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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Showing Us What Education Needs to Be

There’s no test that could have prepared us for this. There’s no class. Not set of predetermined answers to study.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged, supervised, baffled, and scared even the brightest, most-educated, and most talented people on the planet. This unprecedented situation has very clearly and potently shown us what our education system needs to do to prepare individuals for the future, and it’s shown us what’s lacking.

The days of students memorizing facts, spending inordinate amounts of time on standardized tests, and operating within an outdated, industrial model needs to end.  It’s not a matter of opinion—it’s a matter of survival.

To face challenges like this pandemic in the future, we need to develop highly creative, collaborative, critical thinkers, who can quickly assess a situation and respond intelligently.

Starting from a young age, students must learn to respond to occasions not with borrowed information or pre-determined answers but from their own presence in the moment, their own creativity, their own consciousness, intuition, and insight. They must be able to draw upon what they know, but knowing that situations can constantly change, that life is never the same twice, apply that information to new contexts.

The 21st Century Skills advocated for students or the 4 Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication are as relevant and important as ever.   

You can see this in the medical field right now: the way doctors, scientists, nurses, and other healthcare workers are sharing information, including through digital databases in real time, collecting data, drawing conclusions, taking actions based on that information, coming up with creative solutions. This is what education must prepare young people to do.  

People not in the healthcare field, everyday citizens, have also had to think critically and creatively about the massive amount of information they are receiving. Traditional classroom instruction and textbooks could not ready them for the types of decisions they have to make regarding social distancing, caring for their health, financial decisions, etc. Often, they’ve had to rely on good old common sense, trusting their instincts, collaborating, and deciding what information to question, what to act on, and what to discard.

So what considerations might the pandemic raise for our current education system? The answer is many, but here are some that relate to curriculum and instruction:

  • How much time is spent emphasizing and developing in students 21st-century skills?
  • How often do classroom assignments and instruction mirror the types of real-world challenges students will face in the future?
  • What parts of the curriculum, including content, needs to be reexamined and perhaps discarded?
  • What can school administrators and teachers do to ensure that creativity does not get squashed in the classroom?
  • What types of simulations, projects, and assignments can be modeled after the pandemic experience? For example, might students work in teams, using real-time data and technology, to solve global problems?

These are some of the lessons that COVID-19 has taught us, whether we were ready to absorb them or not. We don’t know the types of future challenges and problems that students will have to face and solve. The best we can do is try to prepare them to be highly creative, critical thinking, collaborative individuals who develop their talents and potential to the utmost.