If education predicts the future, all Americans should be worried. The coronavirus is currently suspending learning for almost a year. Tens of millions of students are left behind. However, the education crisis was not caused by COVID.
The pandemic has exposed the deep-seated problems that have hindered students for decades. It’s time to ask a question. How can quality education help students overcome this crisis and, in doing so, improve the overall education system?
The latest evidence of harm done: A new McKinsey study shows that virtually all students lost months of learning during a pandemic, and color students lost the most. Learning loss is also getting worse, which is not good.
Education before a non-uniform pandemic
Education before the pandemic was already very uneven. There are pockets of excellence and a wide range of needs across the country. The result is humble. In grade 5, 74% of students are reported to be engaged, while grade 12 is only 34%. Only one-quarter of the students are fluent in math and just over one-third are fluent in reading.
About 25% of new students need remedial education. Many people don’t go that far. 12% of high school students are still dropping out of school. In addition, the dropout rates for black and Hispanic students are 50% and almost 100% higher than for white students, respectively.
If education is not tailored to students, we miss an important opportunity to help children discover, develop and apply gifts. That is, after all, the purpose of education. Students with vastly different talents and learning habits in both public and private schools are being pushed towards the same standardized universal model.
What does it take to give each student a bespoke education, a large-scale tutoring opportunity? Interestingly, the turmoil caused by the pandemic has made it easier for the entire education ecosystem to reach this goal. Last year he changed three assumptions about education that hindered such transformation.
First, tutoring does not require spending a fortune or overburdening teachers.
Last year, there was an explosion of programs to support families who could not otherwise receive individualized education. We were impressed with OpenStax. OpenStax offers free textbooks and modular courses that can be tailored to each student.
Even the most enthusiastic teachers are challenged to meet the diverse needs of 25 or 30 students in their classes, either online or directly. Learning customization is time consuming and can be done very manually. That’s why the Khan Academy provides tools to help teachers do the daunting task of personalizing their education.
Programs like Curriki offer a wide range of free resources for teachers who want to tailor their lesson plans to their students’ learning styles. At large scale, these efforts provide individualized education for all students in all learning environments, whether public or private charter schools or microschools.
Second, education can be done anytime, anywhere.
Face-to-face education, led by a dedicated and well-supported educator, is often the best way for students to learn. However, the pandemic shows that parents and teachers can work together to help students thrive outside the traditional boundaries of the school.
Once you acknowledge that education can happen anywhere, you can start designing education that can happen anywhere. Consider unusual construction: A New Orleans program that teaches students math, teamwork, and critical thinking skills at construction sites.
Not suitable for everyone, but for some students who do not need a classroom. Other organizations, such as Cadence Learning, are rethinking traditional calendars. Cadence connects students with the best educators across the country through annual family-friendly programs and partners such as school districts and community organizations.
Education is not just for children
Finally, the pandemic revealed that education is not just for children.
With a permanent severance that affects 2.5 million Americans and counts this year alone, it is becoming increasingly clear that people need help to keep up with the rapidly changing economy. From Microsoft to the American Rental Association, a group across the United States has launched an initiative to help dismissed workers find better jobs.
An exciting example is Skill Up. It’s an online platform that helps people identify their skills, quickly develop new skills that suit them, and connect with employers to evaluate those skills.
A greater focus on personalized education can facilitate the lifelong learning needed to stay ahead of the post-pandemic economy.
Now is the time to build a better educational system that empowers and uplifts all students at every stage of their lives. Achieving this goal requires the cooperation of educators, parents, philanthropists, businesses and policy makers. Educators focus on helping students receive quality, personalized education, regardless of setting. The pandemic doesn’t just show what we have to do in American education. It enlightened how to do it.