The Education System Challenges in the USA during Pandemic
The hit of coronavirus resulted in social and economic crises that affected the education sector detrimentally. Since the pandemic hit, scholars have focused on the challenges that the education sector is experiencing during this challenging period. Existing literature reveals that students and learning institutions are left struggling under these tough times. Due to financial challenges, students are jeopardized, as some of them cannot access education resources like books. The new learning arrangements make the situation word, as learners lack resources to access education online after physical classes were banned. Institutions had to invest resources t pilot online learning, suffering economic losses. After analysing different researchers, three themes emerge; the pandemic heightened education inequities disconnect between students and school administrations’ perception of online learning, travel restrictions that affected international students and teachers, and botched re-openings that result from untimely and insufficient federal funding.
The pandemic worsened education inequities.
When learning institutions shifted to online learning, it was clear that the inequities in education got worse, affecting students differently. When students are asked to leave college and go home, it is unfortunate that some students do not have a safe home. Some lacked resources to leave the colleges within the short notice offered. Students lack a private space where they can study at home, which affects their learning and performance.
Some students lack basic needs at home and would attend online classes on empty stomachs. Before the pandemic, learners from struggling backgrounds could get food from pantries and events, no longer an option. The challenge was more serious for low-income learners and some were forced to stop their education. Students of vulnerable learners also relied on school resources such as the library, internet connection, and laboratories which cannot be found in some families (Hyde et al. 16). According to research, some students could not attend online classes because they cannot log into class because of a lack of internet access.
The education sector could not meet the needs of learners with disabilities. As institutions transited to online learning, it was challenging to address these needs through transcribed sessions, alternative texts that accompany images, and closed-captioned. Since the decision to shift to online learning was unprecedented, there was inadequate planning, and a lack of federal mandate led to a lack of these services. Researchers reveal that some institutions tried to meet these needs, but it was difficult for many colleges due to lack of approval and a lack of plan.
Different perceptions on the shift to online learning
Based on existing literature, the difference in perceptions towards online perception was an emerging theme that affected the education sector. Institutional administrators believed that online learning would have a positive influence on students’ learning. Many learning institutions equipped their facilities and teachers on how to deliver online classes. Many lecturers were confident in their abilities to engage learners online and maintain the same momentum for physical learning. However, this was not the case for all, as some stakeholders struggled with the transition. Students also perceived the shift to online learning as disastrous and less manageable.
A focus group research conducted in mid-2020 revealed that students were not confident in the instructors and believed that some professors could not use the school’s management systems like canvas. Learners were forced to submit assignments via email instead of the schools’ portal. Many students spent the first few weeks of online learning navigating through the system to understand a few tips of learning online (Johnson et al. 13). Weeks into online learning, students still felt the system does not cater to their learning needs, and a lot has to be done. Students complained that instructors lacked in-depth training that would make online easy more effective. Others also spent a lot of time dealing with technical issues, which contributed to stress.
Another challenge with online learning is its inability to create a sense of community and unity that students feel in physical classrooms. Students were disconnected, and this affected their ability to master content. Due to social distancing, students were demotivated and sought to do other things rather than learning. The year 2020 witnessed a weird learning curve because of these challenges, and students recorded poor performance at the end-of-semester examinations.
Lack of Funds
Lack of or untimely funding contributed to some of the challenges learning institutions experienced. While it was easy to survive during spring and summer, some political issues blocked the next support from the federal government. Obviously, due to financial challenges, learning institutions started making ill-informed decisions. They shifted the priority from health to choosing if they will survive online learning or revive physical learning because there are no resources to facilitate online learning. Botched re-openings created a sense of insecurity, and most learners were frustrated. When schools reopened, the cases of the virus shot up, and in some cases, students were sent home again. For example, the University of Carolina reopened around September and was forced to close again as the situation got out of control.
Due to botched opening, learning institutions have recorded extremely low enrolment. The challenge is attributed to an economic crisis that has made some families, especially racial minorities, unable to provide their children with access to education. According to researchers, community colleges registered the sharpest drop during the fall and spring enrolment. The current enrolment records indicate that the racial, social, and economic divides continue to bite the academic sector. Many low-income students struggle to access education, and there is a need to increase federal relief to increase enrolment and enhance retention.
Travel Restrictions affected international students.
There are many students from other countries that study in the US. Due to travel restrictions, such students cannot travel back to their countries, and universities and colleges struggle to provide accommodation, food, and safety. Administrators have also experienced challenges as they have to ensure the international students uphold the safety directives issued by the government. They are obligated to ensure these learners are safe until normalcy resumes (Krsmanovic 08). In countries like Australia, international airlines were not operational as the country recorded very high numbers of infected people. Therefore, Australian students could not travel back to their countries. They did not have an option apart from living in “not s comfortable” conditions.
The disease outbreak caused worldwide chaos in the airline business, and professors and tutors who were outside the country could not travel back to the US. Those within the country cannot travel to other countries for any educational activity such as advanced studies or research. Institutions of higher learning report that they had already used institution money to cater for conference and registration for their staff that were to travel for conference and study purposes. The challenge has created a state of confusion alongside the economic burdens these restrictions have caused.
Conclusion and Lessons Learnt
Access to education during a pandemic is challenging, as students and learning institutions try to balance health with educational needs. The stress and trauma that teachers and learners g through cannot be ignored. Parents struggle to meet basic needs since businesses are closed and the sources of money are limited. For some students, access to the internet is a challenge, and the shift to virtual learning is a nightmare. The changes in politics also limit funding, and schools lacked resources to facilitate online sessions. Students were demotivated due to a lack of liveliness associated with physical classrooms. While the pandemic was detrimental, it was an eye-opener for future policies to avoid similar challenges during unavoidable disasters.
The most important lesson is the need to have contingency plans to contain situations that seem to get out of control. Education systems should formulate contingency plans to minimize the negative effects of such disasters on teaching and learning. The education sector should build up resources to address learners’ emergency needs and compensate for what was consumed during the emergency period. The pan should incorporate flexible learning approaches that ensure learning to continue. The plan should be implemented correctly so that education I not prioritized over other more urgent needs.
Another lesson is that there is a need for research to identify vulnerable groups and how each group is affected during a pandemic. In this research, it is clear that different learners are affected in different ways. For example, students living with disabilities have different needs from students of low-income earners. The research will prevent misallocation of resources and ensure each learner’s need is met appropriately and timely. The research should be conducted as early as possible to avoid similar experiences during the next disaster. The willingness of victims and stakeholders to give information t researchers will be resourceful in recording accurate data informing decision-making.
Johnson, Nicole, George Veletsianos, and Jeff Seaman. “US Faculty and Administrators’ Experiences and Approaches in the Early Weeks of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Online Learning 24.2 (2020): 6-21.
Krsmanovic, Masha. “Riding Out the Immigration Storm: Higher Education Responses and Support Provided to International Students in the US During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Journal of Underrepresented & Minority Progress 5.SI (2021).
Hyde, Allen, Angran Li, and Amanda Maltbie. “Bringing Inequalities to the Fore: The Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic and Other Disasters on Educational Inequalities in the United States.” Social Justice and Education in the 21st Century: Research from South Africa and the United States (2021): 381.
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