The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.
What a difference one week makes! The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every aspect of our society, from the healthcare system to the local small business in your community. However, things really hit home when the coronavirus fallout started to impact our kids.
UNESCO reported this week that over 850 million kids (almost 50% of the world’s student population) now have to stay away from schools and universities due to COVID-19. Nationwide school closures are in force in 102 countries and local shut-downs in 11 others. In the United States, 44 states as of yesterday have decided to close schools. Combined with district closures in other states, at least 104,000 U.S. public and private schools are now closed, are scheduled to close, or were closed and later reopened, affecting at least 47.9 million school students. Edweek is keeping a state-by-state school closings tracker and is a great resource to stay up-to-date.
United States School Closings By State
Making matters more complicated, states are now canceling in-person K-12 schools for the rest of the academic year. Kansas was the first state to announce this unprecedented step. More are expected to come, with governors in California, New Jersey and Ohio signaling they may also follow.
The Lost School Year
2020 will be known as “The Lost School Year”. This will become one of the defining life events of Generation Alpha, on par with how the 9/11 terrorist attacks came to define Millennials. As standardized testing gets postponed or canceled, parents and educators are quickly realizing the cascading ripple effects of these decisions.
- Learning will suffer. The United States has already been lagging behind many industrialized nations when it comes to education. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) administers what many consider to be the gold standard for global tests – the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA measuring reading, math, and science and samples 15-year-olds in 72 countries every three years. The last test was in 2018 and from the data below you can see how the United States is lagging behind while the top tends to be dominated by East Asian and northern European countries. One can only imagine how COVID-19 will impact kids now that they aren’t in school with their regular learning schedules.
- The digital divide will widen. While it may be hard for schools as they scramble to shift their classes to a new “learn from home” environment, getting online may be even harder for many kids and families. Low-income and immigrant communities across the US will face many obstacles due to their lack of Internet access and/or computers at home. 2017 data from the Department of Commerce shows that some 22 million households don’t have internet because they can’t afford it. Many families also rely on free public services for their kids ranging from getting meals at schools to going to the library in order to get online and do their homework.
- Parents will be overwhelmed. The new normal of “learning from home” is going to collide with “working from home”. Parents who are now having to figure out how to work from home (as well as work with a spouse/partner/others at home) now have to also figure out how to be a teacher. The stress of working and schooling at home combined with the pandemic will test both parents and kids alike.
The Silver Lining
Notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, I’m an optimist and will always try to find the silver lining. As it turns out, there are several when it comes to this pandemic and Generation Alpha.
- Direct-to-Consumer comes to education (finally). Year after year, the direct-to-consumer (DTC) revolution continues to impact every industry. From eyeglasses (Warby Parker) to suitcases (Away), cars (Tesla) to entertainment (Netflix, Disney+), to even hearing aids (Eargo) and underwear (Mack Weldon, Third Love), every company needs to find a way to have a direct relationship with their customers. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), who has been doing some of the best research on the direct brand economy, estimates that 82% of U.S. adults now shop online, accounting for nearly $600 billion in 2019 (up 13% YoY).
As consumers go digital across every industry, it not a question of “if” but rather “when” the DTC revolution would come to education. With half of the world’s kids now forced to “learn at home”, the “when” is now. Just one data point, look at the huge spike in Google searches for “learn at home”!
- Companies are rising to the occasion. As parents and educators rush to shift to an e-learning world, many companies are playing their part to help. Amazon is offering a free month of educational books and shows for kids, Epic is offering free access to its digital reading library until June 30, Google is providing vast tools for educators and school administrators, Nickelodeon is making its Noggin app free for 3 months, Scholastic is offering educational projects, and YouTube is curating great learning channels across its platform. We’re doing our part, too. Romper featured our new Encantos Learning Hub which launched this week with free resources, videos, tools, and lessons to keep kids learning through the pandemic. In addition, many media outlets are providing lists of free resources including Motherly, Red Tricycle, and USA Today.
- Everyone is realizing how hard it is to be an educator. For years, we all have taken educators for granted. We all know that teachers are underpaid and overworked. We all have heard stories of teachers buying school supplies out of their own pockets. Now that we all have to become educators in some way, shape or form, we are all realizing that this is HARD! My wish is that this crisis helps us all reevaluate as a society how we value educators. If you know an educator – please thank them. I think this tweet by Shonda Rhimes put it best.
So What’s Next?
As Albert Einstein said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. This pandemic is a global crisis, and we are all in this together. However, when it comes to Generation Alpha, there is a real opportunity to use the power of technology and entertainment to reimagine education for the direct-to-consumer age. Gen Alpha can benefit from all of our innovation. Now is the time to be creative, find ways to help each other, and put kids and families first! At the end of the day, technology is just a tool. It’s up to us how we use it. And we can all use it right now to help our kids learn at home.