Although the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic affect almost every aspect of life, one area is particularly hard hit: THE EDUCATION OF OUR CHILDREN.
With millions of students learning at home for the first time, it is clear that this crisis will have countless effects on teaching and learning in the 2020/2021 school year, regardless of when classrooms reopen and what kind of distance learning practice remains in place.
Due to the sudden closure of schools around the world, most students and teachers are currently engaged in some form of distance learning. But while the transition to online learning has been relatively smooth for some schools where students already have their own electronic devices, there are a large number of schools that are not so lucky. This has raised questions about unequal access to correct devices, adequate Wi-Fi, and other basics of distance learning.
As school continues, it seems reasonable to expect two things: students will make different degrees of academic progress and something called “the COVID slide” will happen.
Perhaps because of everything that is happening around the beginning of the next school year, the following factors that will likely impact students and school communities should be kept in mind:
• Trauma: For some students, besides sudden school closures there have been other potentially traumatic events, including family income and job loss, health crises, and high overall levels of disorders.
• Loss of social learning opportunities: students who are home schooled are not able to access the opportunities of adequate social development offered by the school, such as field trips and lectures for group learning.
• Reduced access to educational resources: For families focused on surviving during closed schools, concerns about living conditions, food, health care, and jobs may take precedence over student learning.
Because COVID-19 has introduced unique barriers to learning and teaching, collaboration among policy makers, teachers, families, and communities is of great importance to ensure that all students access educational resources while schools are closed. This preventative measure will help more children stay up to date with assignments and academic progress.
Another thing is to find alternative ways to collect data on student progress. Finally, although annual standardized testing has largely been canceled, teachers still need to assess where students are and where they need to go. Developing an emergency plan to collect and evaluate data before and after will undoubtedly help teachers and other staff to move on and continue after schools reopen.
The importance of developing a database by researchers, schools and policy makers that provides something similar to real data on what can and cannot serve students during this crisis. A series of experimental efforts have taken shape following the rapid transition to distance learning, and assessing their impact could provide information on new policies that will facilitate greater academic progress during future disruptions.
Thinking ahead in terms of socio-emotional learning after the COVID-19 crisis is over is essential, as many students have experienced a significant level of disruption in their lives and will benefit from a solid support network.
It is important to focus on the following:
• Taking care of yourself – Do students show a “healthy balance” in terms of self-wellness, physically, mentally and emotionally?
• Self-confidence: Do students believe in their own ability to succeed?
• Coping and security skills: How do students deal with the problem?
• Adaptability: Can students move well to new routines, expectations and responsibilities?
• Social skills: Do students demonstrate mature social skills? Do they behave appropriately in relation to their environment and the situations in which they find themselves?
Although the above is not an exhaustive list of behavioral and socio-emotional expectations, it provides a solid framework for assessing the needs of students and the community. Of course, these needs are likely to vary depending on the degree of disorder and trauma associated with COVID-19, experienced by a particular student, family, or school community, so it is wise to pursue a flexible and observed mindset.
Once the school returns to the ranks, some teachers and students may feel better if predictable routines are established quickly, while others may benefit from a collective period of reflection and rethinking.
Teachers and administrators working on websites looking for ways to incorporate socio-emotional learning strategies into academic work may consider the following:
• Before classrooms reopen, give school staff the opportunity to process their feelings and experiences related to everything; from the impact of the pandemic as a whole to the loss of direct contact with students.
• Create a common document of best practices, including plans that emphasize relationship building, positive feedback, and clear and consistent expectations.
• Put socio-emotional attributes in the foreground of assigned lessons and materials. Prioritizing collaboration, communication, self-awareness, and community is key to effectively addressing the pandemic-related turmoil.
Students struggling with COVID-19-related trauma — including loss of routine, reduced social contact, and economic impact on themselves and their families — will certainly benefit from a solid, well-developed framework of social and emotional learning once school continues.
As a recent New York Times editorial noted, history has shown that educational progress is often severely affected when schools are closed for extended periods of time. According to this work, the shortcomings of distance learning plans in many schools make it “even more important for teachers to classify how best to grasp students when school starts again” after the closure of the “COVID-19 emergency program”.
As a result, administrators and school systems should work on post-COVID plans that will return students to academic development, creating space for social-emotional learning.