Democratizing education by leveraging virtual reality

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Today, we live in a world full of problems from water crisis to climate change, from health issues to poverty. We have billionaires donating large amounts of donations to solve these complex challenges; however, we observe that progress is extremely slow, especially in developing regions of the world. To make these problems worse, education is increasingly either inaccessible or unaffordable to large portions of society in the very regions of the world where it matters most. Without education our lives are handicapped, and we are trapped in a world of darkness and ignorance.

Now, imagine a world where people are well educated and thus are well-aware of the impact and the crisis that the world is facing today. Imagine the efficiency and acceleration with which we would be able to solve these tough challenges across the world, if only there were well-educated populations across the world. Quality education can elevate lives of people around the world and provide the necessary tools to solve complex challenges so that we can make the world a better place, not only today but for future generations.

Even in today's digital age, the approach to education is based on the old format of fact retention. Teaching methods focus on providing facts, without caring on absorption of knowledge by students. As a result, a lot of students have difficulties comprehending so much information in such a short period of time. To overcome this challenge, we can leverage technologies like virtual reality (VR) to create the perfect learning environment.

Using the virtual reality model, we can create a virtual world that can be real or imaginary, thereby allowing students and teachers, not only to see it, but to also interact with it. By immersing themselves within the virtual world and interacting within it, students are able to learn better, while also being able to fully understand the concepts. This in turn, reduces the cognitive load on learners to process the information. VR has become more and more popular in today’s era of digital technology and soon it will become mainstream.

Driving Forces

Education outside the classroom: A lot of people are visual learners. Leveraging VR can aid such learners. Students with a disability can also benefit greatly with such type of learning methods by designing class curriculum for their specific needs. Instead of reading about things, students can actually see things that they are learning and comprehend more easily. For example, in poorer countries, going for virtual field trips like zoos or museums may not be feasible due to a disability, lack of funds, transport problems etc. However, using VR, students can gain near first-hand experience.

Learning Empathy: Empathy enables us to learn from others' pain and allows us to know when to offer support, enabling us to make the world a better place for all. Through a perceptual illusion called embodiment, or the body ownership illusion, VR allows individuals to step into someone else's shoes. Educationists can leverage this to create curriculum for sensitive topics like racism, gender discrimination, disabilities, violence, traumas etc.

Promoting Creativity and Curiosity: Having VR in education is useful, not only for content consumption, but also for content creation. This aid requirements of different types of learners including students with special needs or distance learning, thus promoting and enhancing creativity for all types of learners across the world. In fact, students with special needs can actually be included in the development of curriculum and made to feel inclusive in the content creation process, which allows for even more relevant content development.

Kinesthetic learning: It’s a well-known fact that people learn best by doing. Unfortunately, in modern education we don’t see enough of learning that actually happens by doing things. This is partly because it is impossible to learn everything by actual examples. Examples of learning lessons on firefighting, learning to handle active shooting, or even traveling through space are just not feasible. Therefore, for such activities, learners often rely on reading instructions rather than doing them in practice. Through VR students have an opportunity to learn by doing, rather than passively reading.

Education for all: Providing children with top-class facilities is not cheap. The cost of education is one of the biggest barriers to education across the world. However, it is also true that the brightest minds of tomorrow could come from any part of the world, and therefore we cannot neglect or deprive people from access to education. VR can break this barrier for us. There is no need for expensive school facilities like laboratories and building. It is great if a country or population can support these costs but if not, then VR can be that much needed constructive alternative that allows access to education in a simple and less expensive manner. VR can help in breaking the language barrier as well as fill the void of lack of good teachers. Many good teachers are willing to teach both, students and even teachers across the world, but due to proximity and language barriers they are unable to achieve what they intend to. With VR these barriers can be overcome easily by democratizing education and opening the doors for all. 

Challenges and Advocacy Areas

Currently, the price to implement and leverage VR is high and that is a significant barrier for many users. With the United Nations’ (U.N.) goal to make knowledge available, accessible, and affordable for everyone on the planet, government funding should be made available and strong reforms and regulations should be passed to make VR devices tax-free. In addition, governments and / or local bodies should subsidize these devices to reduce overall manufacturing costs. For the U.N. to solve the other sustainable development goals, goal No. 4, i.e. quality education, is key. A focused and effective approach to solving goal No. 4, will allow for the U.N. to have a much larger impact on achieving the other goals. The U.N. can achieve this goal by visiting schools around the world and providing teachers with the resources they need, especially virtual technology resources. A solution that combines technology with advocacy, will not only mitigate many problems outlined earlier such as high infrastructure costs and others but can also serve as an enabler to students of all kinds. As a society, we can achieve inclusion of not only students with special needs, but also students who suffer discrimination — all this while also encouraging lifelong learning. Leveraging VR, students can receive an enriched and wholesome education. It also allows them to take their learning experience to a whole new level — a place where the sky is not the limit!

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