How COVID-19 is Impacting Education in the United States

April 01, 2020

About 75% of the population is either under complete lockdown or national quarantine due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The abrupt yet necessary decision of the government to implement school closure has inflicted a critical impact on global education. In the latest figures issued by UNESCO, over 1.5 billion learners were driven off the schools and universities. As a result, the K-12 curriculum along with general education strategies was subjected to a complete overhaul in a matter of weeks.      

In response to the alarmingly rapid spread of coronavirus across the globe, immediate measures compromising people’s daily activities have to be implemented in order to contain the spread of the pandemic. As COVID-19 continues to beleaguer the lives of the many, threats such as a projected economic loss of about $2.7 trillion and the unceasing elevation of fatalities worldwide continue to impose pressure for the government to act in an immediate and accurate manner.

 

Modifying US Education 

The educational sector of the country was held in a position that would determine the nature of learning for the next coming years. By the end of March, 185 country-wide school closures have been recorded by UNESCO. The sudden closure of schools on a global scale turned the entire educational system in an unprecedented transition which has challenged traditional forms of instructions and overall learning management systems.

Nonetheless, with the on-going community quarantine among states, families continue to preserve whatever’s left in their regular lifestyle. Part of it is sustaining children’s education through various measures in partnership with their respective educational institutions.

 

Issues Arising from School Closure

According to Education Week, about 124,000 public and private schools in the US have succumbed to closure affecting 55.1 million students. With the progression of the COVID-19 outbreak, concerns after another on the sustainability of education in the country both during the pandemic and throughout the recovery period, continue to arise.

 

School Meal Programs

For public schools, one of the main concerns is keeping the nourishment of low-income students who depend on school meals for their lunch. In the announcement made by US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in early March, he mentioned that preemptive contingencies are being carried out to sustain the meal service even in the course of school closure.

 

Limited Parental Care

As young students have to stay at home indeterminately, parents who are required to continue their work functions, either as part of the frontline services during this public health emergency or simply to sustain their source of income, struggle in caring for their children. Juggling the time between work, even of those who are working remotely, and managing the kids’ increased presence at home can be a handful for many parents.  

 

Postponement of State Assessment Requirements

The annual state assessment requirements necessary in determining low performing schools have also been temporarily postponed due to the fact that instructional time has hugely been deducted. The US Department of Education issued a strong consideration of providing a one-year waiver to delay the assessment and accountability requirements.

 

Inequitable Education Accessibility

Within weeks of the mandated community quarantine, schools have relied on virtual and remote education to continue the implementation of the curriculum. However, even though this mode of instruction is perhaps the best possible measure to pursue uninterrupted learning, there is a portion of the learning population that could potentially be left behind.

In 2019, a study conducted by Associated Press shows that about 18% of US students do not have access to sufficient internet connection while 17% still lack computers and other related devices. This simply implies that online education will not be equitable especially for students from low-income families, not to mention students who have special needs and are not able to independently maneuver virtual operations.

Furthermore, remote learning, despite its efficacy for older learners, may have a lesser significant influence in the education of younger students specifically those who are in preschool and early elementary programs that require close monitoring as provided by one-on-one instruction.   

 

Cancellation of SAT and ACT College Tests Schedule

A college admission will primarily be affected as SAT and ACT college assessments are postponed or rescheduled. While arrangements for Advanced Placement Exams at home are highly considered, chances of getting higher scores by retesting have now been reduced. A probable consequence of this mitigation would have to be a complete suspension of other college admissions requirements or necessary school calendar adjustments.

 

Instructional Continuity at Home

Managing the educational needs of students at home is the primary concern of many public and private schools. The options for education have been narrowed down into instructions that work in confinement. As a course of action in resolving the gap between close contact instruction and continuous learning, alternatives that do not require social interaction are being adapted by many educational institutions such as homeschooling and online learning.

 

The Homeschooling Alternative

Homeschooling has long been an alternative to conventional education for specific cases that include personal preferences due to flexible temporal needs brought by frequent travels or business. While others turn to this educational set-up to avoid negative school experiences such as bullying.

Yet during this COVID-19 crisis, homeschooling has gone from personal preference to an indispensable option in continuing education especially among younger children. Although this can only be temporary, it is essential that before diving into the idea of homeschooling a proper analysis of its advantages and disadvantages must be accomplished.

 

Pros:

You can create a flexible learning schedule.

As opposed to the conventional class setup in schools, homeschooling provides the freedom of arranging and rearranging learning schedules for children which at this time is crucial. Moreover, you can allocate more time for difficult concepts or subjects to increase mastery and understanding.

You can establish a stronger bond with your child.

Based on a number of testimonials, parents develop a stronger connection upon homeschooling their kids given the fact that they spend more time with them. Children’s impression on parents also improves because of their presence and personal assistance in the learning process and in discovering their skills and talents.

You can execute suitable teaching techniques.

Learning styles among students vary in the classroom. However, because of the increased class size in schools, learning styles are not completely or consistently accommodated all the time. The benefit of homeschooling is that you can maximize knowledge acquisition by highly considering the learning style and intelligence modality of your child in designing activities and choosing teaching techniques.

 

Cons:

It demands mastery of the curriculum.

Being your child’s personal teacher does not exempt you from being fully equipped with the teaching skills and knowledge to properly facilitate learning. This could be a challenge to parents who have a limited background on educational management or who generally struggle with basic subjects such as Mathematics, Science, and Language.

You have to acquire the right learning materials and plan activities

With the on-going quarantine, the most definitive source of learning materials would have to be the internet and any available educational supplies in your home. Evaluating these materials can take so much time as well as critical thinking particularly in keeping it up with the standards of the curriculum. Activities should also be planned and matched with the topics or subjects. 

You have to regularly motivate your kids.

Another disadvantage of homeschooling is the number of distractions at homes such as televisions, toys, and day-long access to the internet. Keeping your child motivated can be a real challenge that could test your patience as a parent.

 

The Rise of Online Education 

Virtual learning is now on the top line of education alternatives among many schools and universities. The premise of online education is simple if you solely focus on its function to replace the physical classroom environment with that of the virtual online setting. Conversely, there are more elements in a virtual classroom that meet the eyes. But with the current COVID-19 outbreak, both teachers and learners choose to confront the hurdle of online education than completely shutting down the idea. Ergo, educational technology or digital education completely took off and has finally been moved into the mainstream.

There are numerous ways that online education is implemented. Some teachers would set up video conferences and deliver instructions while students attend following their regular or modified schedule. While others would send out worksheets, reading assignments, research works, and other means of knowledge acquisition along with corresponding deadlines. In a way, the latter becomes a blend of the home school scheme and virtual learning.

 

Pros:

Learning can be done remotely.

Just as long as the internet and computer-based devices are around, learning can still go on. Educational classroom instructions can also be adjusted from techniques that are teacher-centered to learn-centered.

There are Numerous Virtual Classroom Platforms and Apps Available.

Virtual classroom software and video conferencing apps such as Google Classroom, Zoom, WebEx, and Vedamo are some of the tools used in the eLearning industry. Furthermore, social media platforms also aid in establishing fixed communication among teachers and students.

It Provides a Vast Educational Resource.  

Having the internet as the primary medium for communication and education also means that ease of access to resources such as video tutorials, e-books, scholarly articles, virtual libraries, and fun e-learning games is improved. This environment also expands teaching efficiency for specific learners as resource variation caters to learners of different intelligent modalities.

 

Cons:

Limited Access to Technology.

Despite the proven adeptness of online learning or virtual classrooms, its accessibility to all learners is restricted. For one, there is the issue of computer availability among households; and even if this is substituted by smartphones and other commonly used gadgets, high-speed internet is also inadequate.

You have to comply with the online system prerequisites

In the online education scheme, additional requirements such as email addresses, apps, social media accounts, and most importantly optimum internet connection are more than necessary. Likewise, computer literacy is essential prior to completely setting up virtual learning, a key factor that several veteran educators and young learners alike have to be familiar with.

 

It requires an immediate revolution on the curriculum framework

Teacher-student instruction is not the only problem confronting school administrators. Other aspects of the educational framework specifically assessment is a continuous challenge as environmental control, provided by physical classrooms, is relinquished in the quarantine. Assessments such as paper-pencil tests and product or performance-based evaluations are necessary for determining the learners’ level of understanding of the concepts and competencies set by the curriculum. The removal of close social contact with students proved to be a struggle for teachers on this particular learning requirement.

 

Implications of COVID-19 on the future of the US Educational System

Educational technology has been around for decades especially among post-secondary schools and universities. However, it has not been entirely embraced by the education sector because of various gaps that are currently highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis. Hence, the question persists on whether online education or virtual learning can be a permanent alternative to conventional education or a temporary solution to an adamant crisis.

Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic sheds light on the value of online education to the learning management systems. It is projected that during the recovery period, schools will have to include educational technology specifically targeting proper handling and general operations of virtual classes or distance learning in their programs. As convenient as this may sound, this addendum to the educational system, if implemented on the state or country level, can cost millions of dollars in resources such as in establishing internet linkage and providing devices.

However, further studies must continuously be pursued particularly on the drawback of performance quality among learners. The educational framework and even the enhanced traditional learning instructions have proven credentials in ensuring knowledge and skills acquisitions among students. If online education is seen as a better alternative, it has to surpass or be at par with the results of conventional learning. On the other hand, if it is viewed as a contingency plan, the same amount of financial allocation must be adapted for resources and training. Nevertheless, the option of combining both in the schools’ programs would fit the integration of learners to the virtual classrooms and the maintenance of traditional learning management.   

 

Distance Learning: Lake Mary Prep’s Strategy

A combination of both virtual and conventional learning seems to be the best way to sustain the course of education, especially times of compromising events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Lake Mary Preparatory School is one of the institutions that have benefited from the combination of the two educational approaches through their distance learning program.

They have effectively set up their eLearning structure establishing clear teacher-student contact and communication at the forefront. By implementing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous distance learning, students are able to keep track of the content and competencies despite the suspension of classes. With synchronous distance learning, the teacher and pupils interact remotely at the same time during live lessons. Meanwhile, with asynchronous distance learning, the pupils and teachers interact remotely during different times through pre-recorded and uploaded lessons. 

This strategy, adopted early on, demands different ways of application depending on the grade level. For students in the Middle/Upper School (6th - 12th Grade), the classes meet with their teachers on regular school days. Depending on the subject, the teacher may instruct the whole group for a specific activity or do mini lessons for differentiation. Furthermore, all teachers establish conferencing and other means of communication with students on a daily basis whether actual or virtual. Additionally, despite the distance learning, different forms of assessment still take place with the aid of specific criteria or rubrics. 

Teachers have also imposed practices wherein the class time is sufficiently used not only for traditional lectures but for actual learning applications. Project-based activities such as TV production only require initial class meetings, followed by working on the project for the rest of the week’s class hours and then reporting back to the teacher for feedback.

On the other hand, for Lower School pupils (PreKindergarten 3-5th Grade), undergo a different approach. Teachers pre-record a lesson and then issue assignments that the learners can do at home. On a regular school day, they meet with the class and provide individual progress updates. The school also secures open office hours for further consultations. 

As the school progressively adapts to this new norm, teachers receive weekly professional courses including new insights on educational technology and regular Department meetings. This transition is considered as a team movement, hence, teachers also participate in community-building activities like their Virtual Happy Hour.

 

Conclusion

Through carefully studying the boons and banes of online education, the US educational system may head towards a crisis-proof route that could sustain the country’s learning management systems even in times of untoward disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic. School operations may still be maintained in the virtual setting. All of these rely greatly on careful scrutiny, proper goal setting, and strategic planning by the government and the educational institutions.  

 
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