Education experts at the Harvard Graduate School of Education discussed the importance of rebuilding the education system to improve socioemotional learning and accommodate students of different socioeconomic backgrounds in a Wednesday webinar.
Hosted by HGSE lecturer Uche B. Amaechi ’99, the webinar included Andrew D. Ho, a professor on education; Stephanie M. Jones, a professor in early childhood development; Mary Grassa O'Neill, a senior lecturer on education; and Paul Reville, a professor of the practice of educational policy and administration.
The discussion began with panelists discussing their apprehension about the school year.
Jones highlighted the phenomenon of “learning loss” experienced among some students and its perception.
“I am worried, as I think we all are, about the issues tied to learning loss or missed opportunities,” Jones said. “I’m also worried about the language of it, and how that can become sticky and applied to children who might view themselves as having lost something that they might never get back,” Jones said.
“Related to that, I am worried about how that could lead to lots of pressure and rushing at a time that is going to continue to be turbulent and uncertain,” she added.
Citing issues like learning loss, Ho explained that schools should spend time on accommodating students’ socioemotional needs.
“It is very clear that we have to prioritize physical health, and then after that mental and social and emotional health, and then maybe after that there’ll be time for some learning,” Ho said.
“We’d be crazy to say, ‘Okay, now you have to learn fixed effects, random effects, and classical test theory’ when we are in mourning,” he added.
O’Neill noted that adults in the education field should also practice self-care as they transition back to in-person instruction.
“Educators and leaders are on my mind, and they have been so busy helping their students, families, and communities that to do their best work, I think a priority for them is to put self-care on the top of their list,” O’Neill said.
Reville explained that Covid-19 also challenged schools to alleviate societal inequities that they were not fully equipped to address.
“Schools were never really built to be nutritional centers, or mental health centers, or healthcare centers — they were built to be academic institutions,” Reville said. “Schools did the best job they could as they’ve always done in trying to put a bandaid on some of these grosser inequities that result from poverty and other circumstances of disadvantage that exist in our society, and that fall along racial and economic lines.”
O’Neill cited ways schools sought to address social inequalities, pointing to individualized tutoring systems introduced by some Boston public schools.
“I learned in Boston public schools what they’re doing with some of their resources is they have tapped into a 24/7 tutoring system, where students can get tutoring in their own languages,” O’Neill said.
As schools start to resume full operations, Reville said they should not simply strive to return to the way things used to be.
“Everybody wants some kind of ‘normal’ to grab onto and create security and predictability in the system, but the ‘normal’ shouldn’t be what we used to have, because what we used to have was inadequate,” Reville said.
—Staff writer Omar Abdel Haq can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.