COVID-19 Impact on the US Education SystemJun 23,20
School and university campus closures during coronavirus outbreak have turned a spotlight on the education and income inequality in the United States. This cathartic experience shows how the American education system is in dire need of being re-shaped and overhauled.
Transitioning to online learning is the need of the hour.
COVID-19 pandemic is the first time when we have seen schools being shut down on such a large scale. Earlier, schools have been closed for some time (such as after the hurricane in New Orleans, or during the Spanish Flu in 1918 in some jurisdictions) but this is the first time, a pandemic has spread at such a large scale.
Times like these teach us that we need to have an alternative education system as a backup. Some districts in New Hampshire are better-prepared as it snows heavily there during winters. They already have a system teach online when students can’t come to school. They found it easier to shift to online learning during the Corona crisis.
The US needs to create a new, permanent online education system at the national level. The American education system needs to be re-designed to fill the gaps in students’ learning after school, on weekends, during summers, and during a crisis.
It’s time to bring those educational reforms.
The pandemic has revealed that there are great disparities in educational opportunities and academic support systems our students have. It is time for the schools and higher education institutions to re-think their education models and develop pedagogical systems that are equitable.
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We also need to make sure that our education system is responsive to the individual needs of students – wherever they are. Online education, again, can be designed to offer a seamless learning experience to schools inside and outside the campus.
We need to think about education beyond schooling.
Many parents are worried about the disruption in the formal instruction of students for more than two months. But it is time to realize that the well-being and success of children depend not only on schooling but also on their holistic upbringing.
Children from different backgrounds have different resources, opportunities, and support systems outside the school. The disparities between their lives outside school are gigantic. Students from better economic and social backgrounds have better learning and enrichment opportunities than other students. Whether it’s formal schooling or informal homeschooling, elite students are likely to survive the crisis period without losing much.
Most vulnerable students are likely to be ones who are economically challenged. The US government needs to develop facilities that poor students can use to be able to continue their education beyond school like rich kids. One of the most important steps that the government should focus on right now is to bridge the digital divide between students.
Technology and the Internet are not optional anymore.
Until now, budget constraints have limited the things school districts could do. But now federal, state, and local taxpayers have started understanding the urgency of making sure that technology and the internet should be accessible by all students to prop-up out-of-school learning.
Boston recently bought 20,000 Chromebooks and created hotspots where children can go to access free Internet. It seems like a good start but will need to do better in the future. To make sure that all students have a level playing field, communities and school districts will have to fill the gaps and take measures to make sure that all students have access to online education.
Schools are guiding students on homeschooling.
Amidst the fear of the coronavirus pandemic, many parents are reluctant to send their children to school even after it opens up. For them, homeschooling is the only option. But effective homeschooling requires capacity, resources, and the right kind of support. Schools can take a lead here and guide parents on how to spend time with their kids constructively.
Some schools are conducting online classes and giving out a lot of homework to keep the kids engaged. Some other schools do not have such a system and hence, the responsibility of educating kids falls solely on the parents’ shoulders. In such a time, many schools have taken to serve as a guide to parents on how to create positive learning environments at home, and what kind of educational activities they can do with children at home. Many organizations are also giving out handbooks, curriculum outlines, and other study resources to those in need.
The challenge here is for parents who have to go back to work. They do not have the time to spend time with kids. The US needs to set up academic support systems for such parents to help them achieve better work-life balance in these trying times.
Public awareness about educational challenges has increased.
One noticeable thing that has happened over the years is that since schools are closed, the general public is becoming more aware of the problems some children face outside schools, such as:
- Lack of stability at home,
- Lack or shortage of food,
- No access to physical or mental health care, and
- Inaccessibility to technology and the Internet to continue with their education outside the school hours.
With this newfound awareness, the sense of urgency has set in about redesigning the child development and education systems and bridging the digital learning gaps.
The US is on the verge of a paradigm shift where it will not only focus on children’s education but their holistic development, well-being, and success. It is preparing to provide better out-of-school enrichment opportunities and support systems to help all its children realize their full potential.