COVID-19, can it be the catalyst for change in education? Since the introduction of common- core standards, we have not seen our communities' level of engagement this high regarding education. Regarding equality. And dare I say equity? COVID-19 has exposed our need to create systems where we can provide continuity in education during a pandemic and post-pandemic. COVID-19 will force us to establish new norms in teaching, so every child in every district has access to education that meets them where they are academically, geographically, and ﬁnancially. The decision to change our education system will not be a choice or an option; COVID-19 has given us the directive. We need to examine our educational systems, from instructional technology to our day to day operations in our buildings, to ensure our students and staﬀ are provided access and opportunities to learn and engage.
As schools began to evaluate these systems, we will ﬁnd opportunities to explore new pedagogy in teaching and learning. When I see my kids learning from home, I see a new vision of education that seeks 21st-century skill sets rooted in a real 21st-century classroom environment. For years, many businesses have oﬀered options to their employees to work from home. If we can work from home, then why not learn from home? Think about the number of solutions we instantly create by having this option available for our students, especially those that are the most vulnerable. Imagine going to school and not have people stare at you because you look diﬀerent. Imagine a learning space free of social prejudice that has created barriers for so many kids. And how about letting teachers tap into their creativity as educators. Many educators will recall their teaching certiﬁcation had the language “to practice the art of teaching.” We can start working towards making teaching an art, where teachers are not limited by constraints outlined in the traditional educational model. We have the catalyst in COVD-19 to create opportunities where opportunities do not exist for our students. For families in rural parts of America, they lack access to digital tools for learning due to limited access to high- speed internet. Many families have access to one internet service provider and only DSL or satellite internet connection. These families needed a school setting where their child has the same opportunity to access quality education as kids in school districts with an abundance of resources.
When I started school in America in 1983, I remember walking into a classroom where I had my own desk, my own books, my own pencils, and on and on. The classroom had heating and lights that can be turned on and oﬀ. This was my opportunity to access high-quality education, just like any other student in the school. It did not matter that my family was poor. I was beside myself when I saw all this. Why? Because in India, nothing is given to you to learn. There is no equity, let alone equality. It was survival of the ﬁttest. Here we are in 2020, struggling to meet our students' basic needs while our expectations are nowhere near to being called equitable. Why does access to quality highspeed internet feel like a privilege for the wealthy? Access to high-speed internet is no diﬀerent from issuing textbooks to every child. As educators, our time is now to make the most signiﬁcant impact on our education system in decades. The time is now to create opportunities and not be limited in how we choose to educate our students.
I worked at a charter school where students from all over Pennsylvania could enroll at the school. 21st Century Cyber Charter school has been providing state of the art technology with the ﬂexibility to access quality curriculum where learning can occur anytime, anywhere, using a computer and/or an iPad. Students can learn irrespective of their environmental space and achieve the highest academic level while pursuing their dreams of being an actor or an athlete. In 1999 British renowned educational theorist, Sugata Mitra proved that children could learn how to access information if the resources are in place. Children living in India's most impoverished regions were learning how to use technology in the most unorthodox manner. Through his experiment, we have learned that learning can occur when barriers are removed, and access to education is equitable. We can create new learning models where every child is made to feel they are always in the front row. Gone are the practices of the past, such as snow days and truancy. As educators, we need to embrace this opportunity and challenge the conventional wisdom that constraint our students from capturing their fullest potential. In our attempt to ship our instructional paradigm, we will face many challenges and failures. Change is never easy, but it is the only constant that will continue to face as educators. As Tom Murray, author of Personal & Authentic, frequently says, " The work is hard. But our kids are worth it. “
Our students, more than ever, are asking our educational leaders to capitalize on the opportunities created by COVID-19 and not view it has a setback. We can make changes if we are willing to commit without yielding to our fears of failing. Dismissing opportunities because of fear is not what leadership is about. It is during these times that we will be tested in our ability to lead. There are no playbooks that can guide us, only our experience and desire to create opportunities to provide the highest quality of education for all students.
The Upper Dublin School District is located in Upper Dublin Township in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The district comprises four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. It serves students in grades K-12.