The Pandemic Shows Signs Of Ebbing. More than 200 million Americans have been vaccinated and, despite continuing spikes in countries such as India and Brazil, the world looks forward to a new life that approaches some semblance of normalcy.
Educational institutions have shared this cautious optimism. The prevalence of college and high school commencement exercises symbolizes the academic world’s emergence from the constraints of the pandemic. After having been thrust into virtual instruction over 15 months ago, educators at all levels have acknowledged a paradigmatic shift in pedagogy that will not disappear once normalcy returns in earnest.
With the positive winds of change emerging as the pandemic loosens its grip, a critical question remains: Will American education return to a “business as usual” mindset focused on traditional, instructional norms or adopt innovative methodologies that broaden its reach and enhance its effectiveness?
This fundamental question represents both an opportunity and challenge. Periodicals such as the Chronicle of Higher Education and the National Teacher Education Journal are replete with articles espousing the pedagogical changes imposed by the pandemic and the commensurate need to invest strategically as educators and administrators envision a post-pandemic structure.
Every level of education, whether primary, secondary or higher, faced significant obstacles during the pandemic. Thrust into a virtual reality once Covid-19 spread rapidly, educators experienced difficulties in providing uniformly high-quality education to those of disparate means. Included in this challenge has been addressing the needs of students who have difficulty learning in a virtual space and others who lack the resources to engage with online instruction.
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Costs remained a ubiquitous challenge. Most educational institutions, already strained by shrinking investments, lacked the financial resources to cope with the sudden shift to online instruction. Higher education in particular suffered significant financial losses. Vacant dormitories and other facilities on their campuses contributed to shortfalls totaling in the millions of dollars. The prospect of improvement in the short term looked bleak with legislatures, which had been reducing allocations to education, experiencing depleted revenues as a result of the pandemic.
Challenges notwithstanding, many in higher education maintain the importance of in-person instruction as a foundation for holistic education. Belief in this postulate is evident at universities across the country, with many adopting protocols to ensure a safe, on-campus experience this fall. Some institutions have gone so far as to require students to be vaccinated if they return to campus. For example, Rutgers University of New Jersey has already issued such a mandate and other universities have signaled a willingness to follow suit.
With the sunset of the pandemic, educators now perceive that education in a post-pandemic world must amalgamate the advantages of online instruction with important pedagogical goals associated with in-person teaching. The market will likely compel such a change. In a May 10, 2021 article in the New York Times, Dana Goldstein confirms that some students and their parents prefer a hybrid, instructional approach that accommodates the needs of those who seek much-needed supplemental employment while pursuing their education.
Hybrid pedagogy has rapidly become a 21st-century imperative. Educators now understand that in-person teaching, which provides opportunities for holistic learning from social interaction, must be maintained and supplemented with online instruction, which provides heightened flexibility. An administrator at a major institution of higher learning once stated, “We must ensure that students have an on-campus experience enhanced by a facility with technology.” This goal has now become a rallying cry for administrators at every educational level.
As Ms. Towana Pierre-Floyd, principal at Frederick A. Douglass High School in New Orleans, LA, shared with Dana Goldstein of The New York Times, “ A lot of families have built life structures around their Covid reality. “[The challenge now is to] come out of crisis mode and … and think about the future again.” If educators nationwide heed Ms. Pierre-Ford’s advice, students will benefit from an educational experience that not only educates both holistically and flexibly but also prepares them as citizens to engage with a rapidly changing and diverse world.