COVID-19 AND EDUCATION: THE NEW NORMAL AND EMERGING CAREER PATHS FOR ACCOUNTING AND FINANCE PROFESSIONALS
Corona Virus disease otherwise known as COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis. The crisis crystallizes the dilemma policymakers are facing between closing schools (reducing contact and saving lives) and keeping them open (allowing workers to work and maintaining the economy). The severe short-term disruption is felt by many families around the world: home schooling is not only a massive shock to parents’ productivity, but also to children’s social life and learning.
Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. These nationwide closures are impacting almost 70% of the world’s student population. Several other countries have implemented localized closures impacting millions of additional learners.
As of 24 May 2020, approximately 1.725 billion learners are currently affected due to school closures in response to the pandemic. According to UNICEF monitoring, 153 countries are currently implementing nationwide closures and 24 are implementing local closures, impacting about 98.6 percent of the world’s student population.
School closures impact not only students, teachers, and families. but have far reaching economic and societal consequences. School closures in response to the pandemic have shed light on various social and economic issues, including student debt, digital learning, food insecurity, and homelessness, as well as access to childcare, health care, housing, internet, and disability services. The impact was more severe for disadvantaged children and their families, causing interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems, and consequent economic cost to families who could not work.
Teaching is moving online, on an untested and unprecedented scale. Student assessments are also moving online, with a lot of trial and error and uncertainty for everyone. Many assessments have simply been cancelled. Importantly, these interruptions will not just be a short-term issue, but can also have long-term consequences for the affected cohorts and are likely to increase inequality.
Impacts on Education: Schools
Going to school is the best public policy tool available to raise skills. While school time can be fun and can raise social skills and social awareness, from an economic point of view the primary point of being in school is that it increases a child’s ability. Even a relatively short time in school does this; even a relatively short period of missed school will have consequences for skill growth. But can we estimate how much the COVID-19 interruption will affect learning? Not very precisely, as we are in a new world; but we can use other studies to get an order of magnitude.
The closure of schools, colleges and universities not only interrupts the teaching for students around the world; the closure also coincides with a key assessment period and many exams have been postponed or cancelled.
Global Consequences of School Closures
School closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have shed a light on numerous issues affecting access to education, as well as broader socio-economic issues. As of March 12, more than 370 million children and youth are not attending school because of temporary or indefinite country wide school closures mandated by governments in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. As of 29 March, nearly 90% of the world’s learners were impacted by closures.
Even when school closures are temporary, it carries high social and economic costs. The disruptions they cause affect people across communities, but their impact is more severe for disadvantaged children and their families including interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems and consequent economic cost to families who cannot work. According to OECD studies, school performance hinges critically on maintaining close relationships with teachers. This is particularly true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may not have the parental support needed to learn on their own. Working parents are more likely to miss work when schools close in order to take care of their children, incurring wage loss in many instances and negatively impacting productivity. Localised school closures place burdens on schools as parents and officials redirect children to schools that are open.
In the United State, As of April 10, 2020, most American public and private elementary and secondary schools at least 124,000 had stopped in-person instruction nationwide, affecting at least 55.1 million students. By May 2, school buildings had been ordered or recommended to be closed for the remainder of the academic year in 47 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia. Most schools shifted to online learning; however, there are concerns about student access to necessary technology, absenteeism, and accommodations for special needs students. School systems also looked to adjust grading scales and graduation requirements to mitigate the disruption caused by the unprecedented closures.
A large number of higher educational institutions cancelled classes and closed dormitories in response to the outbreak, and many other public and private universities across the country.
Impact on formal education
Formal education as opposed to informal education or non-formal education tends to refer to schools, colleges, universities and training institutions. A 1974 report by the World Bank defined formal education as the following:
Formal education: The hierarchically structured, chronologically graded ‘education system’, running from primary school through the university and including, in addition to general academic studies, a variety of specialised programmes and institutions for full-time technical and professional training.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools began conducting classes via videotelephony software such as Zoom. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has created framework to guide an education response to the COVID-19 Pandemic for distance learning
Some of the factors that could hinder the smooth operations of distance learning measures are:
- Unequal access to technology
- Unequal access to educational resources
- Nutrition and food insecurity
- Student learning outcomes
- Inaccessibility to mitigation strategies
The New Normal and Emerging Career Paths for Accounting and Finance Professionals
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis of historic proportions. With crises past, we’ve seen that even as things recover, each crisis leaves behind permanent structural changes. The Black Death of the 14th century rewrote the human genome in ways that are visible to this day. The 1918 Global Flu Pandemic helped topple empires. The Global Recession of 2007–2009 precipitated changes from workplace automation to travel policies that remained in place even as the economy recovered.
The following questions are to be answered in knowing the approaches to rescue accounting and finance professionals:
1. What will be the “new normal” that emerges in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis?
2. How should accounting and finance professionals plan and prepare for the post COVID-19 world even as they respond to the immediate crisis ahead?
3. how accounting and finance professionals can navigate the changes and challenges, and how their employers should respond and help them in their careers?
Technology reshaping the working world
COVID-19 will spur rapid technology adoption, potentially changing the working world. Fear of contagion is leading many to abandon cash in favor of digital payments. Social distancing is prompting organizations to embrace video conferencing, virtual classrooms and telemedicine at an unprecedented scale. As the crisis continues, it could accelerate development of next-gen remote working technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality. Since these technologies will generate efficiency gains, organizations may retain them beyond the crisis. This process will reshape entire industries and reframe the nature of work and learning. Companies may rethink their real estate strategy and footprint, new collaboration and teamwork models could emerge, and remote learning could redefine education.
Emerging technologies fighting COVID-19
New technologies and innovations often find their footing during times of crisis. The current crop of emerging technologies is no different; they are being put to the test in fighting COVID-19. The minimization of human-to-human interactions to prevent exposure to the virus is paving the way for automation. Robots are disinfecting rooms, communicating with the quarantined and delivering medications. Drones are patrolling public areas to conduct thermal imaging, spray disinfectant and ensure compliance with social distancing directives.
Global trends are transforming work and reshaping the future of the accountancy profession while the coronavirus pandemic is hitting the global economy in unprecedented ways. COVID-19 has ushered in a new kind of economic reality where digital plays a greater role, giving a boost to the development of the Digital Economy. In a sense, the Digital Economy provides some insurance and a buffer against the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the overall economy.
In a world after the pandemic, we will see the digital economy playing an even bigger role in the overall economy and creating a new normal. Against this backdrop, the landscape for the accountancy profession will dramatically change. The digital quotient will become ever more important for professional accountants to scale the career ladder.
In the recent ACCA’s Future ready accountancy careers in 2020 report, it was observed that 79% of members agreed that accountants will move into more diverse career paths and working lives will be reimagined as technology blurs the work divide between humans and machines.
With workplace transition, new and more amorphous career journeys in the profession are likely to arise. They could be a series of linked career experiences but not always following traditional career paths. However, this doesn’t suggest that it’s the end of highly specialised technical roles; some ‘traditional’ career pathways will still exist. It just suggests a more agile environment where talents could be in different steppingstones and pathways across many roles in the future.
As career pathways move further away from the formal route, and having mechanisms to allow people to ‘step on’ and ‘step off’ their career paths, organisations will need to start to think about what broader skills they want their employees to have, regardless of the part of the business they sit, and then allow that fluidity between finance and the rest of the business.
This will enhance the value of the people in the finance function of the organisation.
Career zones in the future of accountancy
The following have been agreed to be the five exciting career zones of opportunity that will emerge in the future of accountancy:
- The Assurance Advocate,
- The Business Transformer,
- The Data Navigator,
- The Digital Playmaker and
- The Sustainability Trailblazer
These zones will contribute to building a sustainable business and also represent broad areas of opportunities which individuals may develop their careers in, or navigate across.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The global lockdown of education institutions is going to cause major (and likely unequal) interruption in students’ learning; disruptions in internal assessments; and the cancellation of public assessments for qualifications or their replacement by an inferior alternative. Education interventions during a crisis can support prevention and recovery of public health while mitigating the impact on students and learning. Where health facilities may be scarce, schools can be turned into makeshift holding centers during a crisis. This all needs to be factored into planning, particularly during the coping and recovery phases. It’s also worth noting that education has the potential to contribute to the protection of children and youth; it helps them cope or maintain some normalcy during a crisis, and recover more quickly, hopefully with some useful new skills (i.e. acquiring distance learning skills and deeper digital mastery where applicable). Furthermore, in some low-capacity environments, notably across swaths of Sub-Saharan Africa, schools are often the only permanent government structure in rural villages and can serve as makeshift crisis response centers. Teachers, often among the most educated in these hard-to-reach areas, can be trained to serve as contact tracers and communication campaign advocates.
Schools need resources to rebuild the loss in learning, once they open again. How these resources are used, and how to target the children who were especially hard hit, is an open question. Given the evidence of the importance of assessments for learning, schools should also consider postponing rather than skipping internal assessments. For new graduates, policies should support their entry to the labour market to avoid longer unemployment periods.
According to Kenneth (2020), covid-19 is changing education for better. In his words, he said that this pandemic could profoundly change education for the better. Throughout history, the sector has been conservative and resistant to change. For centuries it had the slate, then came a century of blackboard and chalk. Now students are just a finger-click away from the vast knowledge of Google so much greater than that of any individual teacher. Coronavirus has given schools Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom. The technology turns a laptop screen into a classroom, where students and teachers see each other and can question each other in truly collaborative online learning. Just after the UK’s lockdown began, the Department for Education launched a new online school, the Oak National Academy, where 2m lessons were accessed by learners across the country in its first week. Necessity really is the mother of invention.
Telecommuting will become more prevalent, enabling more talent to enter the profession, while the use of digital tools and automation will become more widespread to enhance productivity
There will be more regional and international collaborations, and more accountants will thrive in the gig economy. As an accounting professional, your qualification should be designed in a way to ensure that it continues to stay relevant and structured to future proof the careers of the professional accountants. And also continue to encourage employers and the profession to always keep an open mind and continue to learn and relearn to be future-ready, especially in this challenging period of COVID-19. Examples of trainings professionals can look at include those that teach how individuals can familiarize themselves with evolving technology, which is ‘table-stakes’ for building a future career in accountancy. Being digitally-savvy is a competency that transcends across all roles and sectors. Professionals should also look at building skills in data analysis, as learning how to analyse, understand and interpret information is seen as a skillset valued by organisations. We look forward to the new economic reality where digital and finance will synergize and propel the growth of professional accountants to new heights.
“Distance learning solutions”. UNESCO. 2020-03-05. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
“Update from Cambridge International on May/June 2020 exams”. Cambridge International Examinations. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
Azzi-Huck k. & Shmis T. (2020). How accountants can navigate the new work world Teresa Leung. https://futurecfo.net/how-accountants-can-navigate-the-new-work-world/
International Baccalaureate 2020 “May 2020 examinations will no longer be held”.
Simon B. &, Hans H. S. (2020). Managing the impact of COVID-19 on education systems around the world: How countries are preparing, coping, and planning for recovery
UNESCO (2020). “290 million students out of school due to COVID-19: UNESCO releases first global numbers and mobilizes response”. UNESCO. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
UNESCO. (2020). “COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response”.
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