Schools went through a major overhaul in the wake of Covid. Students were forced to learn from home. Educators had to adapt their lesson plans to the digital space overnight. School districts had to redefine the very idea of “attendance.”
Several years out now, the worst of the pandemic is well behind us. However, the state of education remains unclear. What role will digital technology play in learning? And what other factors are shaping the way children will be educated going forward?
In this article, we give a sweeping educational overview of what is happening today, and what goals educators have for the future.
Schools have been taking data since before it was popular. Historically, this was done manually, through tests, quizzes, homework assignments, etc. It may even have included more abstract metrics, like behaviour.
This information was taken by educators who were more than capable of conducting student assessments, but not necessarily trained to work with data at a modern scale.
Classroom data taking is changing thanks to several factors:
- Advanced analytic technology is more accessible than ever: The SaaS industry (subscription software) makes it easier to afford digital solutions. Rather than buying software, you rent it at a modest monthly price (think Netflix).
- Educator training is different: Teachers and administrators are also being educated to take data into account in more sophisticated ways than they used to be. This is largely in response to the digitalisation of the classroom.
- Everything takes data now: And, because so much school work is done digitally, it is easier to get extremely granular metrics on every aspect of the child’s learning. This can improve the way struggling students are taught while also making it easier for entire school districts to see how they are performing relative to the larger area.
There are barriers to greater data implementation. Budget is certainly one of them. While this technology is more affordable than it used to be, few and far between are the school districts that can completely overhaul their digital infrastructure overnight.
There is also an “old guard,” effect. While newer teachers are coming out of school with big ideas about data, they represent a relatively small portion of the population. The average teacher age hovers between 40-50, and almost half of all new teachers quit within five years of starting, making intergenerational progress slow and elusive.
While remote learning worked out well for some people, there were gaps through which many students fell. Things like:
- Home environment: Children with a stay-at-home parent or grandparent were well equipped to succeed during remote instruction. But how do guardians who are out of the house all day ensure that their child has an appropriate learning environment at home?
- Access to digital technology: The “digital divide,” refers to an opportunity gulf between people who have access to digital technology, and those who do not. While the majority of American households have access to WIFI, 15% percent do not, and many more have partial, or low-quality connections. Sustained remote learning is almost impossible for these families.
- Assessments: It is, of course, possible to assess learning online. However, most teachers agree that it is a different experience. In person, you can pick up on smaller context clues. Where does a child pause during deliberation? Are they focused, or do they seem distracted by something?
But while remote instruction had its flaws, it appears set to remain a staple of the modern educational environment. Schools are now using e-learning as a way to remain more flexible. Snow days, boil orders, viral outbreaks, etc. can all be handled by pivoting into remote learning solutions.
It remains unclear if this is for the best. On the one hand, it makes it easier for schools to fulfill their obligations. Remote days ensure that unforeseen circumstances won’t keep everyone in session until late July.
On the other hand, they can be riskier for students who don’t have access to ideal learning environments at home. For better or worse, however, it looks like e-learning is here to stay.
The College Diversity Gap
Understanding the college diversity gap is a little bit tricky. As it currently stands, roughly 42% of college students are white, 18% are Hispanic, 11% are African American, 6% are Asian, 1% are Native American, and the rest fall into a mixed background.
This immediately reads really bad. However, the racial breakdown isn’t radically different from representative population demographics within the country. For example, African Americans make up almost 14% percent of the population.
Ideally, then, they would account for approximately 14% of college students as well. The same is true of all other minority groups within the United States. The enrollment gap hovers at around 3-5% based on overall population representation.
The greater divide is within higher learning instruction and administration. Almost three-fourths of college instructors are white.
While many reasons account for the diversity gap, this might be one of them. People are less likely to enroll in college when they don’t see themselves reflected on campus. Other ways to improve diversity include:
- Greater language sensitivity: Are school communications sensitive and respectful of all groups? It’s easier than one would at first assume to include language that is harmful to certain groups.
- Who is featured in university advertisements? School ads should feature students from a wide range of different groups, allowing everyone to see themselves represented.
- Scholarship opportunities: It is also important to provide specialised scholarships and grant opportunities for people who might otherwise be at a higher risk of not attending college. This includes not just minorities, but also people with disabilities, or first-generation college students. Specialised grants and scholarships are less competitive (due to the smaller number of eligible applicants) making it easier to evenly distribute resources.
While increasing campus diversity is not easy, it’s worth noting that progress has been steady. Universities are significantly more diverse than they were twenty years ago, and daily efforts are made to further bridge the enrollment gap.