That all changed in March.
The coronavirus pandemic sent students and teachers home, forcing schools in the U.S. and around the world to move classrooms online.
Asha Choksi is head of research for Pearson Education. She saw the move to online learning as a chance to improve higher education. “What it’s done is, it’s actually given a lot more power to students in terms of how, when and where they learn,” she said.
However, Stephanie Hall of the policy research group The Century Foundation argued that online education can never really replace in-person learning in fields like healthcare and teaching.
Hall said, “Students need to experience…what it is they’re learning about, reading about or hearing about in the classroom. And I don’t know yet the degree to which technology can facilitate that.”
The health crisis also made it difficult for international students to stay in the United States. And it prevented U.S. students from studying in other countries.
Bryan Alexander is a professor at Georgetown University. He said the experience could push more colleges to develop online education. He warned, however, that might not happen if students have “poor online experiences, or if the coronavirus fades into being just another flu strain.”
Hardship for rural and disadvantaged students
As the year went on, it became clear that low-income communities and students in rural areas were not equipped for online education.
Only half of the students in the city of Philadelphia had computers and home internet service. It took some time but officials and businesses finally stepped in to provide equipment and service. In rural areas of South Carolina without internet service, the state sent buses equipped with wi-fi internet to help.
Students around the world faced similar problems.
UNESCO reported in April that only half of the world’s learners could take part in distance learning. In places like Bangladesh and Afghanistan, lack of electricity and internet service kept students from continuing their studies at home.
Many countries, including Sri Lanka, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile and Haiti used radio and television broadcasts to provide education for at-home students.
Diana Lopez is a teacher in Funza, a town near Bogota with 10,000 public school students. She said, “The radio lessons give children a space to develop their reading and writing skills and also show them that their teachers are still with them.”
Mental health and pandemic effects
Educators, however, worried about the mental health of students who could not attend school or see their friends.
Frank Chen is a psychiatrist who has worked with college-age young adults. He said college can be a difficult experience for students with or without mental health issues, as they balance work, studies and personal relationships. A major event like the pandemic makes it very difficult to predict what the long-term psychological effects might be.
“I don’t think that there’s another event in the history of the people who are alive now that can really measure up to this,” said Chen.
In the state of Virginia, fifth-grade teacher Aileen Watts said she and other teachers built in activities to help students reduce anxiety. Classes took “brain breaks,” which meant stopping the lesson to play a short game or even do a dance. And, if a child was feeling anxious, he or she could partner with someone to help calm those emotions.
Back into the classroom
In August, parents, teachers and politicians debated on whether U.S. schools should reopen. Meanwhile schools in countries where the pandemic was under more control, such as in Europe, South Korea and Vietnam, were able to reopen successfully.
As U.S. schools reopened, the tragic result was the death of teachers and infection of children with COVID-19. In the state of Mississippi, there were 604 cases among school teachers and workers by mid-September.
Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers. She said, “If community spread is too high, as it is in Missouri and Mississippi, if you don’t have the infrastructure of testing, and if you don’t have the safeguards that prevent the spread of viruses in the school, we believe that you cannot reopen in person.”
I’m Jill Robbins.
Jill Robbins adapted this story based on Learning English education coverage in 2020. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
facilitate – v. to make something easier
fade – v. to lose force or strength
strain – n. a specific kind of closely related living things including germs
psychological – adj. of or relating to the mind
anxiety - n. fear or nervousness about what might happen
infrastructure - n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly
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