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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

12 Critical Issues in Education Due to the Coronavirus

By Peter DeWitt — March 23, 2020 7 min read
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At the end of December, I posted a column focusing on 12 critical issues facing education in 2020. Although I stick by all of them, I clearly missed a very big critical crisis that we are now facing in 2020, and that is Covid-19.

If you told me that we would be seeing thousands of people around the world contracting a disease, the NBA suspending its season, March Madness canceled (although we are experiencing our own March Madness right now), Disney World and Disneyland closing, countries closing their borders to prevent the spread of the disease, and the U.S. president doing briefing sessions every single day to announce new precautions, I would have thought it was the trailer to a new Hollywood blockbuster.

I kept waiting for Will Smith to enter into the movie at any time. We now know that this is our reality, and not a movie at all.

For full disclosure, I go through a daily dose of feeling optimistic that we will all get through this and a few moments of sadness at the state of the world. So, because I clearly missed a critical issue on my list from the end of 2019, I thought I would offer a list of critical issues that are developing because of the coronavirus.

Most times, writing is my way of working through an issue, and one of the feelings that I am consistently trying to come back to is that, through all of the devastation this has occurred around the world, we need to find moments of positivity.

12 Critical Issues
These education- and child-focused issues are not written in any particular order, although there are a few that are unlike anything we have ever seen. Every day we learn more, and that contributes to the list because so much of our world is living through the unknown, but we know that that will change soon and we will have much more information.

The most important issue in the world, and for humanity, is the health and safety of everyone. There have been thousands of deaths due to the Coronavirus, which is devastating. The world has stopped, tried to come together, and we are all trying to take every precaution we can to be healthy and safe. The list that follows is not meant to minimize the deaths, but rather open up a discussion about how this virus has impacted leaders, teachers, families and students where education is concerned.

The 12 critical issues we are seeing are:
One billion students out of school - Perhaps out of all the issues, this is the one that is most critical. UNESCO reports “1,254,315,203 affected learners, 72.9 percent of total enrolled learners, and 124 countrywide closures.

We don’t we have coronavirus toolkits - Leaders, teachers, and staff had to scramble because they did not have coronavirus toolkits. The reality is that this is not something you learn about in your preservice teaching programs, nor do you learn about it in leadership school. Leaders learn how to work through most emergencies (i.e., flooding, school shootings, sudden death of a student or staff member, etc), but a virus that prevents students from going to school for months is not one of them. Corwin Press created a free resource kit for leaders in case they still need one. Please find it here.

Feed the children - According to US News and World Report, over 30 million students across the country receive free and reduced-price lunch. For those of us who work or have worked in schools, we know there are families that do not always fill out the paperwork, so that is why I put over 30 million students. When all is said and done, this will be one of the saddest issues that most people will learn during this crisis. I have had many friends and family members who said they had no idea that so many children go hungry. Thank you to the thousands of volunteers across the country who are working to get these students fed.

Parents as homeschool teachers - My niece is a bartender at a popular restaurant chain that has closed down. She and her husband have three children who are really great kids, and as much as she loves them, she never considered homeschooling. Now she doesn’t have a choice, along with millions of other parents and caregivers around the world. It’s important that they remember that they are not expected to do all of the things that teachers do during the day. Many school districts are making this a time of review for students. Kudos to all of the parents and caregivers who are stepping up to the plate during this difficult time.

Teacher appreciation - Over the last decade, I have felt like people do not appreciate teachers, or even, public education. The rhetoric around teaching has not been kind, but over the last two weeks, a lot of that has changed. People are now understanding that teaching is not easy, and they have seen their child’s teachers step up and provide opportunities for learning through online resources, and all of this happened during a time when they had zero time to prepare. Can we please start appreciating our teachers and leaders a bit more?

High-stakes tests canceled - On March 15th, I wrote this blog asking if this is now the time to cancel high-stakes testing. At that time, most state education departments had not canceled high-stakes testing although students were at home learning through quickly developing online methods. Thankfully, all standardized-testing requirements have been waived.

Too many resources, too little time - This will be addressed again later in the list, but one of the issues taking place this week is that parents and caregivers were hit with too many resources. We know this is better than having none at all, which is what other parents and caregivers may be experiencing right now. To further exacerbate the issue, many organizations and consultants are offering resources to teachers and leaders. Most are in an effort to help, so we just need to do our best to choose one that is credible and we can use, and begin using it.

Seniors in high school lose out - Remember your senior year in high school or college? Our present seniors in high school and college are losing out on their last semester. There have been many on social media who say they need to get over it, but the reality is that this is a time when they would be experiencing closure with their friends and their studies and getting ready to transition into the next phase of their lives. Now that next phase seems so uncertain. This is when we long for the simple times, but their simple times will have one less experience to long for.

Inequities - The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting one thing that most of us knew already. Some schools have countless resources to share with families and caregivers, and other schools have very little at all. Some families have wireless, and one parent or caregiver can stay home and work, while they try to homeschool at the same time, and others are being forced to stay home, and only have homework packets to provide to their children.

Habits need to change - We have finally found the time to say that students can play several times a day, and it is OK. Teachers have found that they need to home in on what is most important when it comes to educating students from afar, and that the control freak in all of us needs to take a break, because we do not have full control in this situation. Principals and school leaders are finding that there are many issues that can be solved in emails, and others that need more clarity.

Science - There has been a steady push for STEM over the last decade, and a global pandemic is one more way to get our students interested in science and technology. Whether it be helping more in isolation learn how to connect, or the next doctor who will create a vaccine, this is a time when people are greatly understanding the role of science.

Additionally, what we are learning is that the world is healing itself a bit these days. Carbon emissions are down for obvious reasons, and cities like Venice are seeing that the water is clearer than it has in decades, and there has been an increase in sea life showing up. Perhaps a bit of a silver lining in a cloud of doubt?

Social-emotional learning - One of the topics that I write about quite often is that of social-emotional learning, and it is the topic that gets the most pushback, because critics say there is no place for it in school. During this time, social-emotional learning is one of the most important things we can learn.

In the end
When all of this is said and done, I hope we do not have to hear the words “social distancing” and “self-quarantine” for a long, long time. For most of us, this may be one of the most difficult times we will experience. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I turn to my meditation practices and connect with family.

I hope that you are all finding your way through this, doing your best to stay healthy and not hoard toilet paper, and will learn to slow down and continue the slowdown after all of this is over.

In the wildly popular play “Hamilton,” the famous line is, “Immigrants. We get the job done.” Maybe we can change that a bit and say, “Humans. We get the job done.”

If you would like a moment to take a break from the stress of watching news, Check out this fun video created by the Salinas Union High School district’s Japanese teachers in Salinas, Calif.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including his newest release Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory (Corwin Press. 2020). Connect with him on Twitter or through his YouTube channel.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.