How the COVID-19 pandemic can change learning forever
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a monumental impact on learning across the world, leaving 1.7bn children forced to adapt to a new home school routine.
While the lockdown has put the world on hold for billions and reimagined how we live, work and play, distance learning tools via online platforms like Zoom and a multitude of online learning resources have seen a record spike in demand as parents and educators worldwide grapple to limit learning disruption.
Since lockdown began education institutions have launched an unprecedented push on learning. Businesses traditionally in competition have thrown rivalries aside in collaboration to help young learners and parents navigate the choppy waters of home-schooling.
Meanwhile, many long-established home learning websites, trusted household name companies and tech-start-ups have all offered free-access to their systems of tutorials, tests and classes in a collective bid to offset the effect of missed school time.
Already a high-growth sector pre-pandemic, the online learning business has played a crucial role in levelling out the academic playing field. While private tuition was once the only recourse for learning support, parents now have options ranging from online learning tools to an expanding fleet of tuition centres.
Public demand is now powering the rise of a multi-billion pound industry that’s tapping into the lifestyles and budgets of families looking to give their children the best possible support. A range of both free and cost-effective online learning services are giving access to learning tools like never before.
New services which understand and adapt to how we live today have the potential to be a democratising force that gives millions more children access to quality learning tools. As the learning routines shifted from school to the living room, the exponential appetite for home-based resources has led many businesses to ramp up their service offerings at breakneck speed to keep pace with our new normal.
From the world’s most highly valued edtech companies to the start-ups rolling out innovations in e-learning, providers of these home learning resources are all reporting astonishing growth and record demand. Our rapid transition to online learning in these unprecedented times means that families everywhere find themselves shoulder to shoulder against the same learning challenges. While private tuition and extra-curricular learning resources have traditionally been the preserve of the most privileged among us, more families than ever are accessing the fast-evolving online learning services. It’s an unprecedented situation which has put the age-old issue of educational inequality back up the agenda and given us cause to consider how all children can have positive learning experiences with a system that doesn’t disadvantage poorer families.
Across the board business models are evolving, improving and investing in all aspects of their services to support remote learning en masse. Sites are broadening capacity, extending infrastructure to ensure steady performance and integrating a host of new features which support real-time learning. Some businesses have also responded to the preferred working habits of tech-savvy learners with solutions in video conferencing and applications which make shared group work a reality from home.
With such incredible innovation in learning tools, it would be unthinkable to just return to our traditional offline learning model as our kids return to the classroom. During lockdown, families have taken time to try out and adopt new learning strategies that have helped to give kids a sense of routine, control and structure. Giving time to these new practices has been a lifeline in staving off feelings of fear and uncertainty provoked by the pandemic and has allowed families to feel like they are moving forwards.
Young learners haven’t just been whiling away the hours online till the schools reopen. Millions are making incredible progress and huge strides in their learning journey. Leading companies are announcing time after time both record engagement and academic attainment as kids acquire new lockdown learning skills. In spite of concerns that lockdown would disrupt learning, many pupils have been discovering the advantages of independent study. Pupils now have the freedom to move at their own pace and have the time to concentrate on topics they find challenging. We’re also seeing many young learners take an active lead in mapping out their own learning journey through a mix of e-learning resources, contact with teachers and chat communication tools with classmates.
Despite inevitable obstacles to face such as some students’ lack of access to a computer or poor internet connection, it’s vital that the shift back to classroom-based learning doesn’t signal the death knell for online learning. With both advancements in technology and effective new e-learning habits, a new hybrid model of education is emerging before us. The lockdown has laid strong foundations for a new system which combines classroom learning with independent online learning. It is essential that we grasp the benefits brought from both old and new methods and grow to understand how to deliver strong educational experiences with a hand-in-hand approach.
This article was contributed by Steve O’Hara, Director of Education at Exemplar Education
What’s Causing the Global Supply Crunch?
As the global economy gradually recovers from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, worldwide supply crunch is intensifying, spreading not only from one country to another, but also from one industry to another.
A year ago, when the pandemic continued to spread, economies around the world were severely hit and there was panic buying among consumers. Today, it is companies that are trying to go on a stockpiling, buying more raw materials than they need to keep up with rapidly recovering demand. The panic buying is fuelling more shortages of raw materials, including copper, iron ore, steel, corn, coffee, wheat, soybeans, wood, semiconductors, plastics, cardboard, etc. As a result, inventories of seemingly every raw material around the world are running low. “You name it, and we have a shortage on it,” Tom Linebarger, chairman and chief executive of engine and generator manufacturer Cummins Inc., said earlier, and he noted that his clients are “trying to get everything they can because they see high demand”.
Supply shortages have driven prices up significantly, with the impact of rising prices for some key raw materials being significant. The prices of various industrial raw materials such as crude oil, plastics, and chemicals are rising. Some of the impacts of higher raw material prices have already begun to be reflected in consumer goods. Reynolds Consumer Products Inc., the maker of the namesake aluminium foil and Hefty trash bags, is planning another round of price hike, and this will be the third for the increase this year alone. Food prices are also climbing. The price of palm oil, the world's most consumed edible oil, has risen more than 135% over the past year to record levels; soybeans have topped USD 16 a bushel for the first time since 2012; corn futures prices have touched an eight-year high, and wheat futures prices have risen to the highest level since 2013.
Changes in factory orders due to the impact of the pandemic have also tightened supply in some markets and pushed up prices for raw materials. Some knitting enterprises in Dongguan, Guangdong, said that affected by the pandemic, about 40% of the orders have come back to China from countries such as India and Southeast Asian countries, while the factory utilisation rate has increased by about 30% to 40%, and now it has reached 100%. In Jiangyin, Jiangsu, a bedsheet enterprise adjusted its production capacity to accommodate a USD 20 million order from Southeast Asia. Increased demand from the textile industry has led to tight supplies of raw materials. In Wujiang, Jiangsu, where polyester filament yarn is the most in demand, the shortage of raw materials this year has been unexpected, especially in the current off-season, when there is not much stock. In Suzhou, also in Jiangsu, the export of polyester filament yarn increased by nearly 60% from January to April, while the price increased by 40% to 60%. Compared with the same period last year, the price of filament yarn increased by RMB 2000-3000/ton.
Remarkably, this hoarding frenzy is pushing global supply chains to the brink of collapse. Inventory shortages, transportation bottlenecks, and price increases are nearing critical levels, raising concerns that strong global growth could fuel inflation. The supply disruptions in the past are simply incomparable compared to the severe inventory crunch of 2021. Industry insiders predict that both large and small enterprises will be affected by this supply shortage.
Why are current supply shortages so acute?
Researchers at ANBOUND believe that instead of having one single factor, there are multiple reasons for the emergence of complex systemic problems.
First of all, there is the recovery in demand as the pandemic is brought under control. This year, as vaccination rollout efforts have brought the pandemic significantly under control in the United States and some European countries, the economy has begun to show significant momentum for recovery. This trend prompted a near-simultaneous recovery in most markets around the world. The collective recovery of global markets has led to a near-simultaneous increase in demand, exacerbating the mismatch between supply and demand. In the case of commodity futures, the capital was collectively bullish on commodities under such expectations, significantly driving up the prices of commodities (mostly upstream commodities) and spreading to midstream and downstream commodities. It should be noted in particular that the surge in demand for certain specific commodities under the pandemic has also exacerbated the supply-demand mismatch in some industrial chains. For example, the increase in the need of remote, online working and studying has increased the demand for all kinds of electronic products, leading to a surge in global demand for semiconductor chips, which affects several chip-requiring industries.
Another reason is that the pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain system, causing distortions in supply and demand in certain industries, which are transmitted along the supply chain, causing a wider supply crunch. As ANBOUND previously pointed out, the spread of the pandemic has dealt multiple blows to global supply chains. During the pandemic, China, as the "world's factory", was affected by the pandemic and its production side was disrupted. Then, the demand side of developed countries was suppressed by the impact of the pandemic. This is followed by the fact that the malfunctioning of the global supply chain system has exacerbated global supply distortions. To cite an example, the severe shortage of containers due to disruption of the supply chain has exacerbated the global supply distortions.
In addition, enterprises began to collectively increase their inventories, leading to the increase of inventories in the industrial chain and supply chain, amplifying the demand for all kinds of raw materials, intermediate products, and supporting products. In the past, in order to save costs and improve efficiency, many enterprises advocated zero-inventory production and tried to reduce the inventory in the production link, thereby reducing the capital occupation. However, the smooth operation of zero inventory production depends on the efficient global supply chain system. Once a problem occurs in the global supply chain system, it can lead to chaos in the whole supply chain system. The 2011 earthquake in Tōhoku, Japan has caused the shutdown of some key auto parts plants, which once led to the global auto supply chain being affected. Likewise, the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic since last year has damaged, distorted, and even disrupted global supply chains.
Finally, geopolitical factors have also contributed to the tight supply of global commodities, resulting in the artificial disruption of part of the industrial chain and supply chain. For example, the U.S.-driven crackdown on chip supply to Chinese enterprises and related sanctions have seriously disrupted the global semiconductor industry chain.
How long will the supply crunch last?
Overall, the global supply crunch is due to a variety of reasons, including increased demand from the post-pandemic economic recovery, distortions in global supply chains caused by the pandemic, collective stockpiling by enterprises around the world, and geopolitical disruptions. However, this does not represent a significant expansion of aggregate global demand, but rather a distortion of the existing system as it is disrupted and broken. Judging from the current situation, this tight supply situation will last for a long time, leading to the price rise of raw materials and components. Therefore, both enterprises and governments need to be prepared for this scenario in the medium- and long-term.
Mr. He Jun is Partner, Director of China Macro-Economic Research Team and Senior Researcher. His research field covers China’s macro-economy, energy industry and public policy.