Throughout the United States, students and teachers are back to school in another year marked by the incidences of the pandemic. The changes in education during this time were deep and many of them are still ongoing.
This new normal is not only related to the massive use of technology and remote learning, but also to several transformations that require an even more encompassing and efficient approach.
What are the trends that are here to stay and how do they affect the US education system?
The 4 Pillars of New Learning
The lock downs forced schools (like many other organizations) to change its role and to seek alternatives to continue teaching elementary and high school (K-12) students. The new learning practices in the US emerged and branched out from 4 main pillars:
Let’s see how each of them affects our society, and learning in particular.
1. Technology: As technology advances, school learning takes new shapes that are able to provide high-quality content at a reduced cost, while continuing to support students at all times. Beyond virtual rooms, we currently have a wide range of applications and platforms that were specifically designed for remote or hybrid learning. Many of these were unthinkable only 2 years ago.
2. Recession: Driven by a steep fall in their income, many states and cities are trying to improve the efficiency of their most valued allies —good teachers. If budget cuts continue in this path, technology will allow governments to increase the number of students a teacher can reach, regardless of geographical distances.
3. Innovation: New and more effective teaching methods are emerging in places like Portland, New York and Denver, where performance-based systems allow for a combination of online and in-person learning. The hybrid mode is here to stay, in all aspects of our social lives.
4. Standards: A new approach, based on how much students learn regardless of the platforms, is gradually replacing the old approach that prioritized the how and where. The focus now is on the content and how much it sticks.
65% of Americans state that the impact of the pandemic on education should be a priority for the Federal Government.
Diverse Perspectives in Education
The trends we mentioned are not only driven by governments, but also by education professionals, families and the students themselves. The global changes we have seen in education prove that constant and strategic interactions between the public and private sectors is more successful and efficient than siloed learning.
In any context, it is vital to provide students with a structure that will provide them with effective tools to participate actively in the economic and political arenas when they reach adulthood.
A survey carried out among higher education students in the US showed that 75% of them had experienced anxiety and depression during the pandemic.
With that in mind, we can already see three new learning modalities in the United States:
1. Virtual: In this modality, students and teachers only have contact thorough technology. Teachers use this environment to provide materials and to assess and grade students.
2. Hybrid: This environment includes teachers, tutors, subject matter experts and full-time technology-based learning. Students take in-person classes, but they also receive virtual lessons. Teachers, in turn, monitor their progress, provide additional material or create discussion groups.
3. Complimentary: These schools are providers of learning services that go beyond customary classroom content and enable activities such as workshops through tutors, instead of professional teachers. For example, an hourly music teacher, programming camps, partnerships with universities and even private companies to provide students with knowledge beyond the classroom.
These new modalities are not yet massive, but the numerous examples tell us that this is a growing trend. Considering that many parents will still prefer their children to have traditional social interaction at schools, the hybrid and intermediate modalities are probably going to be more popular in the future.
In any case, what we understand by “school” is given a new meaning: the amount of time spent in it and the moment when students learn are completely changed. Learning experiences also change and become more customized and aligned with the needs of each student.
In this sense, the new trends in the US educational system seek to support ESL (English as the second language) students and those who belong to the Spanish-speaking community. Faced with this challenge, many districts have tried to increase their access to notebooks and the Internet, and have provided these students with instructional videos to bridge the idiomatic gap. Of course, there is still a long way to go.
The more than 5 million students in public schools (around 10%) who are learning English and the more than 7 million (14%) students who require special education services in the US have faced many obstacles, compared to other students.
Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office
It is crucial for any alternative to focus on empowering students, and on giving them real support in this transition. Therefore, it is imperative for educational institutions to prioritize equity and the democratization of knowledge, so that students can achieve their full potential and find a real chance for comprehensive education in this new learning dynamic.