The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading like wildfire. At the time of this writing, it has already infected almost 4 million people around the world and has taken more than 300, 000 lives. The deadly disease impacts every aspect of what used to be our “normal lifestyle,” while urging us to stay in quarantine and practice social distancing.
Today, we take a look at how the pandemic affects education in the United States. Can the schools cope with the quick changes that distance learning imposes? Will they manage to keep students, teaching staff, and parents in the same boat?
The Ongoing Impact of COVID-19 on Education
Education is one of the systems that suffer the most from the Coronavirus threat. UNESCO states that over 91% of the world’s student population faces the adverse side effects of nationwide closures of schooling facilities that most governments have put into practice.
In the U.S., the majority of states have mandated school closures. Some of them have employed this measure for an undetermined period, while others imposed it until the end of the academic year in June. So far, the pandemic has impacted more than 124,000 public and private schools and affected at least 55.1 million students, according to this report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE).
There is a clear understanding that the education system was not prepared for a sudden lockdown. The transition from “real, in-person” schooling to “virtual” teaching seemed to be an imminent, yet slow event that would eventually complete “someday” in a distant future. The COVID-19 outbreak made distance learning an imperative change that had to take place overnight.
Ways US Schools are Tackling the COVID19 Pandemic
In an almost heroic fashion, some schools managed to comply immediately with the challenges of a never-before-seen situation. After all, it is their constitutional obligation to guarantee the availability of education.
At first, their mission seems achievable. Schools look to overcome the COVID-19 challenge by:
- Building sustainable online platforms where students can access courses and send in assignments
- Offering online classes for most of the subjects in their curriculum
- Creating a reliable stream of communication between the teaching staff on one side and the students and their parents at the other end
- Helping teachers enhance their technological skills and learn how to teach in front of a computer screen
- Substituting exams that used to require physical presence with written assignments sent via email
In theory, distance learning does not seem like an insurmountable task. Teachers and students have to log in and attend class from the comfort of their homes. Parents have to monitor their children’s commitment to online studies. If everything goes well, this practice should become standard once the pandemic reaches its much-awaited end.
Where the Going Gets Tough
So far, winning the Coronavirus challenge seems easier said than done.
There is a myriad of teachers and education assistants who are working from home. They are attempting to build Rome in a day by constructing a support system that would benefit both the students and their parents.
Unfortunately, some of them may be struggling for nothing. Some teachers rue the general absence of some of their students and having to teach in front of nearly empty virtual classrooms.
While a few students may be accused of intentional virtual absenteeism, and their parents of negligence, the story is not the same for everyone involved. Some students do not have the means to attend online courses for a variety of reasons, which include
- The lack of technological equipment
- A poor internet connection
- No financial possibility to improve either of the two
Some may argue that these issues are far outside the schools’ control or responsibility, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Passing abruptly from direct, in-person teaching to distance learning in a virtual medium unearths deeper and more complex problems of the American society.
The level of technology is not the same or available across the country. The internet connection faces the same problems, and the financial dividers between families from various environments and states make it almost impossible for the measures conceived by the U.S. Department of Education to become nationwide norms at the moment.
A Glimmer of Hope on the Horizon
Schools that had low or no technological implementation before the pandemic has found in distance learning an overwhelming task. Many teachers fear that Coronavirus disease will have a devastating impact on education in the United States.
Distance learning is far from being a seamless process in which teachers, students, and parents come together to ensure the success of the educational system.
If the experts are right, and the pandemic may last for two more years, the U.S. cannot afford to put its education system on hold. The country cannot expect to lose students to limited internet access or poor online support for teachers and parents.
Fortunately, there is hope ahead as the U.S. Department of Education has recently released approximately $3 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, part of the $30.75 billion CARES Act education funding outlay.
The Relief Fund is available to both local educational agencies and institutions of higher education. This last-minute financial injection should help schools find and implement better solutions that would make distance learning available to as many students as possible.
The COVID-19 outbreak has made us face the urgency of an issue that we have been ignoring for years: online teaching has to become easily accessible nationwide.