Education is where we build the future of our society, helping our children to grow into the next great leaders and innovators within our communities. Without schools, our kids would struggle to develop, and our knowledge wouldn’t spread or evolve. The recent disruptions within our schools due to COVID-19 (including closures, limitations on activities, reductions in volunteering, etc.), have resulted in children having to deal with an experience that has been hard for most adults, let alone the young people who are still in the early stages of their development. In order to push back against the effects of COVID-19, we need to make education one of our top priorities, giving our children the extra help they need to come back from this crisis stronger than ever.
The chaos of COVID-19 has left no section of society untouched, and schools are no different. In fact, they have been on the front lines of the struggle, with teachers and other educational professionals taking on significant risks and challenges while educating our children. Yet, the biggest impact may be on the students themselves, as they have had to handle a rapidly changing situation that has resulted in chaos in their educational and personal lives. As Erin Einhorn of NBC writes, “it’s all taken an unthinkable toll on children—a social, emotional, and academic ordeal so extreme that some advocates and experts warn its repercussions could rival those of a hurricane or other disaster.” We must respond to this disaster with care, compassion, and collaboration as we work together to create an education system that can endure even the worst struggles with which the pandemic has presented us.
This is, as Einhorn writes, “a nation of children coping with trauma, illness, and disruption” and we “will need more than a vaccine to address the fallout.” While vaccination is an excellent tool in fighting the illness, we need to also deal with the social effects that COVID-19 has had on our children’s lives, in education, and beyond. Indeed, this goes beyond any single nation, affecting everyone around the globe. As the UN reports, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents.” This means that this is an international problem on an unprecedented scale, and everyone will have to attempt to put aside their differences to ensure our children’s future.
“Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94 percent of the world’s student population, up to 99 percent in low and lower-middle income countries,” the UN suggests, indicating that this affects us all, but is worse for those who are already struggling. “The crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children, youth, and adults,” they argue, suggesting that education is being hit hard for those who can least afford to fall behind. As they write, “those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, persons with disabilities and forcibly displaced persons” are the hardest hit, meaning that those who are more privileged must step up to the plate and help get the system back on track.
In fact, it is essential that we learn from this pandemic to make things better than they were before, as people’s eyes are opening more and more to the realities that our disadvantaged neighbours face at home and around the world. “Learning losses also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress,” the UN report details, and that means we must make progress in a different direction to counter these setbacks. Our kids are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress, educational delays, and loss of social opportunities. We have to recognize their difficulties and present new solutions that are available to everyone.
Luckily, we can see this happening already: “This crisis has stimulated innovation within the education sector. We have seen innovative approaches in support of education and training continuity: from radio and television to take-home packages,” the UN report describes. Zoom, Skype, and other online video-chat services provide an outlet to get around physical distancing issues, allowing kids and educators to see each other and connect in ways that weren’t previously possible. Students are performing online math games, participating in writing activities over e-chats, watching video tutorials, and taking advantage of all other kinds of modern technologies to decrease learning loss and keep our education system up to speed. Educators have had to adjust, but there have been many positive developments that ease some of the pain children and schools are enduring.
However, while remote technologies are a piece of the puzzle, they cannot make up for all of the social issues we are experiencing. As UNICEF states, “access to these technologies is limited in many low- and middle-income countries, especially among poor households.” We need to help families as a whole and deal with the problems that our most underprivileged members are facing. Only by creating better access to technologies for all can we reap the benefits of this online revolution in education. Moreover, technology itself isn’t the solution—people are. We have to work together to maintain social connections, support each other, and become unified in fighting this pandemic together. Only then can we build the education system and the society that we want to create and that our children deserve.