What the COVID crisis can teach us about fixing our schools – Redlands Daily Facts
COVID-19 has been healthcare’s biggest tragedy in decades. Surprisingly, 90% of schoolchildren in the world no longer had access to their schools as of April 2020. Nearly 500 million schoolchildren lost a year in class. People say that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. The COVID pandemic gives us a great opportunity to rethink how to improve our education system.
We have already redesigned public education. In the 1830s, the head of the Massachusetts Board of Education became one of the early advocates of free public education for all students. Sal Kahn developed the now famous Khan Academy offering thousands of free online courses to students around the world. Over 6.7 million YouTube subscribers have watched the courses almost 1.9 billion times. Now is the time to turn the devastation of COVID into an opportunity to make lasting changes to the education system. Here are three ways to do it.
The “Sage on the Stage” model of teachers giving lessons to sometimes attentive classes did not work very well in the 19th and 20th centuries. By forcing us to use new technologies, COVID has shown us that we can do better in the 21st century. Machine learning can provide one-on-one instruction to help students learn new subjects at their own pace, using online platforms to turn large classrooms into small groups. New companies like Redwood City-based Knewton and Kidaptive have developed software to help struggling students catch up and gifted students learn faster.
Since most of the courses are online, tools such as Google Classroom, Zoom polls, Google Slides and Docs as well as Flipgrids and Jamboards allow students to share what they have learned with each other. Education pioneer Sal Kahn led the way by offering an almost unlimited range of free courses to students from the smallest villages to the most remote countries. Much has been said about the United States donating vaccines to the poorest countries. Perhaps it is time for American universities like Stanford and Harvard to offer their courses to students from the poorest countries.
Mathematics, science and humanities are more important than ever, but in an innovative world, we must make more room for computers. For the first time, there are simple computer languages like Scratch and Ruby on Rails that we can start teaching kids in elementary school. We need to understand that teaching basic coding, data analysis and computational sufficiency is as important in the 21st century as writing and math was in the last 20 centuries. America needs to rethink what a 21st century curriculum looks like to ensure that every student is ready to work for the new century.
If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that this school can be taught anytime, anywhere. In a world where income inequalities are increasing, we must offer children access to education all year round, minimizing the summer slippage that causes students to lose one month of education on average, with more serious effects on income and race. It starts by measuring COVID learning loss, providing universal broadband, and adding summer classes and quizzes for kids who need to catch up. We can break the cycle of students who have fallen behind and help every student enter school from the same starting line.
COVID has been a tragedy, but has taught us valuable lessons on how to rethink our education system. The best way to help reduce income inequality is to reimagine how, what and when we teach our children. Income inequality prevents too many children from reaching their real potential. COVID has forced us to adopt new technologies and approaches that can give every child a better chance at success.
Steve Westly resides in Menlo Park, California. He is the former Comptroller of the State of California and candidate for governor in 2006. He is the Managing Partner of The Westly Group.