K-12 Education Technology in the Midst of COVID-19
In this time of economic turmoil triggered by COVID-19, the demand for education technology (“edtech”) solutions is at its peak. With more than 30 million K-12 students ordered to stay home, online learning has become the new normal. In the past, online learning was a luxury but now plays an essential role in enabling educators to teach, allowing students to continue to learn and grow during this unprecedented crisis.
Prior to COVID-19, many K-12 schools and districts made great strides in working to blend edtech solutions into regular classrooms. However, these incremental efforts have proved to have limited impact in light of the sudden disruption. Educators and school districts are in a panic as they scramble to digitalize nearly a full semester of content for students in every grade. What they foresaw education becoming over the course of time has become the required solution now. Luckily, the demand for these technologies is fully supported by progressive minded-educators, the government and the rich ecosystem of e-learning providers.
U.S. Congress is implementing various emergency COVID-19 stimulus packages including a $3 billion emergency aid package to support the learning needs for early childhood education and K-12 schools. Realizing that online learning is the new standard, the government has acted accordingly for the sake of all students. One problem that they’ve realized while implementing such aid is that a large percentage of students don’t have a reliable way to get online. Specifically, 14 percent of households with school-aged children do not have internet access, most of which are households with an aggregate income of less than $50,000 a year. As if completely transitioning learning online wasn’t a heavy lift in itself, closing the internet access gap is an added intricacy that that government, educators and providers have tackled head-on. In the past weeks, the Federal Communications Commission has worked to waive late fees for existing internet subscribers and increase data caps for mobile hotspots so that students can have the internet access they need to learn. In addition, internet providers such as Spectrum and Comcast are offering free service for 60 days to new customers with K-12 or college students at home.
Educators and school districts, too, are taking creative measures to smoothly transition learning online and bridge the internet access gap. While some school districts and educators have no concerns surrounding students’ access to online lectures and assignments, others do. Teachers in these types of districts are working persistently to find ways to connect their students to learning content. Solutions like partnering with local TV programs to deliver content, teaching via phone calls and the creation of take-home learning boxes are being implemented. In Los Angeles, districts are partnering with local PBS stations and the city’s district to generate remote-learning initiatives tied to TV programs instead of internet. These collective efforts to close the internet access gap is both bridging the potential longstanding chasm that the COVID-19 epidemic could leave in student’s development and helping cope with the new reality of online learning.
Most importantly, K-12 edtech companies like McGraw-Hill, Cengage, Chegg, Coursera, Instructure and Wiley now play an essential role in educating our country’s students, and they are rising to the occasion. Both Cengage and Wiley have made their digital content free for the remainder of the current school term. In addition, companies like Zoom have lifted the 40-minute meeting limit on their free basic accounts for K-12 districts. At the forefront of the new normal, edtech companies are finding affordable ways to implement themselves into every school district and increase their prevalence as a new backbone to the current education structure and economy, in general.
The implications for edtech in this unprecedented time have shifted drastically. As online learning has quickly become the new normal for all students, edtech has become a necessity rather than a luxury . . . an essential rather than a bonus . . . a mainstream commodity rather than a niche amenity. This will be the way it is for as long as the need for education sticks around, which is forever.