which includes classroom and virtual learning.

The institute also calls on countries and institutions to deal primarily with the lack of equipment and connectivity, and advocates the implementation of compensatory measures to support the learning of disadvantaged students and the transfer of curricular content to digital formats, including individual tutoring, group formation. for leveling and offering compensatory activities.

The full functioning of higher education will only come with the discovery of a vaccine or medication that allows the resumption of its activities with the highest degree of normality possible. However, it is necessary to take advantage of this moment to reflect on measures that adapt colleges and universities to what is yet to come, following the transformations that will consolidate from the next chapter in the history of mankind, which we will start to live after to overcome this huge global crisis.