When the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 global pandemic hit hard in the U.S., schools shut down seemingly overnight in March and were forced to quickly shift to remote learning through the end of the spring semester. In many cases, teachers and schools had as little as one week to figure out how to deliver instruction online. Needless to say, it was a rough transition and many families and students were less than satisfied with how it went. This is understandable and forgivable in the sudden onset of a widespread public health emergency no one expected. The bigger question is what lessons educators will learn from COVID-19.
But Don’t Forget About the Parents!
Before we get into lessons for educators, it’s worth noting the extent to which parents and families with school-age children gained a whole new level of appreciation for what schools do. Granted, these realizations in many cases were coming from a place of frustration as parents tried to facilitate their younger children’s learning and navigating the technology, all while still trying to keep up with running a household and working from home (at least for those fortunate enough to retain their job and be able to work from home). Only in the midst of this crisis did many families realize just how critical school is in the care of their children, and more so for special needs learners and low-income students who rely on school for all kinds of services, including one or meals each school day. Every school is a vital community asset, and every teacher is a hero!
All Teachers Need to Know How to Do Effective Remote Instruction
It should come as no surprise that many teachers and schools found themselves at a loss when it came to the creation of robust instruction in a virtual education environment. Again, many had very little time to figure it out, so a little grace is in order. But it’s also important to realize how easy it can be for something like a pandemic to come along and force education to happen differently. Pandemics come and go, but it would be a shame if effective online instruction doesn’t remain an important aspect of ongoing teacher education, training, and professional development in order to be better prepared for the next potential crisis that forces a shift to remote instruction and learning.
Remote Learning Doesn’t Always Have to Be on a Screen
Teachers and students alike discovered just how exhausting it can be mentally and emotionally to be on a screen all day long for days in a row. It’s simply not healthy for anyone. More attention needs to be paid to modifying the curriculum to reduce screen time while still engaging students to learn during non-screen time and activities. Make no mistake, this is not easy to figure out!
The Digital Divide Must Be Bridged to Better Serve All Students
Schools need to put more thought into solving difficulties in accessing broadband internet connections, especially among rural and low-income populations. As you might imagine, those are the very schools that probably have challenging budget situations to begin with, so it’s not like the schools can solve this problem on their own. There are larger socio-political issues that need to be addressed to bridge the digital divide in general, including specifically in education when instruction needs to go remote.
A Renewed Focus on Mental Health and Wellbeing
In recent years widespread recognition has been growing that the nation’s ability to deal properly with mental health issues is severely lacking. We’ve watched with shock and horror what can happen when police are dispatched to a situation that involves someone in a mental health crisis. It is also sad to see how many states have admitted that their jails and prisons are their primary mental health providers—a function they were never meant to fulfill and for which they are wholly ill-equipped to manage. Now we have a situation where everyone, and especially students, are having the experience of prolonged anxiety, fear, stress, isolation, and general disruption of their normal school routines. It would be foolish to think this is nothing less than a nationwide mental health crisis that will impact education for months and perhaps even years even after the pandemic subsides. Teachers and schools need to quickly become better-equipped to deal with student mental health and well-being in the context of the classroom, whether in-person or virtual.
It’s Time to Get Serious About Funding Education
Few people would disagree with the statement that educating its youth is one of the most important functions of any nation and should be a priority. After all, education is a direct investment into the future well being of any country. And yet, it’s very eye-opening to look at Wikipedia’s page that is a List of Countries by Spending on Education (% of GDP).
The United States spends around 5% of its GDP (gross domestic product) on education. Out of the 197 countries listed on the page, that ranks number 65. In other words, there are 64 countries that spend more than the US on education as a percentage of GDP. This should be considered nothing short of shameful.
How can we expect schools to deal with the long-term impacts of the pandemic on education and student learning if we don’t start getting serious about school funding? It feels like we’re hopelessly behind on re-envisioning and investing in education and schools for the twenty-first century. It’s like the old Chinese proverb that says the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. But this means we still have the second-best time to plant the tree of renewed education, which is right now.
Focusing on What Post-Pandemic Education Will Look Like
Eventually, the pandemic will end and everyone will rejoice at being able to be back to “normal.” And yet it’s likely to be a new normal in the wake of the pandemic as the echoes of its impact continue to reverberate long after the virus is largely defeated. Here are a few trends we think will “stick” after the pandemic:
- Personalization. There is a renewed appreciation for the fact that each student’s pathway through education is necessarily unique. A factory-style approach that force marches students through a set curriculum with methods that may or may not work well for them is giving way to more competency-based learning. A more personalized approach is needed and warranted.
- Meaningful Measures. At last we may be finally reaching the end of the “high stakes” standardized testing approach to measuring learning. It never worked as intended and has probably done a lot more harm than good (teaching to the test, for example). The obsessive focus on grade-level reading and math proficiency has run its course. The time has come to focus more on skills like self and social awareness, resilience, growth mindset, and collaboration.
- More Online Education: There is a whole group of families who figured out how to make remote learning from home successful, and a lot more students discovered whether or not they can thrive in the virtual learning environment. For those who can, there may be little reason to return to “normal” or traditional school. Online and hybrid models will become more popular. In this sense, education will increasingly be thought of as a public service instead of physical place.
The pandemic has basically brought into high relief problems that have plagued schools and education for decades. We can only hope that with more people than ever being aware of what needs to be fixed, our nation will set about doing just that, for the sake of students and teachers everywhere. What we need are leaders to help make education reform a priority.
Achieve Virtual: Online High School for the Twenty-First Century
If your Indiana family has one or more high school students who you think are ready to take full advantage of a robust, effective, supportive online high school program, we invite you to take a closer look at Achieve Virtual Education Academy. We’ve been doing online learning for both teenagers and adults for more than ten years, whether it’s to recover a missing credit or two or complete their high school diploma in a more flexible approach that allows the when and where of learning to be determined by the learner.
Keep an eye on the front page of our website to see when enrollment opens for the next semester, and please understand that space is limited, so act early if you have a student who wants to enroll. Full-time students pay nothing for attending Achieve Virtual. Part-time students must pay a per-course fee, but for students coming from traditional Indiana schools, their home district may help pay their fees.
Need more information about how online high school works at Achieve Virtual Education Academy? Please explore our website—it has a ton of useful information on all kinds of topics related to online education and the specifics of Achieve Virtual. If you still have questions, always feel free to contact us through our website or dial us up directly at (317) 739-4276. We’re always happy to speak with you about Achieve Virtual!