The unplanned but necessary shift to remote learning in 2020 created plenty of angst for parents, but after a year of disruption we may be seeing how the pandemic has changed education — for the better.
Who would have thought it?
Not parents perhaps, many of whom were distressed a little more than a year ago when schools shut down and education was turned on its head. They had questions aplenty.
- Could their children flourish in a learning system that involved seeing a teacher on a screen rather than in person?
- Would the children’s motivation begin to falter?
- Would parents need to keep a constant eye on their kids, making sure restless students remained stationed at their laptops?
But something funny happened in the midst of that uncertainty. Unexpected benefits of this new way of doing education emerged. Now, many parents may be reluctant to slide back into the pre-pandemic status quo of in-person schooling without seeing improvements.
I am a working mother of three children, so I can attest to the fact that the pandemic pushed parents into thinking differently about “traditional schooling.” The distance learning made necessary by COVID-19 changed our expectations. Parents want to apply what we’ve collectively learned to help our children thrive as they return to school.
Here are five ways the pandemic has changed education — benefits that emerged during those many months of remote learning that parents would like to see carried forward.
Additional Free Time
In pre-pandemic days, families led overscheduled lives, rushing from one structured activity to the next. Like it or not, the lockdown forced everyone to slow down – and it turned out that many people did like it. Families reconnected with the joys of free time, playtime, and downtime. Children who had been overwhelmed with homework, extracurriculars and overly structured schedules could not let their natural curiosity flourish. And it did.
Researchers say free time is essential to the developing brain and is tied to curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Many parents saw an increase in their children’s natural curiosity, creative expression, and imaginative thinking. Free time certainly can lead to boredom, but by pushing through the boredom children learn to use their imaginations, think inventively, solve their problems, and express themselves.
More Time Outside
When the pandemic began, people quickly became frustrated with staying home, but they couldn’t really hang out in public places that were indoors. Families rediscovered the outdoors – walking, hiking, biking – and that was a good thing.
Parents do not want their children to lose their newfound levels of outdoor activity. They realize that one short recess per day is not enough. Here’s a startling statistic reported in Newsweek: Prior to 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 US maximum-security prisons are guaranteed at least two hours of daily outside time.
Less Standardization, More Personalization
A traditional in-person classroom follows a standardized schedule, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for children to engage in independent work or passion projects. With distance learning, though, children had gaps in the day that let them explore their passions and interests. Parents witnessed their children expressing new interests, exploring and deepening existing hobbies, and making and building things.
Between the middle of March and the middle of April 2020 – when the lockdown was in its first few weeks – Google searches that began with the words “how to make” doubled, as did searches for “DIY.” Even as the world was becoming more virtual, children were finding new ways to be hands-on.
More Connection with What Children Learn
Among the many things remote learning did was give parents a front-row view of what their children are learning. Now, many parents have a deeper level of engagement with their children’s education that they do not want to lose.
In some cases, parents looked at what their children were learning and came away impressed. But in other cases, as they examined the details of their children’s school experience, they began asking questions they hadn’t before. “Is this relevant?” “How is this helping my child?” I believe this new level of parent engagement is going to result in long-overdue updates to the standardized curriculum, as well as more options for children.
Increased Focus on Balance & Wellbeing
Children were not immune from the disruptions the pandemic brought to everyone’s lives. They suffered from social, emotional, and mental impacts. Their parents want balance and wellbeing to be 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.
Some parents will want to keep distance learning as an option. As children return to school, those parents don’t want to be forced to choose between in-person learning or distance learning. I believe both should be options; learning should be blended.
The disruption we all have lived through gave teachers, parents and students all the opportunity to explore and experience new ways of doing things. The next few years should be an inspiring time in education as we all begin to apply what we learned.
About the Author
Emily Greene is the author of School, Disrupted: Rediscovering the Joy of Learning in a Pandemic-Stricken World in which she shares her experience educating her children inside and outside of traditional schools. She inspires parents to think differently about the future of the school, offering practical strategies to help bring back balance and optimism as we reimagine a better way to learn—in the pandemic and beyond. She developed the Kiddovate program, working with hundreds of teachers and students to ignite curiosity and creativity in the classroom. She also is cofounder of VIVA Creative, where she and her team create live and digital events. In 2020, she received an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award recognizing innovation during the pandemic.