The global Covid-19 pandemic has swiftly changed the course of 2020 and the foreseeable future. Along with all of the changes, including social distancing measures, business closures, and economic uncertainty, there have been mass school closures around the world.
The future of education is, well, nebulous.
Students all over the world have faced the effects of public and private school closures, which moved the final months of spring terms online (for those who could access the internet).
Though some schools have announced reopening in the fall, as Coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States and elsewhere, the safety of physically attending school seems constantly in flux. While some schools will remain closed, others might open with alternating schedules to allow for fewer students in the classroom at one time.
Without a doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted students and has left the future of education shaky, at best. Though daily updates constantly shift the outlook of education, here are some specific problems and changes students have been experiencing and the reality of education moving forward, at least until scientists release a safe and effective vaccine.
Distance Learning Woes
So far, one of the most impactful changes of Covid-19 remains the necessity of distance learning. Since not all students have access to the internet, and schools have been struggling to supply enough distance learning devices for each student, some students have gone without their education since the pandemic began.
Even for students who have been able to access the internet, online learning simply is not the same as in-person learning. Though students have different learning styles, and some do prefer online learning, others need the face-to-face interaction with instructors to best understand the material.
Online learning leaves those students behind. Teachers have noted the struggle some students have faced, including an Ohio-based elementary school teacher who shared her own distance teaching struggles on the New York Times podcast The Daily. As this teacher explains, students become frustrated when their learning is transferred to a machine--a machine that does not understand their individual learning requirements or personalities.
Across the United States, students have noted that they would much rather go back to the classroom than continue learning online. One reason might be that virtual lessons do not engage students as effectively as in-person lessons do.
The necessity of online learning has plagued both students and teachers, who are likely hoping that the systems in place get better or that they can return to the classroom sooner, rather than later.
Reimagined College Application Requirements
Covid-19 has also completely changed the way prospective college students are expected to apply for colleges and universities--and the number of students choosing to apply at all.
Changes to the college application process include: test-optional applications as a result of fewer students able to take standardized tests, waived application fees to offset costs for students with economic struggles, and specific essay prompts designed to help admissions officers understand how students have been negatively impacted by Covid-19.
All of these changes to the application process not only heighten the pressure of nailing the college essay but also hopefully inspire students who might have decided not to apply to college or to defer their applications due to Covid-19 fears and limited financial resources.
However, students might not choose to attend college anytime soon if they cannot attend in person. According to the NSHSS Student Voices of America Survey, 32 percent of high school and college students who responded would prefer not to attend college at all if the majority of classes will be held online. This points to a future issue for colleges and universities that depend on student tuition to keep their programs running smoothly.
Halted Academic Journeys
For many students, the journey toward a bright academic future has been cut short. In fact, the long-term effects of school closures can be far-reaching, potentially affecting students decades after the initial impact.
Not only are students losing out on necessary education, but those who have to push off their college education or get too far behind in their public school education may suffer from lower incomes and fewer job opportunities in the future.
Students who were already in lower family income brackets and were making huge sacrifices to attend college might not be able to return. Meanwhile, some students who are trying to finish their education find adjusting to working on their studies at home difficult.
This is especially true for students who live in a stressful home environment with guardians who are struggling to make ends meet as a result of Covid-19-induced income loss. For those students, a physical campus serves as a safe haven with plenty of places in which to focus on studying, researching, and writing. At home, focusing can be a challenge.
The Future: Socially Distant Classrooms
So what does the future of education look like? It’s hard to tell right now, since the climate is constantly changing. However, in the near future at least, and until a vaccine emerges, classrooms will have to either exist online or remain socially distant.
For teachers and students, this means finding new ways to work through lessons that once required sharing materials or having students work together up-close. This means adjusting to alternating schedules to keep some students at home while others are in the classroom, six feet apart. This means helping students who already suffer from anxiety or learning disabilities deal with the pain of losing their sense of normalcy at school.
Making socially distant adjustments to the classroom environment will require difficult new realities like a ban on field trips and school gatherings, long cleaning processes, redistribution of funding to allow for purchasing enough supplies for each individual student, and no more shared school dining spaces. These changes will require ingenuity on the part of teachers and a high level of adaptability on the part of students and teachers alike.
As students look ahead at the future of their education, they will need to get ready for learning to feel a lot different, at least for a while. Though the light has yet to emerge at the end of the tunnel, school communities will hopefully help each other through this process to keep everyone safe while preserving the integrity of education as well as humanly possible.