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The Appeals and the Limits of Digital Education in the Post-Covid Era

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Though shifting to online teaching and learning has been a persistent trend for the last two decades, remotely delivered teaching has become a pervasive and ubiquitous worldwide phenomenon during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no misgiving that the staggering impact of COVID-19 on education sector will cement e-learning as an indispensable ingredient of the traditional teaching and learning system. The intensification of the shift to digital teaching and learning is alleged to have the potential to reduce educational costs, diminish bargaining leverage of faculty and teachers’ unions in the education sector, and enhance learning capacity of students. Contrary to the views of ardent exponents of online teaching and learning, it can be demonstrated that e-learning neither reduces educational costs nor can it undermine the bargaining leverage of faculty and teachers’ unions.

Online delivery of education is believed to have provided a golden opportunity to significantly reduce educational costs. The pathways to the realization of low educational cost through digital teaching and learning are; increasing student-teacher ratios (increasing enrollment in each section of a course since there is no spatial limitation), transferring certain educational activities to computers, curtailing salary costs by redesigning processes that would facilitate an effective and efficient utilization of teacher time, reducing school-based facility costs, and realizing economies of scale by leveraging initial development costs as widely as possible (Bakia, et al. 2012; also Morris, 2008).

Generally, the potential cost-saving of online delivery of both public and private services is massive (European Commission, 2016). Governments and businesses have seized this opportunity to reduce both administrative and transaction costs, and hence improve their service delivery performance. A good quality education combined with promoting equity is a sine quo non to a well-functioning, stable and productive society (OECD, 2012). Therefore, cost efficiency should not be the only factor taken into consideration when educational reforms are undertaken. Furthermore, education is a unique good whose quality assurance requirements can hinder the achievement of cost efficiency associated with the economics of scale. In other words, cost efficient delivery of services might be difficult to realize in the education sector.

As an opportunity to reduce salary costs, increasing the student-teacher ratio purports to be an attractive and tantalizing option to school administrators. However, this policy option runs counter to maintaining quality assurance standards in educational institutions. In addition to a robust digital infrastructure, incessant IT support for faculty, and the need for teachers to be skillful in using technology, lowering student-teacher ratio is one of the most significant factors that can ensure maintaining quality assurance for online courses (Bates, 2019). There is a general consensus that class size is positively correlated with the quality of interaction between teachers and students (Burch, 2019). In their study of faculty’s attitudes toward online teaching, Lowenthal Patrick et al (2019) have found that it was the strong conviction of faculty members under study that smaller online classes were conducive to fostering student learning and faculty satisfaction. Furthermore, they found out that “some faculty perceive high-enrollment online courses as antithetical to student success” (p.65).

The student-teacher ratio is a significant indicator of the level of resources devoted to education (OECD, 2007). In fact, one of the main impetuses behind the inclination of many parents to send their children to private schools is class size (National Council of........

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