Education is Key to Post COVID-19 Recovery
Returning to schools for in person learning has been one of the most difficult conundrums for policy makers, teachers, students and parents to come to terms with. On the one hand, we still see Coronavirus cases continue to escalate in some parts of the world and wish nothing more than for teachers and students to be in a safe and healthy environment; and on the flip side, there is the growing concern that years of progress risk being reversed.
At the heart of it all no doubt remains the health and wellbeing of students and teachers, but with the announcements of schools and education facilities reopening, the long term implications of lack of progression in learning and how teachers will bridge the gap remains a cause for concern for many.
Studies at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic had already suggested that the pandemic would undo months of academic gains. Researchers predicted that, on average, students will experience substantial drops in reading and mathematics, losing roughly three months’ worth of gains in reading and five months’ worth of gains in mathematics by autumn 2020. For Megan Kuhfeld, the lead author of the study, the biggest takeaway isn’t that learning loss will happen - that’s a given - but that students will come back to school having declined at vastly different rates: “We might be facing unprecedented levels of variability,” she says (Projecting the potential impacts of COVID-19 school closures on academic achievement, 05/2020).
It is not merely the curriculum targets that are of concern, but also the disproportionate impact on students living in poverty and students of colour. As Kuhfeld suggests in her study, these families suffer higher rates of infection and the economic burden disproportionately falls on Black and Hispanic parents, who are less likely to be able to work from home during the pandemic.
Schools have long served as “great equalizers,” bridging the gap for lower income families. Remote learning and social isolation in the pandemic has unfortunately unveiled many inequities in the education system. Despite resources being allocated by schools to students for remote learning, the closure of in person learning has been disruptive for students particularly from these families.
Let’s now also take into consideration the impact of the unprecedented changes in education on students' mental wellbeing. Schools have served as a de facto mental health system for many children and adolescents, providing mental health services to 57 percent of adolescents who need care. Restricted access to these basic resources that give some mental and financial comfort for these households has been amplifying the learning crisis and widening the achievement gap, leaving many students behind.
Post-COVID policy initiatives to improve education will need to rise to the challenges posed by increased reliance on remote learning. Educators will need to consider responses to address COVID-19’s short-term disruptions for children falling behind, while also working on relationship building in a safe and supportive environment. This would lay the groundwork to improve children’s mental health services in the long term in order to provide a more fair and equal education system post Covid-19. That is key to combating inequality in education.
By prioritising investments that can help students achieve their fullest potential, no matter their background, policymakers across the globe can set their countries on the path towards healthier and more productive societies in a post-pandemic world, thus providing a basis for nurturing responsible citizens. These young individuals are ultimately the policy makers of the future who will be using the education provided to them today to rebuild our tomorrow.
Munazza Khan is a mother of two children, a writer and a baker. She has a Masters in Journalism from London, where she has spent most of her life. She now resides in Maryland, USA with her family. She extended her side baking business to American customers @m_k_bakes. In her spare time, she also likes to try her hand at modern Arabic calligraphy art and assists small women owned businesses in her local community.