EDUCATING CHILDREN IN THE COVID ERA
One of the most damaging consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world has been its impact on educational systems. As soon as the disease emerged as a serious public health threat schools serving students of all ages – from preschool through university – were compelled to shut down their facilities. In March and April of this year, over 90% of the world’s students were adversely impacted. Not only does this situation impede the educational progress of well over 1 billion students, it has deleterious ripple effects on broader economies, general public health, childhood nutrition, the mental health of both children and families, and many other critical dynamics within societies.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has not remotely escaped this corollary disaster. Most of the nation’s students and their families have been forced to scramble for alternative education options as schoolhouses have shuttered. Of course, these circumstances immediately devolved into a significant political debate along partisan lines. At a time when the pandemic was in its most uncontrolled state domestically, the American president and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos rolled out a policy mandating that all schools reopen fully in the fall or be stripped of federal funding. They argued against Centers for Disease Control guidance which warned that school-based disease transmission could significantly increase the spread of the pandemic.
While there is general consensus that children should return to school as soon as possible, opponents of this policy argue that mass death and disease is not an acceptable tradeoff and that governments should fully fund schools in order to provide necessary educational programming regardless of the reopening of physical properties. Furthermore, recent polling shows that 20% of teachers will not resume teaching if their schools reopen and 30% of parents will continue with home-based education even if schools reopen. That last figure is 10 times the average of previous years.
Here, as around the world, families and educators have been working together to find ways to both educate the children and give parents the freedom they need to focus on maintaining their careers and generating income. Certainly, many children have been utilizing e-learning platforms via which schools have attempted to maintain a degree of continuity with their already established curricula. However, keeping students engaged over Zoom tends to be much more difficult than keeping them engaged in-person. And, not all families have the necessary technological resources, including high-speed internet and computers. As a consequence, there is a marked difference between the quality of education wealthy students receive and the education poorer students receive. Clearly, there has always been a wealth-based discrepancy, but current conditions have exacerbated the problem.
Unsatisfied with e-learning alone, unprecedented numbers of American parents are now considering and implementing homeschool options. By some estimates, 10 million children will be home-schooled this coming season, 250% of last year’s figure. Many parents, however, feel that they cannot succeed in this endeavor alone. Some have opted to coordinate with a small group of other families in cohorts – known as “learning pods” – to provide school-like experiences outside of the traditional system. These parents share the costs of a privately hired instructor, curricular materials, sometimes a school nurse, and other resources. The children often meet in outdoor locations or carefully selected venues that allow for social distancing and sanitation.
Unfortunately, with learning pods, the costs add up and can price out students whose parents do not have excess financial resources. In response to this challenge, some communities have found ways to pool resources and funds that allow the disadvantaged students to participate.
Innovation in Cities
At the same time, some municipalities have found ways to continue with limited onsite, in-person education despite the dangers and difficulties presented by the pandemic. New York City, for one, established what are known as “regional enrichment centers.” These specially organized and staffed facilities were raised up specifically for children of essential workers such as health care workers and critical city employees. The New Yorker recently profiled one of these centers which is located in the Bronx and overseen by a former school principal named Santiago Taveras. Taveras was able to successfully educate and care for one hundred seventy students throughout the height of the spring pandemic crisis.
Other cities, too, are finding innovative ways to cope. San Francisco and Indianapolis, for example, are transforming recreation facilities, libraries and community centers into “learning hubs,” where a segment of the student population can go to safely work on their online schoolwork.
Around the World
Of course, virtually every country around the world is dealing with its own unique education system disruption. The World Bank recently compiled a comprehensive list of how governments are rising to the challenge, which you can view HERE. Some randomly selected examples include:
- Bulgaria: The Ministry of Education and Science launched an e-learning system. Publishers provide online textbooks from grades 1-10 for free. Regional educational institutions are supporting 65,000 teachers and over 700,000 students through videos and webinars. School education content is being broadcast through the channels BNT 2 and BNT 4.
- Jamaica: The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has put in place support initiatives targeted at all levels of the education system to the end of April 2020, with the possibility of further extension if required. This support includes several services for students, including: printing service and printed learning kits for students without Internet connection; educational television lessons and rebroadcasts accessible on 25 cable channels (eg. “School’s not OUT” on TJ Live channel); zero-rated data access to the MoEYI website which houses educational content and online exam (PEP) workbooks, and more.
- Madagascar: has launched educational television and education radio instruction to support remote learning for students out-of-school. The education television program is continuously being developed and broadcasted so that student learning does not suffer in any way. Mathematics lessons are presented in French and aimed at primary school students using Teaching At the Right Level (TARL) methodology to increase impact of the lessons. The live broadcast is also hosted on the YouTube channel ‘RTA Official’ so that they can be used as on-demand content as well.
- South Korea: The Korean government and the Ministry of Education (MoE) delayed the national start date of the 2020 spring semester from March to April 2020. The MoE has invested USD $250 million to address the impact of COVID-19 on education. This is about a 4% increase from the total education budget in 2020. The emergency budget will be used for supporting online education platforms, zero-rating public education websites, expanding after school day-care services, purchasing necessary health equipment for teachers and students, etc.