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What If Schools Are Closed for More than a Year Due to the New Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

27 February 2020 15,607 13 Comments

The outbreak of the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) has already forced schools and universities to close in China. It has also resulted in increased difficulties for international students to travel to attend their educational institutions as well as stoppage of on the ground operations of supplementary education (tutoring) services. Korea, Japan, Iran, Iraq, Italy are closing schools in the infected area and more countries are considering or preparing the closure of schools. And the situation seems to worsen globally, likely to affect more people and more schools.

This unfortunate event gives us an unwelcome opportunity to rethink education. At the invitation of the ECNU Review of Education, a journal published by Sage, I am collecting thoughtful imaginations about what education would be like if all schools are closed for more than a year. The journal will publish a summary of the contributions with proper attribution.

Please share your thoughts using the comments box below. Make sure to include information about you and how you want to be referenced. Thank you.

What would happen to our global and local educational systems, if the Coronavirus outbreak lasted for a year?

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  • Vee Kummari said:

    Here is my perspective based on my own recent online learning experiences and I would like to emphasize the following four key points:

    1. Personal connection: Making short screencasts to explain core concepts and embedding them on PowerSchool / Google Classroom gives students that personal connection with their teachers and it could be done using simple apps. ‘Flipgrid’ is a popular one. I used ‘Camtasia’ to create a few YouTube videos for chemistry.

    2. Clarity: If we could clearly communicate the goal(s) of each of our assignments using rubrics and share exemplars of related content, we wouldn’t have to worry about spending too much time on face-2-face meetings. Also, we could use interactive e-textbooks and smart learning platforms, such as ‘Kognity’ and ‘Seneca Learning’ with students to assign reading and practice exercises. The former provides statistical evidence of student participation and achievement.

    3. Collaboration: Assigning collaborative tasks (investigations using simple materials at home, posters, projects, group discussions etc.) by pairing or grouping self-starters and high achievers with struggling students, we could promote motivation and increased participation. I’ll also be slightly generous with extrinsic rewards for completing major assignments which might still count towards their semester grade.

    4. Metacognition: Encourage learners to maintain a journal to jot down their strengths and limitations on each of the major assignments which in turn should help teachers to have productive webinars / Q&A sessions.

    Most of the student evidence from the above-mentioned tasks could be shared either on Google Classroom or a similar platform, where they could upload Word files or images showcasing their written work. I’d also run a mock e-learning session on campus with students to sort out the technical nuts and bolts in order to have a fairly seamless virtual navigation.


    Vee Kummari
    Upper School Chemistry Teacher
    Frankfurt International School
    Oberursel, Germany

  • Ben Kestner said:

    The question asks “What would happen to our global and local education systems” which is not directly – “what would happen to the children” – I’d like to answer both questions from my view if I may, starting with the second.
    “What would happen to the children”
    The main problem would be – can the parents or guardians (depending on age) be there at home with them? If they can, then I think the children, over time COULD thrive. They will be, initially in an unschooling type environment (if the schools don’t start sending work home straight away) which, taking Sugata Mitra’s research for an example and the example of millions of successful unschoolers/homeschoolers around the world, could be successful. If the schools do send work home via. a platform for online studies, then they could still thrive academically if indeed, that it the main objective. Such a difficult question though, because it is multilayered. Depending on the countries educational system. If you take China, then I would suspect parents would be, on the whole, very nervous about students ‘falling behind’ and would insist on hours and hours of online assignments etc. meaning the children may get even less free space and more time on the computer. A family who allowed the children to have freedom at home to pursue their own interests would be in a very different situation. What I’m trying to say here, from my viewpoint is that children with parents or guardians who allow their children to have more freedom will help their children to relax and enjoying learning what they are interested in, in their own time, and their mental and physical well-being might improve.
    “what would happen to our global and local education systems”
    They would need to change, and I fear, if they just try to convert learning 100% online, the children would suffer from not having a physical teacher to be with and from not having their peers around them.
    On a global scale – perhaps governments might suspend their over-reliance on international tests in Math and Reading as a measure. Would be interesting if the children who had been given more freedom were surveyed for their well-bieng after a year, to see how that may have changed. So glad this question has come up. Sometimes terrible things force us to completely re-think situations- and we need to completely rethink education globally.

  • Vanessa Lee said:

    I love this question because it allows us to think again about what education is and the vast opportunities that technology offers. What excites me about this is the possibility of rebuilding families, everyone learning together and the development of soft skills such as time management and self awareness, planning and self evaluation. I hope it would push the education world into the 21 century to focus on what’s really important in tracing and learning. I hope that at the end traditional classrooms would be extinguished and there would be no more rows of students racing a teacher but interconnected learning across year groups, student self directed learning and teachers integrated into that learning. Yes I see lots of positives. Of course on the flip side, making sure all kids are able to access such learning at home and have the support of parents and siblings to be co learners at home will be challenging. We really are going to see a different world.

  • Kim said:

    A real chance to shake things up is what education needs. My thinking: Each learner can determine their own learning focus, content and approach. For those with online access, they will be able to self-direct their learning and find others focussing on the same things. It also provides greater accountability for governments to improve communication networks for all communities across the globe. Learning is social and that is where the real power comes – how can we replicate effective social networks when contact with others isn’t possible? My big Q: how can we maintain rigour in learning so each person truly progresses, but stop people from assuming a government body needs to determine set content and approaches for everyone?

  • Matt said:

    It’s fascinating how laser-like our focus can become. A month ago I was glued to the data regarding the high degree of toxic contaminants in Bangkok, Thailand’s air. Enough to shutter schools. Then came along the Coronavirus and the Ministry of Education’s mandate regarding self-quarantine for travelers returning to Thailand from seven countries in the region. Imperfect timing for a scheduled February break. Regardless, the question posed incites much thought. Especially so, following a recent article shared in The Atlantic titled, “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.” The author James Hamblin introduces us to Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch. Hamblin quotes Professor Lipsitch as saying, “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.” Lipsitch predicts that 2020 will see 40-70 percent of people around the world become infected by COVID-19. This makes the prospect of the posed question even more profound. What if, really what if, schools are closed for a year? What might this mean?

    In one area of the world I worked, the powers that be, declared “Furlough Fridays.” In an effort to garner government dollars, teen pregnancy rose. Amongst middle school and elementary level students, I’d venture to guess that an increase in gaming shot up. So, in response to the question, largely it depends on where the school is and what the current system is. Not to mention the parameters already in place in the home, and the availability of technology. The “experiment” could go completely awry and students could become frozen to their computer screens. Or, I’d like to think this would positively shake things up. It could serve as a sort of revolution, empowering teachers and students alike. Again though, the successes or failures largely are dependent on policy and institutional decisions.

    Regardless, nothing ever will replace the physical presence of a teacher, a friend, a role model. Relationships are at the heart of education. However, rediscovering the heart of education, may benefit from a blip. One that forces us to be more effective in our use of technology. Hopefully also emboldening curiosity, creativity, problem-solving, and most of all the empowerment for students to be at the helm of their learning.

  • David Marcovitz said:

    Distance learning, when done properly, can be a big help here, but I have great concerns for those with less. As Kentaro Toyama says, technology is a jack, not a lever. That is, it widens the existing gaps. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe we need to think very carefully about how to make sure any solution doesn’t merely work for the well-off. Access (first-level digital divide) is going to be a big problem, but even giving everyone devices and Internet connections for use at home won’t solve the problem. Myriad second-level digital divide issues will crop up from lack of technology skills on the part of the children and parents, limited food at home, limited parental support (e.g., from parents who have to go to work), limited social capital, etc. It is possible to make distance learning a powerful tool, but technology’s history is one of widening gaps, not shrinking them.

    David M. Marcovitz, Ph.D.
    Loyola University Maryland
    Chair, Education Specialties Department
    Associate Professor of Educational Technology

  • Shawn said:

    I teach 7th Grade World History. I think this is where I would take it.

    I’d start with using Camtasia or Screencastify for direct instruction, but I also have the Michigan Open Textbooks in my Moodle course and some audiobooks linked in as well. Content is already in there, so I think the challenge is to turn the student into the content creator.

    In Moodle I can have students record both video and audio that can be shared with a group or the whole class. I can set up forums for discussion, but at the same time have them begin to create their own questions to ask and answer. I can also change the roles in an assignment where they are the ones creating the content and assessments for each other and raise the level of thinking.

    By the same token, I hope we don’t have to go to that, but I’m not far from being ready if I have to. Just need more dedicated time to create all the things I envision for what the course could be.

  • Lorne Brandt said:

    I am an IB Visual Arts teacher currently self-isolating in Qingdao, China. I have been teaching for 19 years, including several schools in China and two large public schools in South Carolina. I’ve long been an advocate for blended learning. These experiences were helpful for the eLearning that I am leading now, but they were not enough.

    I teach both Chinese citizens and international students. This outbreak occurred during our Chinese New Year holiday leaving many students and faculty in various time zones around the world. One student is located in Daegu, S. Korea. I have not left my current studio since arriving in China nine days ago. My students say they have not left their apartments in four weeks. Ancillary eLearning (and eTeaching) and eLearning out of necessity are two very different challenges. I’ve summed up my observations below and offer my prediction for if this continues longer than a year.

    Adoption –
    The first two weeks were a big-bang approach to adopting new systems for delivering and learning — by both the teacher and students. My school is very lucky in that we already had the basic infrastructure thanks to ManageBac and Office 365 suite. I do not know how other schools would have implemented software with students without having this groundwork in place. However, teachers began searching and utilizing many different online platforms. While this was very good for the individual teacher needs, the end-users — the students — were forced to adopt way too many. This resulted in many of the high-achieving students feeling overwhelmed and the lower-achieving students quitting. The teachers have since limited the number of channels.

    Rigor –
    Teachers rose to the challenge. Students were getting daily video lessons, online quizzes, and homework. Teachers started sharing their personal WeChat accounts, quickly answering emails, and utilizing online classroom chats. With all of these being readily available 24/7, students had no excuse not to complete the assignments. Accept, the assignments were too difficult. Once again, high-achieving students felt overwhelmed and the lower-achieving students quit.

    Discipline –
    The problems with a lack of self-discipline in the classroom did not disappear once going online. Most of these students simply did not submit lessons and ‘ghosted’ the teacher. No real surprises. Again, though, a greater divide resulted in the students.

    Quality –
    The quality of teaching improved. This is definitely going to vary based on subject and the part of the curriculum. The lessons I am teaching relate to more research and analyzing artworks. The slides submitted have been very good. Unfortunately, this is not an indicator of the future quality because we will need to get back into the studio and have hands-on, face-to-face experience with the art supplies. I imagine this would also be true for other studio and lab classes as well. In short, eLearning quality will expire in few weeks provided I do not change the curriculum and goals of the courses.

    Biorhythms –
    I’m not an expert at this term, but it seems very appropriate. As mentioned, students have access to the material and communication 24 hours, seven days a week in many different time zones. Students and teachers are losing a sense of time. While the lessons are delivered during regular class times, submissions and communication occurs at all hours. Saturdays become Mondays, 3 a.m. becomes noon. While this may work for a week or two, this is seemingly affecting all living routines, especially including emotional. Students and teacher are reporting sadness, isolation and lack of down-time.

    With all of these factors in mind and considering the question of what “What would happen to our global and local educational systems, if the Coronavirus outbreak lasted for a year?”, I believe it would be very, very challenging for all. Firstly, I predict a growing divide between low-achieving and high-achieving students. This will probably be mirrored by teachers. Excuses with technology become very acceptable reasons to not meet expectations. Students and teachers who excel in the classroom will excel with eLearning leaving those who need additional help way behind or lost. Long term eLearning will cater towards traditional academics leaving studio and lab classes helpless. Lastly and sadly, students and teachers will not be able to handle the emotional, intellectual, and (lack of) physical changes. eLearning is great! However, it is not meant to substitute for physical learning over several months. I don’t think it is by chance that most eLearning courses last less than three months.

  • Sorry We’re Closed | Fail Better said:

    […] response to Dr. Yong Zhao’s thought-experiment: “What If Schools Are Closed for More than a Year Due to the New Coronavirus (COVID-19)?”, I […]

  • Michael Maser said:

    Thanks for your very provocative question, Yong!

    Clearly, the virus outbreak is a ‘disruptive’ event, and we-educators are at the beginning of an unknown future, a dim path that we must peer into and consider “what if” scenarios. It is a time that is characterized as fearful for many, yet it is also a time to question assumptions and breach fortified conceptions about education, and also let loose our unfettered imaginations and brainstorm new possible learning futures.

    I have no problem doing this, I’ve been in alternate education for 30 years, and that’s where I and many other innovative educators dwell, I can confirm. We know learning happens in much broader ways than the ‘education industry’ would have us believe: that it is best represented by test scores, letter grades, standardized outcomes, and authoritarian agents. We know this is just not true, nor has it ever been.

    Our human birthright is to learn, uniquely, and we do so from “womb to tomb” as neuroscience now acknowledges. To rephrase this, learning is lifelong, and universal. It is shaped by emotional (affective) events, primed by interest and environmental (epigenetic) events, and it may be inspired or constrained by the same. Accordingly, if we were designing a ‘system’ to leverage this birthright, it is highly unlikely we would conceptualize the main characteristics of the present K-12 or post-secondary education system. That would be highly counter-intuitive, yes, unless you had an ulterior motive (I’ll leave that for speculators to consider).

    In my career (I’m now a PhD student researching personalized learning at Simon Fraser University, Canada) I have co-founded and run two innovative independent schools founded on the praxis of enfranchising students (AKA ‘learners’) with the authority to choose their own learning paths, reflecting their passions and interests. The most recent iteration of this – SelfDesign Learning Community – is a government-funded, online (distributed) program in which children and youth craft and follow their own (unique) learning plans with support from SelfDesign ‘learning consultants’ (all certified teachers). These learners work from home (as do the educators), receive much support from their parents, leverage resources and mentors throughout their communities and via the internet, and I can confirm their learning lives are rich.

    This model of home-community-internet-based learning is highly adaptable and accessible to many if not most North American children and youth. That said, it is not a panacea, nor would it be without significant challenges. But the basis for success exists and may be perceived by considering new conceptualizations of learning, and recognizing the successes that already may be attributed to such learning practices as I’ve described here.

    – Michael Maser
    Dreaming Dragon Consulting
    BC Canada

  • Terry Linton said:

    Should schools remain closed for a year, there may be significant changes in how education is delivered.

    Differentiation within courses offered at conventional schools will start resembling differentiation currently existing in virtually provided courses, what this may mean, more asynchronous lessons, more course options, more massive classes, and more small-group and individual tutoring. Teachers capable of improving student performance, whether offering massive classes or bespoke tutoring, will be highly sought after and demand significant remuneration. The long-term implications, we will require fewer teachers to deliver conventional courses and more to provide bespoke individualized instruction. Teachers will continually readjust and reinvent themselves, finding new ways of remaining relevant and adding value to this evolving and volatile ecosystem. An increase in demand of teacher training and how traditional teacher training takes place is expected as the delivery of blended learning requires additional skills.

    Expect that students are exposed to more choices. Schools will need to think about how they award diplomas or degrees. What constitutes a credit, and who are the accrediting bodies? Students will have more choice and be able to take classes more suited to their interests and may increase overall engagement for a group of students. As a result, the “batching” of students by age group may start to unravel as students are able to work at their own pace and, in many cases, in large MOOC style lessons.

    Universities and tertiary education will need to prepare for younger and younger students entering their system as those unfettered by traditional schooling may have accelerated timelines.

    Early adopters of virtual education will have an advantage in the short-term, as they have modeled themselves after conventional bricks and mortar schools. Start-ups, facing low barriers to entry, will challenge the norms of conventional on-line education igniting a new “gold rush” to tap into this massive market leading to confusion. Students will require extensive counselling to navigate the choices in the marketplace and schools and universities will need to think about transcripts.

    The purpose of education itself will shift as students’ motivation to learn will vary depending on where they are, what is available to them, and what is deemed important by their communities. Learning artifacts and experiences will need to change as formative assessment and summative assessment take on different purposes and dimensions. Academic honesty becomes much more challenging to gauge in an online environment. Therefore assessment needs to change to reflect this.

    Social aspects of learning need to be rethought, with virtual learning spaces and avatars filling the natural human tendency to connect and share. Collaboration in virtual environments will create opportunities for learning in new ways resulting in a need to carefully re-think how learners are supported and cared for.

    Other aspects of schools being closed for a year include a shift within the nuclear household and financial inequities. Children will need caregivers at home capable of effectively supporting home learning, putting significant pressure on home-life. Financially, some families will prosper while others suffer, at least in this short term. This may mean user-paid online technologies not being equally available to all learners.

    Additional shifts will take place in how schools are managed and organized. Top down hierarchies will face additional pressure as teachers and parents develop additional autonomy under the shifting paradigms. The changes in many instances will be driven by market forces with public education needing to be flexible in how they deliver their programs. Everyone needs to adjust and adapt within the VUCA framework as education continues to evolve in these rapidly changing times.

    John D’Arcy
    Superintendent of Schools
    Beanstalk International Education Group
    Beijing, China

    Terry Linton
    Curriculum Director
    Beanstalk International Education Group
    Beijing, China

  • Lottie Dowling said:

    If Covid-19 demands school closures for a long period of time, which is looking increasingly likely, it will provide opportunities for three key areas to be addressed by education systems, educators and parents.

    1. Digital Citizenship;
    2. Online Collaboration and;
    3. Different pedagogical approaches.

    Digital Citizenship: With the shift online, students will require a range of related skills; research skills, fact checking, differentiating fact from opinion, spotting ‘fake news’; etc, all in a somewhat unsupervised environment. The PISA results last year showed us that only 9% of 15 year olds can differentiate fact from opinion, showing us there is a huge amount of work to be done in this area.

    Online Collaboration: Teachers will be setting a range of tasks during this period, that range from independent work to online tasks, including some collaborative tasks, which are far more engaging and productive than independent work for many students. Group research or projects need online collaboration related skills, starting off in their ‘local’ environment/s (with peers) but could also include global opportunities through connecting with others on global collaboration type projects; such as IEarn offer.

    Pedagogical Approaches: With the school day structure no longer in place, students will be scheduling learning tasks to suit their own home environments, with flexibility being key. This provides opportunities for personalized pedagogies, such as Inquiry Based Learning or Project Based Learning, which have a wide range of benefits.

    These three opportunities undoubtedly bring many challenges but can also bring many benefits if educators choose to embrace them and are supported with the inevitably needed professional development.

    Parents will also need guidance, resources and support to be able to effectively help their children’s online learning at home.

    It is certain that Covid-19 will change the way many educators, students and parents see education forever. Many of these changes have been those that have been long talked about e.g. digital citizenship, but undoubtedly, there will be consequences that no one has yet imagined.

    Lottie Dowling

  • Janos Setenyi said:

    Good question and refreshing ideas. Compulsory and school-based education (even for the homeschooling rich) however was created for very earthly and pragmatic reasons. Protestants wanted to create a community of knowledge, absolutist monarchies were competing in the area of economy and war, Catholic church as an ideological competitor had to be pushed away. Later on communist countries wanted to catch up with Western modernity.
    In the case of London, compulsory school education was introduced when street kids have burnt the city third time. (Their parents had to work in the newly built factories and children have played in gangs on the streets).
    In other words, apart from their noble pedagogical functions (mostly teaching, less learning) modern schools are child-parking and catering institutions. After the virus, human masses will flow back to the economy and the children got to go to school….
    If we would like to find the most exciting and fertile challenges of learning, see the two ectreme poles of the society, the homeschoolers and the unschoolers.

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