Articles about education, its current challenges, and its possible if uncertain future abound. In educational webinars I see committed if often exhausted educators problem-solving, keeping the focus on what’s best for their students in these unusual times. Too often our education system seems hopeless.
We don’t even know if schools will reopen later this summer or this fall. But despite President Trump’s prediction that “I think you’ll see a lot of schools open up,” all but a few states have suspended in-person classes for the rest of the academic year, and some are preparing for the possibility of shutdowns or part-time schedules in the fall. Illinois officials have gone even further, warning that remote learning could continue indefinitely. “This may be the new normal even in the fall,” said Janice Jackson, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools. Yesterday “California State University, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, said on Tuesday that classes at its 23 campuses would be canceled for the fall semester, with instruction taking place almost exclusively online.”
Glaring inequity in access has never been more apparent. “The digital divide is real. Only two-thirds of rural homes have broadband; low-income families typically lack access to Internet-enabled devices beyond smartphones.”
Parents are burning out as they try to help their students with at-home learning, and there is “widespread concern that even with remote learning in place, many students will return to school behind where they would have been if they’d been in the classroom.”
Concerns for special education students have become particularly acute. “It is not only because their students’ challenges often make it more difficult for them to learn remotely, but also because districts are required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide specific services and meet particular goals within a certain time frame to any child deemed to be eligible for special education services. That can include not just academics, but related services such as occupational, physical and speech therapy.”
Nor can we hope to resume a functioning economy until schools reopen. “Now, with schools and child care centers closed, it’s obvious how much child care is a societal, not just an individual, need. Essential workers can’t show up without child care, and remote working parents struggle to work anything close to full time.”
Although these obstacles may seem insurmountable, we have the power to use them as steppingstones to reshape education. It is up to us to turn these obstacles into opportunities. Educational reform, long overdue, can no longer wait. We need to demand change:
- Learners need universal internet access.
- Effective schools must build stronger partnerships between parents and teachers.
- More research into what online learning can do well, and where face-to-face instruction is superior is now essential.
- Students need more ownership for their learning, and teachers need to coach and facilitate and create learning opportunities.
- We must recognize that schools are an essential part of our functioning society, not only because they prepare students for the future, but because they empower parents to function now. All of us benefit when schools serve students well.
We cannot afford to feel hopeless. Our schools have not always met the needs of their students or of society. If our educational system has been further broken by Covid-19, we must seize the opportunity to change as we rebuild. As we seek to reopen, we must reinvent.