Is Our Economic Recovery Tied to Schools Online?

By MacKay Jimeson

April 16, 2020

In the wake of the coronavirus, we have to be flexible.

And while public health should remain a top priority, focusing on our schools is equally vital. 

In order to restore the economy—to return to a version of normal—schools must excel at teaching children in a virtual setting. They must have the software and devices needed to facilitate distance learning. Education is aways an economic imperative, but it may never have been as important to the near term goals of businesses as it is now.

How the Coronavirus Has Transformed the Educational Landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a striking amount of change to our country’s public schools. Children, as a result of the global health crisis, are at home with their families. Schools nationwide have shut their doors.

It happened quickly, and some would argue, unexpectedly. It happened in a matter of weeks for many. For some it was a matter of days.

By March 27, all public schools in the United States had shuttered their campuses. Among them, 42 percent began offering remote education, with an additional 30 percent in the planning stages of their virtual education curriculum.  

The learning curve (pun intended) has been steep where these changes are concerned. Some school systems adapted better than others. 

My children are fortunate. Our school system has been phenomenal. It saddens me to hear from family and friends around the country that their experiences vary dramatically.

The Challenges of Distance Learning

Admittedly, closing schools was a sound decision. But the challenges of distance learning run deep.

Teachers are forced to work overtime as they navigate an entirely new way to deliver instruction. Parents, meanwhile, have suddenly found themselves juggling multiple roles during their workday: parent, teaching assistant, and employee. While balancing Zoom conference calls and firing off work emails, they are also making sure their children are comfortable and cared for—and that they can navigate the online education platforms instructors have rolled out in a very short time. For those out of work the pressure may be even greater. 

Students too are facing difficulties. One report found that middle and high schoolers are adapting much more seamlessly to distance learning than their younger counterparts, as elementary school students are typically less tech-savvy.

Even though my school system has been fantastic, my kindergartener will always require substantial hands-on support.

In addition, there are socioeconomic implications involved in the rapid transition to virtual classrooms. The American Community Survey reported in 2016 that 89 percent of U.S. households owned a computer, and that 82 percent of U.S. households had internet access. 

And while school districts are doing what they can to ensure students have the devices they need, many are still working on plans to source laptops and tablets. California’s Sacramento City Unified School District, for instance, has over 40,000 students enrolled in its schools—of whom 19,000 still need Chromebooks.

Parents are concerned. Some students are forced to complete their assignments on borrowed smartphones. In turn, while learning from home, not all students have access to the meal services they require. 

A Call to Action for Employers: Support Your Public Schools

For companies to get back to business as usual, they must ensure their local schools are well-equipped to teach children in a virtual classroom. Making sure your public schools have access to the resources they need will be critical, in the coming months, to helping parents and communities recover from the pandemic. 

We are in a public health crisis, but ensuring our schools are effectively serving students is a foundational building block to our economic recovery.

I worked in the Florida Governor’s Office in 2004 during the emergency response to four major hurricanes. As we moved to the recovery phase a top priority was always to get schools up and running as soon as possible. It is an important stepping stone in the return to normalcy that serves both the student and parent. 

Hopefully this virtual environment is only a short term inconvenience.  Until we have a vaccine for COVID-19, however, our communities must be prepared to move online rapidly should there be a flare up or second outbreak.

Understandably, businesses under a lot of financial pressure. Though we have also seen so many companies step up in wonderful ways throughout this crisis. Businesses have repurposed themselves to serve patients, protect medical works and find creative ways to meet the needs of their customers. 

With that, I urge businesses to support local schools, particularly in low income and rural areas of the country. Each school system will have their own needs. Partnership could be donating old or unused computers, preparing meals, or creating learning tools. Just as we have seen with our health needs, perhaps some companies can find creative ways  to repurpose their businesses to help our schools.

It is a great act of charity and a helpful way to get our workforce back to work.