An Opportunity for an Improved Post-Pandemic Education
There are mountains of empirical research that fly in the face of our pre-pandemic ways of doing school. From opportunity gaps in access to the importance of motivation on student learning including the role of teacher expectations on student outcomes and the mental health pressures associated with an overemphasis on standardized testing, there’s no shortage of data in favor of changing everything.
What’s interesting is much of how we should do school has surfaced over the past year: centering on students’ social-emotional wellness, flexibility in how and what we teach, and adding more meaningful and applied learning experiences to each day.
There have been many stories of the horrors of this year of distance learning. I don’t deny the genuine hardships and losses that so many have experienced. But as an education researcher, school board member and parent, I’ve also seen some schools finally put more emphasis on what many call “soft skills” but that I see as essential: communication, problem-solving and navigating through difficult situations together while honoring our human-ness.
This year we’ve fortuitously placed a greater emphasis on “soft skills” as our kids learned to navigate new digital platforms and educators have had to take perspective of students to understand why turning on zoom cameras in zoom may be less than ideal. I believe these “soft skills” of flexibility and compassion may key to addressing our alarming pre-pandemic mental health crisis as between 13–20% of children living in the US struggle with mental illness each year. These pre-pandemic numbers are a reminder that the social-emotional wellness of our students has long needed to be a focal point for post-pandemic schooling.
As many students zoned out during zoom sessions, many others have failed to log in altogether. Not surprising as 3.7 million households nationwide lack consistent access to the internet. What’s more, of the 65% of homes with children learning online, 11% reported having no live contact with their teacher in the past week. These findings reveal many of the pre-existing issues within education that have been exacerbated during this time, including disparities in access necessary to build essential connections and those critical “soft skills” for future success.