Across the nation and much of the globe, classrooms sit emptier than a Saturday in July. The coronavirus has shuttered schools and changed the face of education.
Already, online learning has moved from a novel undertaking to a commonplace occurrence. While the pandemic does illustrate the vast inequalities in the present system, opportunities exist in every crisis. Educational leaders now have a chance to bring transformations that help them benefit all students and make innovative progress.
1. Technology Moves to the Forefront
Older generations remember the days before the internet, but today’s children grew up with it. In today’s competitive job market, technological savviness is a requirement for many positions. The business world moves at breakneck speed, and managers lack time to train new hires on processes most take for granted.
Schools play a vital role in preparing youth for the digital world. For example, adding a course in social media use could help future generations not only avoid posting questionable content but also harness the power of this medium as a force for change — as well as making money. Keyboarding skills also prove valuable — you’re far more productive if you can touch-type versus using the hunt-and-peck method.
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2. Online Learning Becomes the Norm
Not long ago, parents who enrolled children in online schools often did so because external factors made attending school on a traditional schedule problematic. Now, however, more students have enjoyed a taste of the virtual learning environment, and some find that they prefer this model.
The benefits of online learning include the following:
- Continuity of learning: Many virtual schools offer classes on a year-round basis, which prevents some of the problems with knowledge retention after an extended summer break. Additionally, if families travel, students can still log in and attend class from anywhere they have internet access.
- Decreased costs: It costs a considerable amount to keep the lights and power on in traditional schools. Many struggle with overcrowding, too, and buses likewise represent an expense. Virtual learning saves considerable overhead.
- Kinder to the planet: Commuting to and from school produces carbon emissions, and not all students live within walking or biking distance of their classrooms. Virtual learning eliminates drive time and reduces the need for buses.
3. Teachers Adapt Their Roles to Facilitators
Traditionally, teachers consisted of those with knowledge and expertise in a particular area. However, today, students have a world of information at their fingertips. As such, educators need to shift their focus from imparting lessons to helping children facilitate their learning.
This change will benefit learners. Research indicates that students are most successful when they explore for themselves rather than passively listen to information. Teachers, instead of spending hours prepping lectures, will instead spend more time working one-on-one with individual youth to answer their questions and gently guide them to the proper resources.
4. Increased Emphasis on Teaching Soft Skills
One challenge faced by online learners is how to interact appropriately with others across a variety of media. A scroll through many social feeds reveals a ton of commentary, not all of which is appropriate. Many students today use these platforms without fully understanding the consequences of posting questionable content or saying cruel things to others. As education becomes ever-more reliant on technology, tomorrow’s leaders need to know how to exercise empathy and understanding when communicating via such platforms.
Additionally, as more people begin working remotely, businesses need individuals whom they can trust to work independently. The shift to virtual learning will help tomorrow’s leaders master organizational and time-management skills that will benefit them in their future careers.
5. Innovation and Specialization Will Continue
A lot has changed since Google came into existence near the turn of the century. Every day, new products arise to fill consumer needs. As the world continues to grow more specialized, schools may move students into career tracks more quickly. Germany already does so with students as young as 10, and many other nations track students at younger ages than the U.S.
The U.S. currently has an even more powerful incentive to start vocational training early. Exploding student loan debt, particularly when combined with an economic recession, puts increasing pressure on K-12 schools to graduate individuals who are ready to enter the workforce.
6. New Partnership Opportunities Will Arise
As specialization continues, private enterprises will begin playing more of a role in education. Already, many companies give back to schools in significant ways. School-business partnerships create win-win scenarios because industry benefits from an incoming workforce with the knowledge and skills necessary for success. Students enjoy the perk of increased security, knowing that a job likely awaits them as long as they complete their required studies.
7. Society Will Need to Do More to Address Inequality
Many of the changes in the wake of COVID-19 will benefit the majority of learners. However, the pandemic does make the extent of income inequality clear. Some students today, for example, lack computer or internet access to complete their studies at home. This problem isn’t limited to rural America. In L.A. County, CA, one out of every four students lacks these amenities.
One way to address the problem is for districts to redirect money typically allocated for traditional classrooms to provide laptops and internet assistance to needy families. Another way to address parity involves expanding free internet access to everyone. That way, low-income students, many of whom already face considerable hurdles, wouldn’t need to travel to a distraction-filled coffee shop to complete their studies.
COVID-19 Continues to Change Education
As states look to begin cautiously reopening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools will eventually return to session. When they do, it will be with substantial changes — many of them for the better.
Jennifer Landis is the founder of Mindfulness Mama, a blog where she talks all things #momlife, marriage, mindfulness, and everything in between. A thirty-something mom of two, Jennifer spends her limited free time practicing yoga and pilates, sipping tea, and reading with her littles. You can find more from Jennifer on Twitter, @JenniferELandis.
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