9 Impact of COVID-19 on K-12 Students

Susan Taylor

Introduction

The novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 took the world by surprise. The United States was not prepared for this pandemic in any aspects and now people are suffering greatly. What at first seemed like a far off disease turned into a global pandemic within a few months and completely changed how our society functioned. One of the areas that was greatly affected was the K-12 educational system. Students around the country are suffering from learning loss, inadequate teaching methods, inability to keep up with online technology while also dealing with many other pandemic related stresses. These developments could have major consequences for students. They are extremely concerning because education is the basis of our society.

Connection to STS Theory

The pandemic will have major consequences for students in the future. This is an example of Path-dependency. The Path-dependency theory occurs when past events affect future outcomes. The negative effects that COVID-19 has had on education could impact students for many years to come. The loss of learning that the pandemic has caused students could lead to a decrease in wages they earn in the future, a lower national GDP, and also make it harder for students to find jobs. Students who are affected by COVID-19 could have a worsened mental health, both in the present day and in the future because they are constantly surrounded by new stressors.

The New Aspect of Technology

Mask, student, corona, student, covid-19, class, virus
This image shows the new environment students must learn in. They do their school work online while abiding by mask and social distancing guidelines.

We live in a society where technology is prevalent and commonly used in our everyday lives. However, the education system is in many aspects lagging behind in technology use. Many schools around the country have integrated online technology into their standards or have at least some devices for students to use. But at the same time, many schools do not have the resources to do so. When COVID-19 first hit in spring 2020 schools were taken by surprise and closed. Students received little to no education for the rest of the semester and technology was partially to blame.

Many students do not have the necessary technology needed to survive in this new hybrid and online teaching environment. In a study conducted by EdWeek in May of 2020, only around 59% of schools (elementary to high) surveyed had 1 to 1 student to computer ratios (Bushweller). This is an alarmingly low percentage considering schools went virtual for almost all of the spring 2020 semester. Many students have to share devices with family, friends and siblings, and completing school work can be a huge challenge for them. Large numbers of students also do not have access to quality internet at home. Even if they did have a device at home it would be impossible to complete online work. Minority students are more likely to struggle with these new teaching methods than other groups. Many of them do not have a device to complete school work, have to share devices with others or do not have internet connection at their homes. Minority students are also more likely to go to underfunded public schools that can not afford to supply students with devices.

Online learning requires not only the availability of technology, but also the knowledge of how to use it. Students who usually learned with a traditional teaching method might have never had practice using online technology in their school work. They may have used the technology mainly for games or social activities. Without the prior practice and knowledge of how to use their devices in learning, students might find them practically useless (García & Wiess).

Education Loss

It is completely normal for students to have a slight learning loss during the summer or long breaks, but the situation with COVID-19 is much different. Students not only have loss from summer break, they also missed many months of educational time during the spring and possibly parts of the fall semesters. This loss needs to be factored in their learning as well. Teaching methods that differ from the traditional ways are expected to grow the already large learning gap even more.

Hybrid and online learning methods are much different than the usual way most students are taught. Students were also thrown into these forms of teaching by surprise in the spring of 2020, resulting in many negative effects on their learning. A study done at Fresno State explains just how bad the learning loss gap will be for students in these new situations. Students who experience average remote learning will lose about 3-4 months of learning. Low quality remote learning will account for about 7-11 months of learning loss and no instruction at all would result in 12-14 months of lost learning (Dorn et al.). This time during a student’s life is crucial for building fundamental knowledge that will aid them for the rest of their lives, and this loss is devastating.

The consequences for minority students will be even worse. There is already an educational gap between minority and white students. COVID-19 will likely make it grow larger. Minority students are less likely to have outside resources to support their learning compared to students of higher socioeconomic status because such resources can be very pricey. Parents of minority students are also more likely to work laboring jobs that have long hours, so it is difficult for them to receive extra help outside of the classroom. It is also less likely that these students will have a quiet place to work, without distractions (Fox).

Learning Loss equals Earning Loss

This time during a student’s life is crucial for building fundamental knowledge that will aid them for the rest of their lives so this loss is devastating.The loss of education now can lead to a big economic impact in the future. It is estimated that students could lose anywhere from $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings just from COVID-19 effects so far. When you factor in the current overall dropout rate the average lifetime earning loss goes to about $2.2 billion (Dorn). Student dropout rate is higher than ever due to the pandemic and this will lead to a decades long problem for the U.S. and its citizens. There would be a never ending cycle between loss of education and loss of earning.

America’s GDP is nowhere near as high as it could be due to educational gaps between white and minority students. Less education usually means less pay, even in a society without the Coronavirus. Now that COVID-19 is a factor that is affecting the economy, there will be even bigger blows. The loss or lack of education now will lead to an even greater drop in the country’s GDP. This is a problem because the overall wealth of our country and its citizens will decrease.

With the decrease in effectiveness of teaching methods we are creating a less educated society. If this continues then students will not be prepared for their next years of school and their careers that come afterwards. Not only are they losing the teachable aspect of education, they are also missing out on the independently learned side of it as well. K-12 years are crucial for students to learn about problem solving, respect, teamwork and so many more aspects that lead to a successful, sociable person. Many jobs look for these key qualities when hiring employees, but with the loss in learning caused by COVID-19 students with competence in them will be lacking in the future. This could cause many students to not find good jobs or have decreased pay. This development will hurt not only students, but the country as a whole and make it function less effectively.

Pandemic Related Stress

Pandemics are an extremely stressful time for everyone and it is even worse on children, especially students. Pretty much every aspect of a student’s life has been stripped away from them; school, sports, clubs, friends and much more. During this time of unknowing there are so many factors that children have to worry about. These stresses, in turn, will affect their ability to retain information and learn.

Not only do children have to worry about school work and how to teach themselves. They also have many other anxieties during this time as well. Students worry about the Coronavirus and whether they, their friends, families will get this new illness. Sickness can play a huge role in a child’s ability to learn because there is a constant fear and the virus is always being talked about. COVID-19 is also new and everything about it seems uncertain. Sickness is not the only things children have to worry about when it comes to the pandemic, but it is a major factor that can affect their mental status and ability to learn.

This sick girl represents the millions of people around the world that have fallen ill due to COVID-19. Sickness is a big stressor that can play huge roles in a child’s ability to learn.

Financial problems play a huge role in a student’s life as well. So many people have lost their jobs during this time due to sickness, quarantine, and economic decline. If their family is greatly struggling students may have to put their education on hold and work in order to help the family. Financial problems can also change a student’s entire way of life, which can be a huge adjustment and make school work seem less important.

Social isolation and being away from peers greatly affects a child’s mental health, which respectively, will affect their ability to learn and retain knowledge. Humans are social creatures meant to be around others, but when the pandemic hit students were separated from their peers for months on end. This increases the chance of mental illnesses in students as well as other problems with their ability to interact socially. Chronic stress changes the chemical and physical structure of the brain, impairing cognitive skills like attention, concentration, memory, and creativity (Terada).

Schools account for a majority of mental health services for children so a lot of damage will come from closures. Most children come to their schools for help with mental health and safety issues. Taking away this resource or making it less available could greatly impede a student’s ability to learn and work through personal problems. School is also a safe place for many students, where they can escape problems at home. Now that this resource will not be readily available for them, stress could be overwhelming for many students and their education is almost guaranteed to suffer. A lot of mental illnesses start in childhood and are identified in the school environment. Many of these issues students face will now go unnoticed, possibly for many years.

How Hybrid Learning Might be Beneficial

Hybrid and online learning might be new in a usually traditional schooling method, but these systems have been around for a while and might prove to be beneficial for students. Some believe that these new methods of teaching will allow students to gain new knowledge and skills, such as computer self-efficacy, self-regulation and even boost engagement (Sun & Rueda). Some teachers are trying harder to boost class engagement and students can do work at their own pace. Studies have also found that online or hybrid learning methods can have very similar outcomes compared to face-to-face learning when students are engaged and actively being taught (Kauffman). Some believe that hybrid learning methods allow students to work around other schedules and be able to do a little work here and there, giving them more time to do what they love. This side of the argument believes that when students have free-reign on how they learn, they learn better.

These teaching methods could be beneficial for students who were prepared for this type of learning, but not all students have the drive and motivation needed to complete all of their work on their own and in their own time. Hybrid learning in this situation could be more beneficial than online or no schooling methods, but many unique challenges have arisen during the pandemic (Raes). Studies conducted before the pandemic can not be accurately compared to a student’s educational life now due to so many added factors of stress and unpreparedness. The COVID-19 pandemic brings forth new challenges not discussed in older studies and it is difficult to compare the two at this time.

Conclusion

Every student is different. So are their lives at home. Therefore, the outcome that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on them and their education cannot be set in stone quite yet. However, we can expect major delays in their education just because they were thrown into a situation that no one was prepared for. Schools and students were in many ways unprepared for challenges caused by COVID-19 and new teaching methods. Some issues students face now can affect them and the country for the rest of their lives because education is extremely important in our modern society. All that we can do for now is to support students and their needs for technology, education and assistance, not only in the school place, but in their personal lives as well. If we don’t fix what has been lost, many generations to come could be affected.

References

Bushweller, Kevin. “How COVID-19 Is Shaping Tech Use. What That Means When Schools Reopen.” Education Week, 2 Jun. 2020, www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/06/03/how-covid-19-is-shaping-tech-use-what.html.

Dorn, Emma, et al. COVID-19 and Student Learning in the United States: The Hurt Could Last a Lifetime. Global Editorial Services. McKinsey & Company, 2020, https://fresnostate.edu/kremen/about/centers-projects/weltycenter/documents/COVID-19-and-student-learning-in-the-United-States-FINAL.pdf.

Fox, Michelle. “Coronavirus has suspended school plans. It will also worsen racial and economic inequalities, experts warn.” CNBC, 12 Aug. 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/12/impact-of-covid-19-on-schools-will-worsen-racial-inequity-experts-say.html.

García, Emma, and Elaine Weiss. “COVID-19 and student performance, equity, and U.S. education policy.” Economic Policy Institute, 10 Sep. 2020, https://www.epi.org/publication/the-consequences-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-for-education-performance-and-equity-in-the-united-states-what-can-we-learn-from-pre-pandemic-research-to-inform-relief-recovery-and-rebuilding/.

Kauffman, Heather. “A Review of Predictive Factors of Student Success in and Satisfaction with Online Learning.” Research in Learning Technology, vol. 23, 2015, pp. 1-13, https://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v23.26507.

Raes, Annelies, et al. “Learning and Instruction in the Hybrid Virtual Classroom: An Investigation of Students’ Engagement and the Effect of Quizzes.” Computers and Education, vol. 143, 2020, pp. 1-16, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.103682.

Sun, Jerry C., and Robert Rueda. “Situational Interest, Computer self‐efficacy and self‐regulation: Their Impact on Student Engagement in Distance Education.” British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 43, no. 2, 2012, pp. 191-204, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01157.x.

Terada, Youki. “Covid-19’s Impact on Students’ Academic and Mental Well-Being.” Edutopia, 24 Jun. 2020, www.edutopia.org/article/covid-19s-impact-students-academic-and-mental-well-being.

Images

“woman, covering, nose, white, towel, blow, blowing, hand chief, grey, blond” by Pxfuel is in the Public Domain, CC0

“Mask, student, corona, student, covid-19, class, virus” by Yogen Dras is in the Public Domain, CC0

 

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