Our lives have been turned upside down in unprecedented ways ever since COVID-19 struck. When we first began to hear talk of it, I never thought things would escalate how they have. I figured in a few months, things would blow over and people would more or less forget about it. However, everyone’s lives have been impacted in one way or another: the loss of jobs or working on the front lines and the fear that must surround them everyday; the loss of connections with friends and family; the loss of favorite pass-times due to closures; the loss of an in-person classroom environment. Even our youngest generations are feeling the effects, perhaps in even more complicated ways than we are as they discover that their sense of safety has been compromised.
Our students have lost connections with their friends, their teachers, and with, perhaps, their only safe place. While we have moved classrooms into online platforms, we have failed to address the issue of equitable access to the necessary technology, as many of our students may be without the necessary equipment to partake in these online classes. Moreover, many of our students may be stuck in unsafe home environments, where school used to be their only escape.
Moving forward into the coming school year, these are complicated but necessary issues that will have to be addressed if we are to do right by our students. Perhaps these needs will be addressed in a dual-functioning system, such as having the option to participate in in-person or online classes. However, having in-person interactions puts our students at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than those who participate online, yet another way our students may be disadvantaged simply because they don’t have the means or ability to attend online classes. Furthermore, we will need to work even harder to establish close relationships with our students (both online and in-person) to make sure they feel safe to discuss anything on their mind, be it fears about getting sick or fears more closely tied to being at home.
However, I think we won’t truly feel the repercussions of these past few months until a few years down the road when we are faced with the holes in their schooling. Many of our students are missing out on learning vital skills, both for real-life applications and for in the classroom. Lost time in Math, History, Science, Social Studies, and all their other subjects could negatively impact their abilities to take classes in the future as they are confronted with new problems and skills that build on ones that they didn’t have the opportunity to develop. It will be our responsibility to address these holes as much as possible, both in the coming year, and down the road when we inevitably have these students in our classrooms.
The push we are having to do online courses will likely continue into the future as more people discover and enjoy the flexibility it offers. COVID-19 will also likely change how we conduct ourselves in our classrooms, perhaps with a higher focus on hygiene, but also incorporating many of the learning tools we have discovered during these times. Perhaps we will switch to a system more like Norway’s, with less time in the physical learning environment and more time in self-directed learning. Our change in learning platforms will give us the ability to stay in contact during this self-directed learning, helping to guide students to the “bigger questions” related to what they are interested in, while still giving them the freedom to explore on their own terms.
There are many things that we need to consider moving forward as we try to develop a system that reflects all of our students’ needs. However, together, one step at a time, we will overcome this challenge and become stronger for it.