The first time I heard about COVID-19, it hadn’t even been named yet; instead, it was only referred to as the 2019 novel coronavirus. In the western world, the media described it as a Chinese virus originating from an open-air market in the province of Wuhan. Talking heads on the television mentioned the death rate in passing, as an aside. Tragic, yes, but foreign; the Wuhan coronavirus was far-removed from American life, and it was expected to remain that way.
Until epidemiologists started using the phrase, “Not if, but when.”
Until suddenly, there were cases spiking in Italy. And South Korea. And Japan. And Thailand.
Until the first American case was detected in Washington state.
No longer is the novel coronavirus a foreign concern; now, it has a name and a daunting reputation. COVID-19 has demonstrated its ability to sweep through populations, and the United States is up next. The infection rate parallels that of the 1918 Spanish flu, which absolutely crippled the twentieth-century world. However, the officials that dealt with the Spanish flu are no longer alive. When we scoffed at the extraordinary shutdowns and closures happening throughout Asia as a result of the virus, we forgot that they had been through this before. SARS and MERS, other coronaviruses, debilitated Asian countries in the early years of the twenty-first century, and they hadn’t forgotten the toll these viruses had taken.
The first sign that this was serious? The school closures. Despite relatively few reported cases in the United States and the little concern held by federal officials, many governors and health departments across the country took the initiative to enact “social distancing policies” to help flatten the curve and allow healthcare systems to prepare accordingly. While the school closures were necessary for the sake of public health, they required the use of online learning techniques to make up for the lost time in the classroom.
Herein lies the problem: a wide margin of the schools impacted by these closures have never utilized online learning practices before, and many do not have the proper resources to do so.
I am in the absolute luckiest situation possible in terms of online schooling. Not only does my school district have a one-to-one student technology ratio, allowing every student in the district to access their work in some capacity, but we also have an upper-middle-class population full of parents and teachers eager to make the transition as smooth as possible.
The few students I know in my school district that do not have internet access at home are still able to borrow their neighbors’ Wi-Fi. I can’t imagine how students without access to Wi-Fi and individual technology such as laptops or tablets, get by in this time of digitized learning.
If this epidemic is showing us anything, it is the clear inequity present in our school systems on a multitude of levels.
One of the largest concerns I have with online learning at my school, specifically, is the pressure being put on teachers. Out of nowhere, they have been forced to completely restructure lesson plans and have had to learn how to teach in a totally different way than before. The majority of my teachers are struggling with mental health as a result, as the stress and anxiety over the success of their new teaching methods weigh on them. This struggle is only enhanced for Advanced Placement teachers. Since the College Board decided to completely change the structure of the 2020 Advanced Placement exams, AP teachers suddenly have to teach students in a new way, entirely different from the AP formats they had been expecting and preparing students for all year.
When will this end? How will students across the country be affected? No one knows for certain. However, we have learned one thing: American school systems were not prepared for the worst-case scenario. From now on, they’ll have to be.