How Are the Children? Schooling During an Outbreak

    31 March 2020

    The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says school closings have affected the education of more than 80 percent of students worldwide.

    Robert Jenkins is the organization's Global Chief of Education. He said, "Based on lessons learned with the school closures in response to Ebola, the longer children stay away from school, the less likely they are to ever return."

    Ebola is a highly infectious virus that has affected areas in Africa periodically over more than 40 years. The coronavirus crisis has spread to at least 175 countries affecting children around the world.

    UNICEF says it is aiding 145 low- and middle-income countries with tools and money to help children continue their learning.

    In this March 19, 2020, photo, a PE teacher demonstrates a badminton technique to his students during an online class at Nguyen Tat Thanh school in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
    In this March 19, 2020, photo, a PE teacher demonstrates a badminton technique to his students during an online class at Nguyen Tat Thanh school in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)

    In the United States, most of the schools that closed their doors because of the COVID-19 outbreak said the closings would be temporary. But health officials warned that Americans may need to keep schools closed for many months.

    Jon Pederson is dean of the University of South Carolina College of Education. He answered some questions about how this might affect the education of millions of children on the website The Conversation.

    Will students learn anything while schools are closed?

    Educators will have to find ways to help students want to learn. If a lesson plan does not excite students at school, then the lesson plan really will not work at home.

    Teachers will have to be more creative and resourceful while classes are suspended. For example, in the U.S., they can take students on virtual classroom field trips to places like the National Aquarium in Baltimore. They can see everything from wild bears in Alaska to classical music concerts through the Virtual School Activities website. Students can learn how to carry out science experiments at Fun Learning for Kids. In addition, the New York Public Library has more than 300,000 books that students can download for free.

    Students with special needs can use Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.

    Will students have to repeat a grade or not graduate as expected?

    We do not know how long this crisis will last. The federal government has permitted states to cancel required standardized tests for the school year.

    States and schools will have to decide if students should move on to the next grade or graduate. Not sending students to the next grade or not graduating seniors would affect all public schools, colleges and universities. It would also affect families and the workforce.

    When could lost time be made up?

    There are measures that states and schools could take. For example, some schools could move to year-round schooling, extend their current or upcoming academic year, or lengthen school days and cancel some holidays.

    In places like El Paso, Texas; Romeoville, Illinois; and Bardstown, Kentucky, some schools already operate all year or had longer school years after hurricanes, floods or other disasters.

    Whatever school leaders decide to do, it is going to cost more money. And it is not clear how officials will be able to pay for the new measures.

    What good news is there?

    Pederson believes that states, schools and teachers have to deal with problems quickly. Their action has reduced the possibility that extreme measures will be needed and that the education system will not fall behind.

    He noted the example of one of the teachers he works with. He said professor Gloria Boutte always starts meetings with a traditional Masai greeting: "How are the children?"

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Hai Do adapted this article for VOA Learning English based on information from UNICEF and the Conversation under Creative Commons license. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    response –n. something done in reaction to something else

    outbreak –n. the sudden start of the spread of disease or fighting

    virtual –adj. taking place on the internet through computers

    standardized test –n. a test that is given to all students in the same way and under the same conditions

    graduating –adj. to receive a degree proving that a student has met all educational requirements to receive the honor

    academic –adj. related to schooling, especially higher education