No one could have anticipated schools shuttering their doors, sending students home, and then re-structuring the entire teaching and learning process and delivery.
At the university level, this re-structuring was perhaps not as difficult, because most schools have already offered at least some online coursework. The systems for delivering instruction were somewhat already in place, though not at the level and scale as was thrust upon them.
Be that as it may, we are now facing the prospect that our institutions of learning may not even open this fall. If they do, they will probably look very different from what students have traditionally experienced at school. And those changes could be rather short-term, depending upon progress toward a vaccination. But more than masks and social distancing and hand-washing, we have to consider that there will be broader, long-term effects from this crisis.
Of course, these long-term effects will vary dependent upon the academic level of the institutions, so perhaps that is the best way to look at this “new normal” in education.
It’s hard to imagine students seated 6 feet apart with masks or playgrounds with monitors keeping students apart. But these are probably short-term consequences of this current crisis. Ultimately, we will have a vaccination, and classrooms and playgrounds will return to normal. But there will be long-term consequences that we may anticipate but for which there are no current plans in place to address.
- The unequal educational delivery that will impact kids for the rest of their schooling years.
As children were sent home for the rest of their school year, it became a joint effort between teachers and parents to see that their educations continued. And it also became the responsibility of families to feed their children and take care of other daily needs.
Poor families with uneducated parents faced large hardships throughout the spring when compared with their middle-class counterparts. Not only were they ill-equipped to support the educational needs of their kids, but they also faced food insecurity. Urban and rural poor were clearly at a disadvantage. Many school districts did not supply devices for children to access online instruction from their teachers.
The end result? Children from middle- and upper-class homes had far more opportunity to continue their educations. Not only did they have access to their teachers, but they also had access to more highly-educated parents who also would find the additional resources they needed to ensure learning progress.
How will schools fill these huge gaps when they reopen? What will be in place to provide the remedial assistance that will bring those disadvantaged students up to the levels of their more fortunate peers?
- Disruption of the personal and intimate relationships that young children need with their teachers that impact their learning.
A review of 46 research studies summarized in a recent article in Education Week pointed to the overwhelming importance of personal relationships between teachers and students – relationships that are further cemented on a daily basis. When those relationships are present, they are associated with better academic performance, attendance, and reduced behavioral issues. The absence of normal and daily interactions with their teachers have probably impacted performance in a negative way.
Secondary Education (Middle and High School)
Contrary to popular opinion, middle school students are not yet independent learners. They are dependent upon their teachers, at least in a guiding and coaching manner, and they, too, need those personal relationships.
At the high school level, students are more independent in their learning, but there certainly remain key skills and concepts that teachers can guide them to master. And there are also those ACT and SAT tests for which they must prepare and then actually take (although these have been put on hold as testing sites closed).
The other issue here is the fact that many secondary students “tuned out” by May. From a recent MSNBC interview with Joseph Allen, Director of Healthy Buildings at Harvard’s School of Public Health, we learned that, just in Boston alone, 10,000 students stopped accessing their online instruction from their schools. For high school seniors, nothing can be done. For others, again, what plans will be in place to remediate the lack of learning? Schools will have to plan for this.
Fortunately, most colleges have offered online coursework for quite some time. And students had to go online to finish their coursework this spring. While there were certainly issues in the beginning, on the part of the instructors, students, and the school systems themselves, there has been continual progress in refining the entire process, and many students have now adapted to online learning, although it has been a struggle. In fact, Shane Thompson, a consultant for college writing assistance at Trust My Paper and Best Essays Education, has this to say: “Students who have been moved to online learning do struggle with their assignments. We have seen a significant increase in requests for essay and paper writing assistance since the closing of college campuses. Students are anxious; they are trying to learn the processes of new types of writing from instructors who also are not experts in online instructional delivery. Over time, this may ease, but right now, the demand for our services has skyrocketed.”
The long-term effect? Colleges and universities may find themselves facing some clear financial issues. Students will demand lower tuition for online courses; fewer professors and staff will be needed, and this will mean layoffs and terminations. Even after campuses open up, attendance will be reduced.
As students reassess their educational and training goals and are far more comfortable with online learning, they may consider the growing phenomenon of bootcamps. These are intensive training in specific skills, without the general education requirements of a traditional post-secondary institution. And while these programs are looking more attractive, there is also some discussion about expanding Pell Grants to include these bootcamp-type programs. Colleges and universities that want to remain competitive may very well have to look at how they can better serve student needs in this “new normal” environment.
Nothing is Certain
Welcome to limbo. This is where educators, parents, and students find themselves right now. What happens in the short-term will certainly be determined within the next several weeks. How institutions will deal with the longer-term impacts of this crisis are yet to be seen.