Learning is poised for big change--two major catalysts are calling into question the value of going "back to normal"

Could two pandemics (yes, two) change schools forever?

Learning is poised for big change--two major catalysts are calling into question the value of going "back to normal"

Schools across the globe pivoted to online learning within days as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across countries, shuttered physical learning spaces, and shed light on learning inequities. But a second pandemic–systemic racism–has lingered in schools and education policies for far too long. In a one-two punch, these two pandemics are poised to alter public schools as we know them.

These pandemics highlight the need to meet both immediate challenges and more long-term lingering obstacles. As talk of a return “back to normal” increases, and with the phrase “the new normal” peppered across every media platform available, it’s becoming achingly obvious that going back to normal is not the answer at all.

In a new Christensen Institute report, research fellow Chelsea Waite and senior research fellow Thomas Arnett argue that 2020 could very well have changed public schools forever, and they outline the key dynamics that could help school leaders effect lasting change.

When COVID-19 hit, educators wondered when–or if–face-to-face learning could safely resume. With at-home learning in effect, awareness was quick to grow regarding the widening gap between students with access to both appropriate learning devices and reliable high-speed home internet and those without one or both.

Related content: Moving remote learning from reactive to proactive

Growing racial tensions and the killings of Black citizens have called into question the role of education in promoting awareness, as well as perpetuating or fighting injustice.

“As overwhelming as 2020 has felt so far, one thing is clear: going “back to normal” won’t serve all students well,” Waite and Arnett write. “And so even as educators work tirelessly just to keep the lights on, there is also an opportunity–and arguably an imperative–for schools to pursue lasting, positive change during this period of instability.”

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Laura Ascione

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