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3 Changes to Look For in Secondary Education

The impact of COVID-19 on this school year and beyond

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell






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Blended learning and flipped classrooms. Year-round schooling and staggered starts. Remote, asynchronous instruction, and for some, no class at all. Whether all or none of these become a reality, it is clear that COVID-19 has forced education systems around the world to change. But what does change look like in secondary education? And will it be permanent?

In the months to come, whether schools physically open or they opt for a digital semester, we can safely say there’s been a shift in secondary education. The students, families, educators, and administrators that left campuses in March are not the same individuals that will finish the school year nor begin again here in North America this fall. And while there are countless changes that could--and should--be seen in education moving forward, here are three shifts we think are likely in secondary education in North America this year and beyond.

Appreciating educators

With a precipitous decline in the numbers of students preparing to be teachers over the past decade, it will be essential heading into the next phase of global education that our educators know their value. Let’s face it: no one planned for a global pandemic, least of all the families who were suddenly asked to play the role of parent, teacher, coach, counselor, math expert, art enthusiast, and botanist. And after a few weeks--actually, a few days--of homeschooling, many families took to Twitter and social media to express woes, whims, and their newfound gratitude for their children's teachers.

Of course, homeschooling children during a pandemic is not exactly a normal scenario for anyone, but by stepping into an educator’s shoes, even briefly, these families became privy to some of the immense challenges that our educators face every day. Administrators, too, were in awe of how their faculties have stepped up and transitioned to online instruction with little-to-no notice. And the students? Many were expressing in those same social media channels how they missed their teachers and (gasp!) attending school.

And whether this pandemic is the catalyst for increased pay, revised schedules, or the long-deserved, elevated prestige within our society, when our communities return to school, a newfound appreciation for the educators worldwide should and will likely be at the core of that transition.

Redefining the role of educator

With digital classrooms and independent learning taking center stage in this pandemic, it raises the question: what is the best learning environment for students? And within that environment, what is the role of the educator?

One of the biggest takeaways from this experience is that “distance learning should not replicate school,” says Jal Mehta, a Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. COVID-19 has shown the world that education and educators come in different forms. And if remote instruction persists, our global community will most likely need to decentralize the educator as the primary source of information.

If schools return to some version of a physical classroom, many predict that a flipped model will extend beyond examples in higher education and become common practice for secondary education. A flipped classroom, or hybrid/blending learning, a “pedagogy-first” approach where topics are introduced outside of class, then students engage in inquiry, application, and assessment in class. This method gives students ownership over their growth and inquiry in meaningful ways while asking educators to play the role of facilitator and guide along a student’s learning journey.

And if instruction remains digital for the foreseeable future, then it’s probable that everyone in our society--parents and grandparents, aunts and cousins and neighbors--will be asked to jump back into teaching roles at home and “to think as citizens as well as educators,” says Mehta. “In many ways, the qualities that are primary in distance learning—care and relationships, intrinsic motivation, student agency, deep investigations, work that fits the student, schooling as citizenship—are qualities that any good education would foster.”

Highlighting and addressing inequities in digital learning

Education systems that are asking students to conduct some, most, or all of their learning online, must address the digital divide with renewed vigor. The gap between those who do or do not have access to technology has only increased over the past decade; in fact, the Pew Research Center found in a 2018 survey that “about one-in-five teens ages 13 to 17 (17%) said they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection.”

The digital divide is most notably prominent for low-income communities. A study from 2018 by the ACT Research and Equity in Learning found “nearly one quarter (24%) of students whose self-reported annual family income was below $36,000 also report only having access to one device.” And nearly half of those students who reported relying on one device at home “depend exclusively on a monthly cellular data plan for home internet access.”

Many have and continue to work on shrinking the divide by providing devices to students for use at home; in fact, ACT found that “28% of students who rely on one device at home reported that the device was provided to them by their school.” In some districts, Chromebooks were sent to students prior to schools closing in March, and a few internet companies have offered majorly discounted or free service to those in need. And that’s a start. But, just like the work that needs to be done for racial equality, in order to address long term opportunity, achievement, and equity gaps in education, a comprehensive approach must be taken by everyone--from families and instructors to admins and government officials. And in order for this generation of students to find holistic learning success in the next phase of global education, our communities will need to move through these changes--and more--together.

To those here in North America-- here’s to summer! And to all the students, educators, and administrators around the world-- change is just around the corner; we're with you.

Interested in learning more about academic integrity in K12 and the relationship between an academic institution, its students, and student coursework?

Join us on July 15, 2020, as we take part in a panel that brings together policymakers, school administrators, classroom teachers, and thought leaders. Together, we'll explore the vocabularies of academic integrity and equity, explore structural challenges, and identify opportunities for action.

What: The intersection of Academic Integrity and Equity in Secondary Education - Panel and Discussion

When: Wednesday, 15 July 2020 15:00 ET