Alison Gerzina

 

Among the changes to daily life resulting from COVID-19, few have been as drastic or impactful as the reconstruction of educational institutions. As the novel coronavirus continues to ravage the world’s population, schools everywhere are having to transition to online classes. Teachers and students alike are facing new challenges. However it is essential to recognize and take advantage of the unique opportunities arising from this unprecedented time.

One of the most pressing and obvious challenges caused by the transformation of education is the digital divide between affluent and underprivileged children. Though the divide existed before the emergence of this global pandemic, it is harder to avoid now that continuing one’s education requires access to digital devices and internet services. Seven million American school-aged children live in a home without access to the internet, and 12 percent of students do not even have access to a household computer or laptop. The immediate consequence is that lower-income students will fall behind in their studies and fail to meet important benchmarks; long-term, as studies have shown, three months of lost schooling could amount to thousands of dollars in lost income every year over their lifetime.

Another issue deserving attention is the emotional and social developmental lag that may result from distance learning. This problem is of particular concern for younger students. The early years of a student are critical for developing a sense of self, social and problem-solving skills, as well as learning to constructively express emotions. These skills are the building-blocks that prepare students for their life ahead. Removing students from the classroom for a prolonged period raises concerns over whether the lost time will have adverse effects on their development. Additionally, social distancing has left many students scared, anxious, and depressed, but especially, they are lonely. Without the physical interaction with friends and teachers and missed extracurricular activities, students are getting restless and finding it difficult to focus on keeping up with schoolwork.

Despite the worrisome statistics and trends, local governments, businesses, and individuals have risen to the occasion. Schools all across the country have provided hundreds of thousands of computers and tablets for low-income students. Comcast and other internet providers are offering free Wi-Fi while schools remain closed due to COVID-19. Teachers are reaching out to students to provide more one-on-one attention to better meet the needs of individual children. These steps highlight the force of collective action and reaffirm the significance education has on young people’s lives.

Further opportunities for educational improvement abound; educators across the country are connecting, sharing different teaching methods and strategies they have found useful. Experimenting with blended learning approaches can help students better understand their needs and help teachers to learn better ways to mold lessons to student’s learning styles. Moreover, moving from in-person to online learning will illuminate the best features of both methods so they are used in conjunction with one another in the future. Society will be reminded of how vital teachers and educational institutions are to the development and advancement of society. Recent examples of cooperative enterprises provide a framework that businesses and institutions can use in the future to improve educational opportunities and outcomes. Finally, individuals and social organizations can create powerful social support systems that will necessarily foster more collective action among various sectors and industries.

The transition from traditional in-person instruction to distance learning poses a distinct set of challenges that are changing the way we think about the current education system in America. Teachers, students, institutions, and businesses are having to adapt to the changing norms on the fly with little precedent to guide them. But they are doing so with grace and humility; showcasing their creativity, ingenuity, and resilience and exemplifying the best qualities of humanity. Other challenges associated with the transition exist beyond those listed here which are equally important and deserving of attention. Many struggles lie ahead as the world continues to battle a global pandemic and cope with new anxieties. But one thing is certain: difficult times inspire innovation and innovation leads to a better future, where business, government and society work together to shape the world together.

 

Alison is from Tallahassee, Florida. She played two years of collegiate volleyball at Pensacola State College and finished her Undergraduate career at Florida State University where she graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Media/Communications with a Minor in English. She will be graduating May 2020 with an M.A. in Ethics, Peace, and Human Rights from American University. During her time at the Washington Institute, Alison has been involved in market and grant research, as well as drafting marketing materials and graphic design.