Education Disrupted: Can Previous Research and Policy Contribute to Reopening of Schools?

The learning curve has been steep for everyone in the past three months. Policymakers, practitioners, students, and their families struggle to respond to a rapid shift in the paradigm of schooling caused by the spread of the novel corona virus. UNCESCO published a time lapse graph of school closures showing over 91% of learners, 193 countries, and nearly 1.6 billion learners affected worldwide. Scroll down this link to find your place in the common experience of education disrupted:

Despite physical distancing constraints imposed by the COVID-19 disease, education agencies will work to reopen schools using a variety of strategies to keep students and staff safe and to ensure the continuation of good learning. As a researcher one task is to look at previous literature to inform this planning and contribute to the way forward. To that end, a recent research dive by Wayfind Education along with design industry partner, LPA, asked the question, what lessons can we glean from past research and policy about infectious diseases in the school environment?

Here is the short answer. Past research conclusions cannot be extrapolated as sure solutions in the reopening of our schools. Why? Because the spread of COVID-19 may not be the same as other outbreaks. While research and statistical modelling studies exist based on past virus outbreaks (e.g., SARS, MERS, H1N1), scientists are still trying to understand the transmission of COVID-19 within the population of school-age children. Furthermore, past policy guidelines might also be based on propagation dynamics that assumes the disease is more driven by children in schools than in other ages or groupings, which may or may not be the case with COVID-19.

Past policy guidelines are also problematic in terms of availability. A 2018 review of state-level school pandemic guidelines in the United States found that half the states either did not have readily accessible on-line information or the guidance was limited to recommending the cancellation of non-academic activities.

Finally, while pre-print studies specific to COVID-19 are now in the publishing pipeline, unfortunately, these initial studies do not disaggregate school closures or other alternative school strategies from overall community-based physical distancing measures.

So, where does this leave learning communities as they plan for the re-opening of schools? Education organizations can look to past research and policy guidelines to help frame the discussion rather than to outline specific actions. Furthermore, regional efforts can carry the planning load, work to develop flexible solutions in the local context, and then share the broader understanding.

For resources, a planning webinar on May 15, 2020, and cross-school workshops on physically re-opening schools follow this link to Stanford’s K12Lab:

Sadly, this will not be the only pandemic; strategies developed and refined today will help frame discussions tomorrow. In other words, in this time of worldwide pandemic, the local learning may best serve future global solutions.




Image source:  UNESCO
(c) 2020 Wayfind Education