A Post-Corona Education System

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Michael Hu

University students across the country scrambled to vacate dorm rooms and arrange return flights just days after administrators revealed that students might see the rest of their spring semesters play out online. For educators and pupils alike, class cancellations were an unforeseen directive: teachers had not received training to teach across online platforms and students did not pay hefty tuitions to take classes from home. Following an unnerving surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States (U.S.) in early March, the burden of coming to a verdict on the imminent future of schooling was forced upon public school districts as well. Though we are only beginning to grapple with the cultural adjustments required to “flatten the curve,” the novel coronavirus has already overwhelmed healthcare systems, uprooted public gatherings, and tested the stability of the U.S. economy. We must realize that we are living in a liminal space, a time between 'what was' and 'what’s next,' and it is possible that we will step out of our quarantines into a completely reformed world.

Nothing highlights the grit of our urban institutions more than the ability of the education system to adapt to this disruption in record time. While local and federal governments are prioritizing policies that mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the 76.4 million students and 3.2 million full-time-equivalent teachers have been told to conduct business as usual with accessible online tools. It says something about the aptitude of educational innovation that schools have remained functional amidst a pandemic more disruptive than most people could have fathomed three months ago—before a microscopic, spiky-crowned virus upended civilization as we know it. Thus far, the world of academia has narrowly diverged from its outmoded and entrenched approaches to learning, but the changes brought about by COVID-19 have forced educators to adapt to the latest means of teaching technologically.

We must not forget that online degrees have gained credibility in the global workforce over the past decade and the majority of employers embrace their merit. There were 6.3 million college students who took at least one online class in 2017. Extending the liberty of online schooling to high school students will be practical for a technology-governed future. With increased exposure to online learning, high school students will be better equipped to enroll in an online college, and if online enrollment trends continue along the path of the past decade, the number of students that choose to pursue higher education in general is likely to increase. This is because online schooling is inherently more affordable without having to step foot nor live on campus—the lack of room and board costs translates to lower debts upon graduation. Considering that many online schools work with asynchronous lessons—lessons that do not require the live supervision of faculty—they can offer many more subjects and fields of classes with fewer active teachers. In addition, many students prefer the offerings of online schooling; Stuyvesant students, for example, have expressed their partiality for the opportunity to sleep in and dodge lengthy commutes. A panel of students of the iNacol school argued that online schooling allows them to better pursue their passions, foster independence through a newfound ability to set their own schedule, and work without typical classroom distractions.

Though online schools are currently a viable substitute for face-to-face teaching, we must assess their feasibility as a long-term replacement. This is where COVID-19 enters the picture. While states have taken measures to compensate for losses in instructional time—New York State’s decision to repurpose spring break, for example—the global lockdown of educational institutions is sure to have an impact on academic performance. A shortage of Internet-accessing electronic devices, especially in economically disadvantaged communities, is an obstacle for school districts that are trying to work through the coronavirus. However, now that the pandemic has forced governments to invest in online learning resources, resources are more accessible than ever. No longer can the argument be made that we do not have ample resources to support online schooling. While this does not guarantee that schools will not return to their antiquated ways, a transition has become all the more feasible. In support of that point, teachers across the country are receiving free training in operating online programs, which has changed the trajectory of learning innovation and digitization. Once the pandemic subsides, there will be a substantive pool of experienced teachers who have worked with students online and who have adjusted to the work-from-home lifestyle. If there is ever a time for change, it is now.