Since March of 2020, students across the country have been absent from their classrooms. For the sake of health, safety, and social distancing, these students have been forced into remote learning. Additionally, in these last few months, racial injustices have made a resurgence within mainstream media due to continued police brutality and the killing of innocent Black people. These injustices have been met with worldwide protests and cries for the defunding of the police.
If 2020 has shown us anything, it is that our world has changed. More and more people are coming to realize is that this change is permanent, and we must adapt our lives as we adjust to this new reality.
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, daily racial injustice, especially at the hands of the police, is news to many white individuals but to people of color, these happenings are far from novel. More and more people, myself included, are looking to educational institutions to change this trend of racial ignorance.
How will we educate the leaders of tomorrow amidst the challenges of today? How will schools and universities adapt and innovate in order to make the learning process accessible and safe? What will be included in the curriculum material in order to ensure that students are realistically facing current issues?
Students in Texas are protesting their inaccurate and inadequate history textbooks, which do not sufficiently cover topics of racial injustice, especially regarding Black Americans. These students are pushing for an anti-racist curriculum that can begin to combat the effects of years of inadequate teaching.
In New Jersey, educators have officially determined that climate change literacy will be a mandatory addition to their curriculum. Following the lead of the implementation of other major topics like Black History, Native American History, and Holocaust remembrance, administrators are using this present historic moment to educate younger generations regarding the global changes happening all around them.
Amidst curriculum changes, educators are also facing the challenge of teaching while in the throes of a global pandemic.
Students have spent their summer in limbo waiting to hear word from their high schools, universities, and institutions about how classes will be run this upcoming Fall 2020 semester. After all, the U.S. is slowly reopening businesses in order to urge the economy back into full swing even though COVID-19 cases have not shown a consistent downtrend. In fact, there have been spikes in several states.
In order to prioritize the health and wellbeing of students and faculty, it would make sense to be cautious about moving forward with hosting in-person classes. However, because of the economic consequences of holding remote learning, the current presidential administration is putting pressure on educational institutions to disregard the dangers of potential outbreaks and get back into classrooms, adhering to a regular fall schedule. Steve Chapman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, states that “the administration seems far more determined to reopen schools quickly than to reopen them safely. But if schools don’t reopen safely, they won’t be reopened for long.”
Though last semester’s virtual learning results were not promising, it is still not completely safe for students to resume in-person classes as normal. So how will next semester be orchestrated?
During a virtual panel mediated by writers and thinkers from The Atlantic, several university presidents shared their solutions and ideas. Institutions like Howard University and the University of California plan a hybrid approach to reopening, allowing the option of online classes while maintaining a few in-person credit opportunities. Furthermore, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and social distancing will remain prominent factors of campus operations.
These university presidents acknowledge that reopening a campus is more difficult than shutting it down. Furthermore, university leaders are also putting precautions in place should COVID-19 cases spike on campus resulting in the need to “pull the plug” on in-person learning. They also expressed the intention to access their on-campus health resources. For example, Howard University president Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick is considering taking advantage of the Department of Social Work, the Medical School, and the University Hospital should the necessity for quarantine facilities arise.
The financial aspects of these decisions cannot be ignored. The pandemic has brought about a national recession that is affecting each state differently, resulting in budget cuts and the unfortunate reality of layoffs. Institutions must balance maintaining the safety of their students while covering the everyday costs of running their establishments. All the while, a serious concern for students and their families is the stagnant or inflated cost of tuition for a different, inferior product of digital education. Universities are brainstorming about how to keep their students and encourage further financial investment despite this reality.
I am left wondering if this upcoming semester we are putting too much pressure on our educators, not only to educate but also to oversee the medical wellbeing of their students while taking into account the financial needs of their institutions.
Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at NYU Stern School of Business predicts that major tech corporations will team up with top tier universities in order to package education in an attractive and accessible way. He predicts that billionaires will profit from the new financial frontier of higher education as they step in to support institutions in ways that the government has neglected to. He also foresees that less renowned colleges and universities will experience a dramatic decrease in enrollment once the Ivy League institutions expand their incoming class sizes to accommodate the students who, previously waitlisted, can now participate in their dream school digitally.
For every possible problem, institutions nationwide, on the high school and collegiate levels alike, seem to possess a handful of potential solutions and ideas. Just like the U.S. national response to the pandemic has been varied, so will the responses of these private and public educational institutions differ. In this way, educators are on the frontlines of leadership amidst the pandemic, and their institutional choices will be positive successes or cautionary tales to other institutions and organizations.
The Global Partnership for Education issued an update that posed revolutionizing the education system as one of the positive paths forward from this pandemic crisis. The organization clearly stated the need for solid educational funding, financial tracking, and a focused plan of action to see that education goals are met. Measures like these are necessary in order to bolster educators and school/university administrators as they approach a new semester with a plethora of challenges.
Administrators and educators have no other choice but to innovate for the better and provide for the safety of their students, themselves, and other faculty. It is imperative that we ensure they are well equipped and up to the challenge. The effects of this pandemic have been manifold and the politics of education affect students, teachers, professors, parents, relatives, and other faculty.
This upcoming semester is advancing quickly, and it will take unprecedented flexibility, balance, and empathy to ensure that students are educated, and all involved are kept safe. Whatever sacrifices are required, we must keep in mind that the value of human life, health, and wellbeing surpass that of the national economy, an institution’s reputation, and political gain.
A complete recording of the panel discussion can be found here.
Taylor Custis is a creative writer hailing from MD and currently based in NY studying the sociological and psychological effects of artistic media at NYU.