Consequences of children not in schools

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Online learning means, first and fundamentally, the shift from face-to-face learning to the use of devices of various sorts to deliver that learning. Successful online learning thus requires that students (and teachers) be familiar and proficient in their uses of those devices for learning. Of course, even more fundamentally, it requires that the devices exist. Here we discuss the needs of students.

The 2020–2021 school year is now underway, and with many schools remaining physically closed as the 2020–2021 year begins, there is more we need to understand and think through if we are to meet the crisis head-on. If students are to not see their temporary interruptions become sustained and are to regain lost ground, if teachers are to do their jobs effectively during and after the pandemic, and if our education system is to deliver on its excellence and equity goals during the next phases of this pandemic, it will be critical to identify which students are struggling most and how much learning and development they have lost out on, which factors are impeding their learning, what problems are preventing teachers from teaching these children, and, very critically, which investments must be made to address these challenges. For each child, this diagnostic assessment will deliver a unique answer, and the system will have to meet the child where he or she is. A strengthened system based on meeting children where they are and providing them with what they need will be key to lifting up children.

This report briefly reviews the relevant literature on educational settings that have features in common with how education is occurring during the crisis and emerging evidence on opportunity gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to propose a three-pronged plan. The plan covers the three Rs: (immediate) relief for schools, (short-term) recovery, and (long-term) rebuilding for schools and the education system as a whole.

The current downturn is unique, and in most ways, it is much more severe than any we have experienced in recent history. Almost overnight, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the traditional learning that takes place in school settings. It imposed substantial alterations in the “inputs” used to produce education—typically all the individual, family, teacher, school, etc., characteristics or determinants that affect “outcomes” like test scores and graduation rates. The pandemic has affected inputs at home too, as families and communities juggling health and work crises are less able to provide supports for learning at home. Because there are no direct comparisons to past events or trends, we are without fully valid references for assessing the likely impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on children. There are, however, specific aspects of this crisis that have arisen in other contexts and been studied by education researchers, and we can derive from them some guidance on topics such as the loss of learning time and use of alternative learning modes. By LILIBETH C. ESCALO

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