September 28, 2021

How Education Could Change When Schools Start Up Again

When the Coronavirus pandemic forced our schools to close, educators had to quickly seek methods for remote learning. But as we look forward to the reopening of schools, for most not until the fall, it gives us some time to look at how education could change when schools start up again. Not only will schools need to continue to deal with the virus, but there is also an opportunity to re-think how teachers teach and students learn.

Teaching options: Social distancing will most likely need to continue to be practiced. How different school districts deal with this challenge will vary. We have already heard discussions about the possibility of alternating days in school or morning/afternoon half days. How might these work? The goal will be to find a way to maintain safe distances between students in the classroom. For most classes, this cannot be done with the number of children assigned to each class as before.

In the alternating days option, half of the students would attend school on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other half on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Fridays either alternating or mixed with field trips or other “outside of the classroom” learning. On the days students aren’t in the classroom, they are at home either doing remote learning or engaged in self-study. This option, of course, can continue to be a burden on parents. For households where both parents work, parents would need to arrange for at-home supervision for the 2 days per week their children are home from school.

In the morning/afternoon option, half of the students would attend school in the morning while the other half would attend school in the afternoon. This would at least keep all of the students attending school each day. Parents would need to find supervision for their children half of each day at home. This option has the additional challenge for teachers … particularly those who have present teaching limits with education boards and/or unions.

For these and other possible options, there should be discussions between teaching districts and teachers as to how best to move forward. It is also advisable to have parents’ input into the discussions as well.

Other changes: Because of how teaching will most likely change in the future, the roles of students, teachers and parents will also most likely change.  In a survey by the National Parents Union, it is recommended that schools should prepare to make more wholesale changes in education over the summer.

In the survey, 61% said schools should focus on rethinking how to educate students and should come up with new teaching methods as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.  Only 32% of parents want schools to revert to the way things were before the pandemic began.

1. Redefine standardized testing: With most schools closed for three or four months, teachers have not had the ability to properly assess their students’ performance. Most standardized tests were canceled because of school closures. While there will be a need to assess where students are academically when classes resume next year, there could be an opportunity to change standardized tests in the future.

Even colleges may re-think the SAT and ACT tests as most higher learning institutions have waived these test for the incoming Fall 2020 Freshmen class.

2. Parents (and students) have more say: Many parents have become more involved in their child’s education over the past few months while overseeing their children’s remote learning. With more involvement comes more engagement, in both the curriculum as well as more interactions with teachers. Parents may also be more involved in schools’ reopening plans.

Even at the college level, parents and their children are discussing whether to delay starting college in the Fall, or whether even a college degree is worth it at all. There are continuing concerns about the cost of higher education in the U.S., which over the past few decades has increased in cost at a much higher rate than inflation. Colleges and Universities may look at trimming their overhead and finding new ways to make higher education more affordable as demand may decrease. and how it serves students — and society. Institutions will be under pressure to reduce tuition and justify their value proposition.

3. Blended learning: Eventually, students will return to classrooms, but as outlined above, remote learning may still be an option. With remote learning comes more responsibility on the students (and parents), but a new blended learning approach between classroom and virtual engagement will most likely be part of the solution. 

With blended learning comes the opportunity for students to learn good time management skills, and to take more control and responsibility over their assignments. Many have already found good use of checklists and matrices to guide their progress while remote learning, and these tools can continue to be used going forward.

Blended learning in high school can also better prepare students for college. Since much of the learning in college is self-driven, starting a student-responsible approach in secondary education can help with the transition from high school to college. Students will learn that not all teaching happens in a classroom earlier with a blended learning approach.  

But will there really be changes?: While it may be easy to think about how education could change, there will be a strong desire by many educators to “get back to how things used to be.” The idea of what was once familiar may be comforting to some, but many health experts believe it will be a long time before schools can operate as they did before the pandemic.

Parents and teachers should be ready to accept children wearing masks to school. They should also be ready for temperature-checks … as until there is a vaccine, many believe this virus could continue to circulate through society, and daily temperature readings can help stop much of the potential spread of a second wave going forward.

Getting back to school: Overall, it is in society’s best interest to have children back in school. Not only does school provide more focused learning, it also gives students the social engagement they have been lacking, as well as meals and other support to families needing assistance. But it also will be important for all involved, from education leaders, managers, and teachers, to parents and students, that it will be a long time before school can return to “normal,” if there ever will be such a thing. But is returning to how schools operated before the virus really the best thing?

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