Seizing the Moment - Education During COVID-19
July 9, 2020
By Jeff Gorter, MSW, LCSW
VP of Crisis Response Services
The education system in the United States, whether it is K-12 or higher education (colleges and universities), occupies a unique space in our cultural landscape: it is both aspirational and practical at the same time. Aspirational, in that all education efforts are future-focused, seeking to instill knowledge and skills to the students to better prepare them for life ahead. Practical, in the sense that all educational institutions are workplaces whose success and continued operation require a managerial present-day focus to remain fiscally sound and viable for all stakeholders. As with so many businesses today, COVID-19 has created challenges at all levels.
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sudden and abrupt nation-wide shutdown, the educational industry immediately adapted. Homes became “home-schools” for younger students and Zoom became the new lecture hall for those in higher education. The change in venue and delivery method didn’t alter the expected deliverable – knowledge – but it did add a new element of prolonged anxiety, an emotional hurdle rarely seen in current memory. To be sure, feelings of anxiety, fear, concern are as common in educational settings as they were anywhere else. However, most natural or man-made crises are almost always time-limited and site specific, meaning they happen on a particular day in a particular place or region. The COVID-19 outbreak supersedes that with its ubiquitous global presence and diffuse timeline (no one really knows how long this will last).
These twin stressors have the potential to disrupt the educational process as prolonged anxiety (if unaddressed) can short-circuit the aspirational quality of education, directing one’s energies to basic coping (“just getting through the day”) rather than planning for the future (“who knows when that will come?”). This in turn creates a domino effect that impacts the practical side of education as enrollment drops, funding decreases, and students & parents take a “wait and see” approach that hampers the business stability essential to running a sound educational institution.
The good news is that these two seeming points of vulnerability are also keys to resilience and recovery for educational institutions during this time. Professional educators understand that learning is not about simply transmitting facts and data points to a student; rather, they know full well that “knowledge is power.” The very act of participation in the learning process is in itself empowering and expands the student’s – and often the teacher’s – horizon beyond the “tunnel vision” of the current moment. To be sure, it’s not that learning negates the struggle, but it does remind us that there is a future worth working for, and a hope worth pursuing. As one education executive stated recently, “COVID-19 has forced all of us to reimagine how we deliver an engaging and holistic learning experience for students. While it presents its challenges, it is also a massive opportunity to break out of old habits and create new, impactful, relevant modes of learning that take advantage of technology and this moment.” (Forbes, “Here’s a Look at the Impact of Coronavirus on College and Universities in the U.S.”, 4/30/20)
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