Minecraft to robots: seven ways education is changing under lockdown

by Amber Milne | @hiyaimamber | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 29 August 2020 08:00 GMT

Alex Rodriguez, 10, arrives with his homework after attending a virtual class on television, during an academic year when Mexican students are being educated through a home-learning program until a drop in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections allows for schools to be reopened, in Mexico City, Mexico, August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

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The pandemic has changed the face of education worldwide. Here are seven ways schools and universities are responding

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By Amber Milne

LONDON, Aug 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -Schools globally have been impacted by coronavirus lockdowns with some closing their doors indefinitely and others reopening under new guidelines.

Students and teachers are finding innovative new ways to learn safely inside and outside the classroom.

From gamified universities to TV lessons, distance learning has spurred new tech solutions to tackle the challenges that come with studying remotely.

As the virus continues to spread and with vaccines anything from a few months to a few years away, these innovations could become part of the future of learning in a post-coronavirus world.

Here are seven ways education is changing under lockdown:


More than 2,000 finishing students at the Indian Institue of Technology in Bombay watched virtual versions of themselves walk onstage to accept their degrees last week, with the ceremony broadcast on two television channels as well as online.

"The Institute thought it best to arrange such a VR-convocation for the graduating students as we did not wish to put their health at risk," the university said in a statement.

"At the same time, we did not wish to deprive them of the sense of achievement and pride of passing out of India’s premier engineering Institute."


Using a blend of digital and physical, universities from Colombia to the United States, and Japan to the Phillipines have found a way to hold an in-person graduation ceremony while maintaining social distancing measures - robot avatars.

Dressed in graduation caps and gowns, the robots are controlled remotely by students whose faces appear on a tablet screen so they can collect their degree from afar.


Though many U.S. students will not be returning to campus in-person after the summer, those who miss it can visit on the collaborative building game, Minecraft.

Universities from John Hopkins to Brown are creating models of their campus buildings on the design game for students to visit under lockdown, with Columbus State University also holding its freshman orientation event within the game.

Brown University campus is seen recreated in design game Minecraft in this undated handout photo from Brown University via Thomson Reuters Foundation


Before lockdown became the norm in the rest of the world, China had already launched a national e-learning platform online and had started to broadcast primary school lessons on public television.

Splitting education between online learning and television broadcast on China Education Television Channel 4, was intended to save strained eyes and prevent network congestion as China's 180 million students moved online.


As the U.N. warns of a "global education emergency," with one in three children worldwide unable to access remote learning during the pandemic, some schools are bringing back in-person learning - with a few changes.

In the remote town of Doodpathri in Indian Kashmir, students with no way to study online have classes outside against the backdrop of the Himalayas, with boxes drawn to maintain distance.

Scotland is using a blended model, as students learn part-time in class and part-time at home. With class sizes shrinking as students attend school at different times of the day or week, social distancing measures are easier to stick to.


In Denmark, primary school children are kept in 'protective bubbles' of a few students at a time, under the assumption that small children would not reliably stick to social distancing rules upon reopening.

Students stay in small groups all day that are dropped off and have lunch at different times, play in their own zone in the playground and are taught by one teacher.


In the Netherlands, one school has installed plastic screens around desks to shield teachers from coughing kids, while schools from Japan to Canada have reopened with students or staff wearing visors.

A private kindergarten in Indonesia has taken plastic protections one step further with plastic tents, or 'transparent boxes', around the six pupils allowed in school each day, with each box disinfected before and after use.

Sources: Reuters, South China Morning Post, The Guardian, BBC

Related stories:

Black and rural students left behind as U.S. schools go online

‘Education emergency’ as third of world’s children lack remote learning

School closures and inequality: what do the numbers say?

(Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
((amber.milne@thomsonreuters.com; +447831119138;))