Public school students from K-12 will experience a multitude of negative effects of the pandemic far beyond this year and the next.  Aside from learning loss, many students are suffering social and psychological damage from school closures. Children who suffered trauma from other natural disasters typically lost ground academically and experienced more behavioral problems in the short term as compared with children who did not  . . . some communities—mostly low-income communities or those of color—are being hit harder than others by COVID-19 and its economic consequences.

Having been confined to  home for months, those students who had access to technology experienced only virtual classes involving lectures:  passive learning.  Conversely, in an active learning environment,  the student is engaged, empowered, and excited to learn.  How does that occur when school is closed? The Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit provider of student assessments, estimated that students would end this school year with only about 40 percent to 60 percent of the learning gains they’d see in a typical year. Supporting students who already had learning difficulties prior to the school closures will be especially challenging when schools reopen.

All academic areas have been affected, yet STEM subjects may be the most vulnerable. They have already been the focus of public school critics: Over thirty years ago, an outspoken critic made a statement that still resounds today: “Public understanding of science is appalling. The major contributor to society’s stunning ignorance of science has been our educational system. The inability of students to appreciate the scope, meaning, and limitations of science reflects our conventional lecture-oriented curriculum with its emphasis on passive learning. The student’s traditional role is that of a passive note-taker and regurgitator of factual information. What is urgently needed is an educational program in which students become interested in actively knowing, rather than passively believing.

As previously stated, active learning benefits students.  In fact, research shows that “under-represented students” (aka minority) in  STEM subjects benefit from that strategy because they “do” rather than listen. On average, active learning reduced achievement gaps in exam scores and passing rates and offered disproportionate benefits for underrepresented groups. These results provide more support for replacing traditional lecturing with active learning, which now has the added benefit of being a strategy for increasing equity in higher education.  That type of active learning does not occur in a virtual classroom.  Drastic changes need to occur, or American students will be at a distinct disadvantage.  

Laura Maniglia