When American schools had to make the difficult transition to remote learning in 2020, it exasperated many of the issues that have long plagued our education system while highlighting various new, unique challenges. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our education system, first and foremost, it has put a spotlight on the injustices that face American school children and the inequality in educational resources.
For the past 20 years, educational and administrative expert Dr. Gerard Jellig, otherwise known as Jerry Jellig, has built a name for himself in academic circles for his commitment to excellence and developing supportive infrastructure in schools that help both students and educators. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jerry Jellig has remained informed on the various studies that have been published on remote learning’s impact on American education and believes that while there are a significant number of challenges for American schools post-pandemic, that the pandemic will serve as a catalyst for much needed educational reform.
In the past two years, a number of surveys and polls have been published that discussed the full impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on students. One of the most cited polls was conducted by College Reactions/ Axios that found that 77% of college students felt that online learning was much worse than in-person classes and that their education suffered from several challenges such as:
- Needing to adapt to unfamiliar technology
- Lack of in-person interaction with fellow students and teachers
- Not understanding new course expectations for online engagement
- An inability to stay motivated
- Technical issues such as poor internet connection and application difficulties
- Increased distractions
These surveys are crucial for post-pandemic education and will help serve educators in the near future as schools incorporate more technology into their everyday classes. However, Dr. Gerard Jellig stresses that in the immediate, schools must focus less on student issues with remote classes but on how the past year of online learning has impacted nationwide learning loss and educational inequities.
One of the biggest hurdles our education system will need to overcome in the next few years is identifying the degree of learning loss each student experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some students’ parents were able to supplement their education during the pandemic, other students predominantly from two-working parent households lost a large degree of ground in regards to their learning time.
Educators’ primary challenge now will be meeting the needs of students from the same age group who are in very different places regarding their educational needs. In addition to learning what our students have missed in the last two years, we also must identify what gains they have made and what new educational tools have improved their learning. Since the switch to online learning, educators and parents have had to rely on new educational technology. While some students found this transition to technology hurt their education, other students discovered that the same tech was a boon to their schooling and even improved their understanding of different lessons. Teachers now have a responsibility to see what technology helped the majority of students during the pandemic and include these tools in future lessons.
Fixing Inequities COVID-19 Highlighted
Although for many years public schools have been concerned with persistent inequities within the American educational system, the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for many of these issues and only highlighted the need to address these major problems. One of the issues that the pandemic brought attention to was the lack of resources for many American families outside of school. In March 2020, many American families and children found themselves without access to basic needs such as food, healthcare, and mental health resources when public schools closed their doors. The pandemic underscored the degree to which underprivileged families relied upon schools and demonstrated the need for schools to expand their resources to families within the home.
Additionally, the shift to remote learning highlighted the differences in many students’ backgrounds and access to various resources needed to support their remote education. Whether these resources were high-speed internet, laptop, distraction-free space, lunch food, etc., the shift to remote learning changed the long-term inequity conversation from one focused on the differences between students in the school to the differences in students’ home lives and its impact on education.
Equal Access to Technology Resources and Education
Perhaps the most widely discussed educational inequity during the pandemic was digital in quietly. Although technological literacy has become essential in today’s job market, our schools are underprepared in tech education and currently do not have the resources to provide all students with access to laptops and tablets. While we may assume that the younger generations have a natural talent for all things tech, research now shows that many American students are underprepared for technological education, especially students from lower-performing schools and working-class families.
In our post-COVID landscape, schools must now make technology more central focus for students by providing appropriate resources and lessons in various aspects of technology to ensure the next generation of Americans are prepared to enter a modern workforce.