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Impact of Pandemic on US Education System: Why is it Necessary to Reopen the Schools
  • Mar 2022
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Impact of Pandemic on US Education System: Why is it Necessary to Reopen the Schools

2nd March 2022

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on the operations and the effects of the education system. The shutdown of school for two years along with the public health and economic crisis, posed a major challenge to the students as well as teachers in the American education system.

The education system in the US was not designed, or prepared to cope up with a situation like global pandemic. The system lacks structures that would enable effective teaching and learning during the school shutdowns. This rendered the school children with a lack of daily access to learning, and also deprived them of the support that the public education system provides. The students also had to sit out on group activities, recreational options and team sports which could have otherwise aided in their interpersonal skill development.  

 “A rich, robust, well-resourced public education is one of the best routes out of poverty and a pathway to prosperity.”- Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers.

Unfortunately, the American public schools have been lacking resources since way before the pandemic hit. The crumbling infrastructure, overcrowding in classrooms, and underpaid teachers are major factors depicting how schools are majorly under-resourced. All of this came back to haunt the school systems during the pandemic, as they struggled with continuing to provide access to education to children across the country.

The lack of access to education in the past two years has had a serious impact on children. The academic performance of students is majorly deteriorating during the pandemic, and there is negligible progress on their developmental skills.

The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic also widened the social and economic disparities. These disparities also had an impact on the growing educational inequities. As a result of this, many children who struggled to learn and thrive in school under the normal conditions, are now finding it almost impossible to receive educational instructions.


Impact of COVID-19 on Student Life-

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people regardless of gender, nationality, level of education, and income. But the same could not be said about its consequences, the vulnerable section of the society had to shoulder its brunt hardest.

Furthering Disparities in Learning-

Students coming from a privileged background, could find their ways past the challenges of school shutdown and online learning as they had the support from their parents and were eager to learn. The same was not true for the underprivileged, who were out of resources, and learning environment as soon as the schools shut down.

While the schools tried their level best to maintain the continuity of learning remotely, students had to primarily rely on their own resources to continue learning through the internet and devices. The learners from marginalised groups, who did not have an access to these resources, were falling behind or had to drop out.

The pandemic has deepened the insinuations of disparities in access and opportunity for many students of colour in public schools. It has also raised several barriers including the technological, that has made engagement in the virtual classroom very difficult.


Students Struggled to Keep Up with New Course

The schools were made to shut down in 2020 around the time when many students were entering a new semester of their classes. Many were faced with a challenge of learning a whole new subject, without enough resources. They not only had to learn it on their own, but keep up with the assignments and get good grades. For many, the unexpected shift to learning from home while facing the challenges of pandemic, became quite overbearing.


Challenges For Disabled

For many students with disabilities in the elementary and secondary school, the pandemic has significantly disturbed the learning, as well as the special-ed services required to sustain these children’s academic development. Over the past two years, this has indicated that the disruptions caused in the education of these differently abled children may exacerbate the already existing disability-based disparities in the academics.


Effect on the LGBTQ+ students-

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer in the elementary or secondary public schools have faced a particularly increased risk of stress and anxiety as they faced the loss of consistent access to encouraging students and supportive classmates, teachers, and rest of school staff. Staying at home, these students were also at an increased risk of isolation and abuse from an obstructive or hostile environment at home.


Mental Health Challenges

During the pandemic, the students from all of the age groups have experienced several challenges to their mental health and well-being. The shutting down of schools made coping up with these challenges even more difficult. The physical and social activities of students were restricted, they had to be confined in a room, making them more prone to agitation and anxiety. Many students lost the access to school-based counselling services and support, making them more vulnerable to a disturbed mental wellness.


Unfit Environment at Home

Pandemic heightened the risk of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and violence on the students at home. It also resulted in increased online harassment from other students as well as online trolls. This may particularly affect students who are women, non-binary, transgender, or gender non-conforming.


Struggles of Student Parents

The pandemic raised new barriers for many high school, and post-secondary students with dependent children. They not only had to struggle to provide for their children, but also to complete their education.


Impact of COVID-19 on Teachers

Teachers of the American public-school systems were equally impacted by the shutdown of schools. There were layoffs for cost cutting, some had to face salary cuts, and they had to put in double the efforts into teaching than in the normal scenario. The negative impact of pandemic on teachers in the education system includes, but is not restricted to the following-


Unavoidable Network Issues

Internet connections are not always reliable. A WIFI connection always has a probability to go blotchy any day. This phenomenon frequently disrupted the teaching and learning process and caused stress to the teachers as they tried to figure out an alternative to resume the class.


Less Student Participation

The virtual interactions were not always smooth going for the teachers. The students portrayed a lack of attention and were rarely interested in the sessions. This put more pressure on teachers to make the class interactive, and sometimes, their morale took a hit due to low participation of the students in the class.


Virtual Classrooms put a Restrain on Interactions

Teachers conveyed that it is much easier to conduct a class in-person as they can judge the moods of their students better, and curate the lecture accordingly. However, it was difficult to do so through virtual platforms as most of the students never turned on their cameras or interacted with the lecture.


Hard to Teach Practical and Application Based Subjects-

Subjects like calculus, geometry, taxes, economics, etc. were particularly hard to teach through online platforms as the teachers could not judge if their students were able to understand the topic, or if their lessons were going in vain.

Overall, the teachers were displaced out of their routine teaching, and this created several problems for them to navigate through to provide sufficient resources to facilitate the continued learning of their students. However, this took a strain on teachers so much that the situation made it very likely for the teachers to quit their jobs during the shutdown, or in the year following the shutdown.


The Need to Reopen the Schools

The pandemic has taken a toll on both the students, and the teachers as the whole concept of learning changed within the past two years. While the teachers scrambled to redesign the way of learning and curate lessons and projects according to the so called ‘new normal’ of schooling, the students had their own struggles to keep up with the learning.

By now, they are all exhausted. Teachers- because they have been working long hours, trying to troubleshoot all sorts of network and IT problems, and trying to work a way to connect with each of their students despite several barriers (be it a computer screen, or something else).

It is about time now that the schools reopen. Afterall, schools are the place where children develop, both academically, and personality wise.

As the famous American labour leader, attorney, educator, and now the President of American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten says-

“Kids need time for problem solving, critical thinking, applying knowledge through project-based instruction, working in teams, falling down and getting right back up to figure out what they didn't understand and why.”

School is where they have the space, and the facilities to do all this. It is where they learn, it is where they work and play together, and form relationships. Schools mould the children to become resilient. The parents rely on schools to not only facilitate education, but so that they can go to work to provide for the family, while their kids go to school.

The extended isolation of kids is detrimental to their development. It is stressing out not only the kids, but their parents as well. Many parents are concerned about their kids as during the last two years, they have witnessed the grades of their children falling from straight A’s to F’s. The parents have also seen the mental health toll and how gruelling it has been for their kids. They had to sit through as their kids spoke about dropping out of high school and colleges.

The pandemic has left the American public schooling system in a major crisis. Enrolment has gone down, and the existing students are lagging behind. Most of the teachers are fried with exhaustion and even the principals and management are struggling. The parents, students, and the education system realises how important it is for the schools to reopen, and undo the learning gap that was created by this pandemic. It is one thing everyone agrees on.


How Will the Education System Go About Reopening the Schools?

One of the most attacked, yet outspoken personalities working towards safe reopening of schools is whom The New York Times describe as a formal social studies teacher, who was elected to head the AFT (American Federation for Teachers) in 2008- Randi Weingarten. She is so far the country’s most renowned unionist for the teacher’s union.

Randi Weingarten AFT President

She has not only advocated for reopening of schools, but her foremost concern is that the schools reopen in a safe manner. In an interview to The New York Times, she states, “we have to calm the waters. We have to meet people where they are.

People are tense, and people are stressed out, and we’re not going to actually help kids succeed unless we make an environment safe and welcoming, and you’re not going to make an environment safe and welcoming when you’re screaming at each other.”

The parents have all the rights to be concerned about their children’s education, but the education system also needs to ensure safety of its workers and beneficiaries (in this case- students) as and when they decide to open the campuses for in-person learning.

 As the President of AFT, whose primary job is to fix the American Education System, Weingarten states in an interview about the reservations of most teachers to return to campus without adequate safety in place. She says, “In March 2020, we had a lot of members die, particularly in New York, because Covid wasn’t taken so seriously”.

Weingarten is playing a crucial role in both public, and behind the scenes in trying to get schools to open. Over the past two years, she has been trying to act as a mediator between the desperate parents concerned about their child’s future and the stressed-out teachers who are shouldering the unnecessary blame for a situation they had no control over.

In a speech delivered live from headquarters of American Federation of Teachers in May 2021, President Randi Weingarten disclosed the importance of reopening the schools across the country. She noted that the conditions now have changed, and that it is okay to reopen the schools.

She said, “We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning and support. And keep them open. Fully and safely, five days a week.

But we must do more than physically return to schools, as important as that is to create the normalcy we crave. We must also put in place the supports to help students recover—socially, emotionally and academically. And we must reimagine teaching and learning to focus on what sparks students’ passion, builds confidence, nurtures critical thinking and brings learning to life—so all children have access to the opportunities that give them the freedom to thrive.

We must—this may be the most important thing I say today—we must do this for all children.”


The Policy of Return, Recover, Reimagine

The American Federation of Teachers launched a ‘Return, Recover, Reimagine’ plan for the education system in America to resume to normalcy. The idea is to do far more than just physically return to school and resume the learning. Gist is to return to schools that are a safe workplace in the pandemic, and have the resources that teachers and the students need, to succeed.

The recovery and rebuilding of educational normalcy should also be considered. As the President of AFT, Randi has committed to help put in place the supports that will help the students to recover academically, emotionally and socially.

The teaching and learning system post pandemic needs to be reimagined. It now needs to focus on how to spark a student’s passion for learning. It should also be focused on building the confidence of the students, nurture critical thinking skills in them, and bring the learning into practical use so that all the students have an opportunity to thrive.

The policy essentially works on the following practical promises-

1. Launch of a national campaign to communicate the importance of reopening schools and why it is important.

2. Ensure the safety of everyone returning to the campus by setting up a committee of students, parents, and teachers to publicize and conduct walkthroughs of creating and maintaining a safe environment in the school.

3. Rolling out of recovery programs during summer to provide academic support and help the students get back in sync with the studies.

4. Enabling the community schools to inculcate trust among the students and their parents by removing obstacles so that they get the support that is needed.

These practices mentioned in the policy among others, are highly imperative for a smooth transition back to the pre-pandemic normal phase of classroom learning. If the transition goes suave, and the American public schools are able to bounce back better, there is a probability to see a positive change in the education system.

In Weingarten’s words, “we can seed a renaissance in America’s public schools that will change young people’s lives and change the course of our country.”



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