How has COVID changed education permanently?

By Ananya Aggarwal

The pandemic has obviously affected everyone’s day to day lives and activities, but particularly the educational system has been adapted to accommodate online learning. The real question to ask is how has COVID potentially changed the educational system in the United States for the long term?

The sudden shift to remote instruction has reinforced the idea that developing high quality online teaching and learning takes time, effort, and planning, which some may argue the pandemic did not allow for.

1. Increased use of online tools

Many more students across the country may have laptops and internet access, so there may be an increased use of online tools. Now that students may have experience with these online tools, teachers will also have an easier time using them, so they may resort to them. Online tools have been shown to be very helpful complements to in person teaching, and can allow teachers to devote their attention to mentoring and engaging students. However, the main concerns with this supposed positive tool can be that these online tools become a replacement to in-person instruction as well as the digital divide between schools and communities.

2. Risk of disadvantaged and vulnerable children of dropping out as well as many more challenges

If these online tools do become more normalized there will be disproportionate effects for kids with disadvantaged backgrounds vs the privileged. There may be increased challenges for kids without resources such as laptops. PISA has found that in the US 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not have a computer to work from whereas all 15 year olds from a privileged background did. These inequalities may affect these children in the long run, especially as online learning becomes more common. Research on chronic absenteeism as well as remote learning has shown that there must be adequate support to these disadvantaged children who are the least equipped and at risk of becoming disengaged with content and dropping out.

3. Removal of standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT

The pandemic also illustrated the limitations of standardized tests, which can reward affluent students who have access to better specialized instruction that only demonstrate a small set of skills. Many colleges around the country have made sending ACT/SAT scores optional.

4. Investing in the future of children with lost learning and teachers devoting their time to them

Many schools and colleges around the country must help students with their lost

learning. The coronavirus rescue package includes $123 billion for public K-12 schools, and districts are required to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on

evidence-based interventions to address learning loss. Many students do not learn well digitally as well as the circumstances made it difficult to retain the information they did

learn which has led to them falling behind. Research proves that the most vulnerable students have had a sharp increase in failing grades, so teachers must devote their attention especially to them otherwise dropout rates may increase. The highest-quality and paid teachers must serve the neediest students in order to come back from this.

The educational system has fallen backwards, but Biden argues that the rescue package will help move it forwards.

5. Hardships in the classroom including attention and focus

Kids across the country agree that the pandemic led to their daily lives and activities to be radically changed, and with this change comes the fear that they won’t be able to go back to their normal, busy schedules. The other concern is if they will be able to sit through lectures without being unfocused and able to follow along. A study done on the “Effects of COVID-19 on College Students’ Mental Health in the United States” revealed that many students have difficulty in concentrating as well as increased concerns about their academic performance. Clearly, students returning to in-person college classes may need extra time adjusting and help in certain concepts.

6. Active steps to support the well-being of students in order to succeed academically

There have also been multiple studies providing evidence of the psychological impacts from COVID-19 among university students. These include higher levels of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and disordered eating compared to the general population. These mental health challenges could have long term consequences on their education and futures. The study points out some very important takeaways which include that students’ basic physiological and psychological needs must be met before focusing on and excelling in academic life. They recommend that university administrators take active steps to support the mental health and educational success of their students especially following the pandemic. Mental health is a priority and in order for students across America to achieve academic success, the educational system must be understanding of the worries of many students and give them the support they may need.