Greene: Five ways the pandemic could change education for the better

Posted 5/17/21

The shift to remote learning during the pandemic caused angst for parents, but it also led to unexpected benefits that they may find hard to let go of as their children return to school.

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Greene: Five ways the pandemic could change education for the better

Posted

The shift to remote learning during the pandemic caused angst for parents, but it also led to unexpected benefits that they may find hard to let go of as their children return to school. While pandemic-era schooling has been difficult, parents’ have come to appreciate the unexpected benefits of distance learning.

Some benefits are so positive that parents are reluctant to slide back into the pre-pandemic status quo of in-person schooling without making some improvements.

The dialogue has shifted as parents and students reflect on the last year and think carefully about what they hope to carry forward to improve the school experience.

The pandemic jostled parents into thinking differently about “traditional schooling.” Distance learning in a pandemic has changed our expectations, and parents want to apply what we’ve collectively learned to help our children thrive as they return to school.

Here are five benefits that parents hope to carry forward:

• More free time.

Before the pandemic, many families’ lives were overscheduled. The lockdown helped families reconnect with the joys of free time, playtime and downtime. This took the stress off children overwhelmed with homework, extracurriculars and overly structured schedules and opened the door for natural curiosity to flourish. Scientists say free time is essential to the developing brain and is tied to curiosity, creativity and imagination. Looking back on the past year, many parents notice an increase in their children’s natural curiosity, creative expression, and imaginative thinking.

• More time outside.

During lockdowns, people suffering from cabin fever longed to leave their houses, but indoor public places were problematic. So families connected with the outdoors in new ways, such as walking, biking, or simply eating lunch outside. Parents do not want their children to lose their newfound levels of outdoor activity.

They understand now that one short recess per day is not enough. Before the pandemic, many children spent less time outdoors than prison inmates. One survey of 12,000 parents in 10 countries found that half of children ages 5 to 12 were outside less than an hour each day. In comparison, inmates at U.S. maximum-security prisons are guaranteed at least two hours of daily outside time.

• Less standardization and more personalization.

A traditional in-person classroom follows a standardized schedule, leaving little room for independent work or passion projects.

However, distance learning offered gaps in the day for children to explore their passions and interests. Many parents saw their children expressing new interests, exploring and deepening existing hobbies, and making and building things.

• More connection with what their children are learning.

With students working remotely, parents were privy to an up-close view of what their children are learning. While at first many parents felt overwhelmed with supervising distance learning, they eventually came to value this connection. Now, many parents have a deeper level of engagement that they do not want to lose.

In some cases, parents were impressed with what their children were learning. In other cases, parents were surprised to discover the details of their children’s school experience and began asking questions they never asked before, like “Is this relevant?” or “How is this helping my child?”

This new level of parent engagement will trigger long-overdue updates to the standardized curriculum, as well as more options for children.

• An increased focus on balance and wellbeing.

Because of the disruption the pandemic caused, children have been “wrung through the wringer,” with social, emotional, and mental impact. Parents want balance and well-being at the forefront. That means less menial homework, less time wasted on irrelevant standardized tests, and more focus on curiosity, creativity and joy in the classroom.

For many parents, this means holding onto distance learning as an option and giving students the flexibility to attend in-person or distance learning to support wellbeing. Now, as children are returning to school, we don’t want to be forced to choose between in-person learning or distance learning. Both should be options. Learning should be blended.

When society lives through a disruption, it rarely returns to the way it was before. The next few years will be an inspiring time in education as parents, students, and teachers begin to apply what we’ve learned.

Emily Greene is the author of “School, Disrupted: Rediscovering the Joy of Learning in a Pandemic-Stricken World.”

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