I have been thinking a lot over the past several months to try to make sense of the uncertain future that awaits us as we learn to cope with the impact COVID-19 has had on society and what our future looks like. It is highly unlikely that COVID-19 will ever disappear and will likely haunt us for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 has opened many people’s eyes and it is clear that the way we have been doing things in the past are no longer wise to continue to do the same way in the future. This post is a brain-dump of some of my thoughts and ideas as to how things should change in the future to adjust to life in a post COVID-19 world.
I am far from the expert in many of these topics however many of the ideas here are common sense and how I would personally shape things if I was ever in a position to do so. Needless to say, this will be a long essay style post instead of a normal post and this is only the first part of a longer series of posts I will be releasing over the next few weeks.
Our educational system is a relic of a 100 year old system that has failed to keep up with the times and it is in desperate need of a re-imagining to bring it up to the times. I made a rant on the ill fated Google Plus in 2013 to help highlight some of the failures of how schools have failed to adapt to modern technology and this problem seems to be getting worse, not better. Here are some ideas I have on how to not only make schools safer but modernize the education system to better prepare students for adulthood. Needless to say, face masks will be a part of the 2020 school uniforms.
In Class Learning
Although many think that issuing each student a Chromebook and telling them to log into a Zoom session at 9AM every day, this model does not always work for all students. In class learning can and should be a important part of a child’s life, especially in the earlier years where it is easiest to develop social skills. There are several major problems that need to be solved before I would personally be comfortable with opening up schools. This section focuses on the challenges of traditional on-site In class learning.
Getting rid of overcrowded classrooms has been a promise that every single politician has made as part of their campaign speeches throughout my entire life but they always seem to forget about this promise once they actually get into office. Throughout my entire childhood, I went to school in four different states (California, Nevada, Utah and Florida) and close to 8 different counties – they all had the same problem, overcrowded classrooms. It was not abnormal to see classrooms designed for 25 students filled with 35+ students, I remember that a few classes even sat 2 students at the teachers desk as they could not fit enough desks in the classroom to seat all students assigned to that classroom so forget about social distancing.
Overcrowded classrooms in a post COVID world do not just rob students of their education but they could also service as the perfect catalyst for the spread of COVID-19. Something needs to be done about this before schools re-open as this will cause a bad situation to get significantly worse. There are several potential solutions to stagger students in the classroom by adopting a “Year Round” school system which would lower the number of students in the building at one time.
One other option to reduce class sizes is to reduce the number of “core” classes that are needed by students to progress a grade level and reduce the number of electives.
If you have ever attended a middle school or high school in the United States, you will know how these are often packed between classes where students socialize with others while rushing to their next classes. Social Distancing guidelines are both impossible and impractical to enforce in hallways. The only solution to this would be to stagger when classes dismiss students.
Classrooms are nasty and calling them a petri dish is a compliment. Finding a desk without chewed gum stuck to the bottom is unheard of and it is impossible to tell when the last time the desks were disinfected. It is true that schools employ custodians to help clean up but they are not given the time or resources to do much more then a light cleaning of the classroom floors and maybe clean the occasional heavily soiled desks. High-touch items like handrails, gym benches, textbooks, lockers and school computers will likely never see any adequate cleaning throughout the entire school year. The school bathrooms are one of the most frightening things a person can ever see.
This has got to change and changing this will require a lot to be done. Schools need to be properly funded to allow schools to purchase proper cleaning supplies and hire enough staff members to properly do a daily cleaning of the school. These staff members would also need to be trained on how to properly use the supplies and equipment.
Schools may also wish to invest in UV lighting in all classrooms that come on for a few hours after the building has closed in order to help sanitize surfaces after the cleaning done by custodians.
It is sad to admit this but for many, especially in lower income areas, the school nurse may be the only access to basic medical care that some students may have. While I really only visited the school nurse when I suddenly felt ill or wanted to get out of a test, there are many students who visit the nurse to get access to feminine hygiene products, over the counter pain medication and even psychological services. This is not the intended purpose of the school nurses but this is what they have evolved to. This situation will be made far more complicated with COVID-19 making the rounds where school nurses may be put in charge of administering tests to students who are feeling ill to rule out a infection.
Mental Health resources will also be critical for students during this pandemic, especially with the added stress and the potential that some of these students may have lost a family member due to the pandemic.
Sadly thanks to budget cuts, several schools have reduced access to this valuable service and some districts even employ “traveling nurses” that are shared between 3-5 schools and are only at each school for one or two days a week. Many schools also lack counselors to help with the students mental health.
It is a horrible fact that many students rely on school meals for their only hot meal of the day and in some cases their only meal of the day. This is one reason a remote learning program will not work for all students as this would limit access to basic nutrition. School meals are important but things but in light of COVID-19, most school meals may need to resort to pre-packaged meals prepared in a central kitchen rather than individual school kitchens. I would still push to have fresh food made daily as these pre-packaged meals instead of overly processed foods.
Alternatives for Students Feeling Ill
There are plenty of parents who work day jobs and are unable to stay home with kids who are starting to feel a bit ill so in most cases, they send students to school anyways. This of course cannot be allowed to continue in a post COVID world where everyone needs to be on high alert. If your kids are sick, they need to stay home however this is problematic for parents with young kids who would need to arrange for child care or be allotted time off from their employers to take care of their kids.
This is a tough problem to solve and will likely involve a multifaceted solution involving some sort of paid leave for parents to stay home with sick kids without fear of losing their jobs or income. This is actually something that is common in many other countries but is a foreign concept in the United States.
There are so many elderly teachers who are at greater risk of serious COVID-19 complications. Many of these teachers are amazing and love to instill their vast knowledge onto future adults but would they potentially risk their lives to do so? Aside from teachers showing up in HAZMAT Suits and being forced into a early retirement at the ripe age of 40, what are teachers to do to keep safe during these uncertain times? I honestly do not know what the solution to this problem is.
It is unfortunate but many schools have started to install airport style security to check backpacks for weapons, some schools even have adopted no-backpack policies and have installed metal detectors that students need to pass through before they are permitted into the school building. Sadly schools are far from the safe environment I remember when I was a student. Needless to say health screening now needs to become a part of regime that students will need to pass through before being allowed to enter the school building, this health screening would likely be something similar to how theme parks are screening patrons before allowing them into the park with a touchless thermometer. The biggest problem is that these checkpoints are being ran by school resource officers who are not trained on how to handle medical screenings.
Remote learning will likely be the most preferred method of learning for parents who are able to stay at home with their kids and have access to high-speed internet. This of course is a safer option but it is unclear as to how this impacts a child’s growth in the long term. This is also of course only a option for parents who are financially stable enough to provide food for the students instead of relying on school lunches.
Social Interaction between students is important and this is where remote learning falls short. Students need to be able to have fun and socialize with other students. It would be great for online learning platforms to facilitate virtual playgrounds/virtual hallways to allow students to have some downtime between classes to hang out with other students.
One of the greatest things that will effect the quality of a student’s remote learning education would be access to technology. Many schools are issuing Chromebooks to students and while these are inexpensive and reliable, not all students have access to a reliable internet connection which is especially problematic in low income and rural areas of the country where mobile broadband solutions are unavailable.
Access to a printer is often overlooked as many houses may not have access to a printer or lack the funds to buy expensive printer cartridges which may be needed for a lot of schoolwork. I would often visit my school library to print out things when I needed them and we were out of ink at home. Laser Printers are definitely the most cost effective option in the long term but inkjet printers are often a less expensive up front cost at most retail stores.
We cannot live in a world where students without access to a reliable internet connection are left in a position where they are further disadvantaged due to not having access to the same technology that others have access to. Basic internet services should be a human right afforded to all citizens in the United States.
Access to Research Materials
Students will need access to research materials outside of Wikipedia and other online resources. School libraries are of course where many students go to print out research materials and check out books to read. School Libraries should be open to both remote and on site students to allow for equal access to everyone. Schools should also consider shipping books to students who need access to these materials.
Whether remote or on-site, the focus of our education system needs to change in order to focus on life skills to prepare students for adulthood instead of memorizing a endless slew of facts that will never be used by most adults. Of course students should have a understanding of math, science, computers, English, history, civics and life skills classes. Forcing students to take advanced algebra, learning ancient Egyptian history and chemistry is really not doing much to develop students into productive adults. These advanced classes should be moved to electives that a student can select if it aligns with their career goals.
The traditional office is likely to see the biggest transformation in a post COVID world with many companies starting to finally embrace the possibility of allowing many positions to work remotely. This is great for many as they would no longer be anchored down to a specific location and they may be free to move to less expensive areas if needed.
There are of course several roles that cannot be made remote so expect major changes in the office. The open-floorplan that was the trend in many offices but this will likely be rolled back soon as cubicles are definitely more effective on controlling the spread of a virus. Face masks will definitely be mandatory at most offices.
Food service workers are going to be at a greater risk as there could be a lot of traffic in and out of restaurants and they interact with customers. I expect food service workers to become more and more restrictive when it comes to what they will and will not be able to do with customers. As a example, if you ask for mustard, instead of bringing you a bottle to squeeze on your meal, they will give you a single use packet or disposable cup.
Unwashed silverware and cups will now need to be treated like medical waste until properly washed and sanitized, this would put food service workers at risk when clearing tablets when a customer leaves. These workers will also need to work on sanitizing the tables between customers rather than giving things a quick wipe down.
Finally I do foresee a lot of restaurants closing due to the economic toll that COVID-19 has caused and will continue to cause. Record unemployment rates will ultimately cause fewer people to go out and eat while rising food prices will force many places to increase prices, causing more people to not want to go out to eat. The closure of these locations will create destructive spiral that will impact these workers the hardest, especially as these workers are often not paid minimum wage and rely on tips (which customers may not be so generous with when it comes time to pay the bill). Customers unfortunately think that the waiter/waitress is responsible for the price increases and will deduct differences in prices from tips.
Retail workers are likely at high risk for potential exposure to the virus as they come in contact with customers all day. Retail stores will likely never do any form of health screening for customers coming through the door. Fortunately several stores are starting to implement mandatory mask programs such as Walmart, Publix and several other nationwide chains, this will go a long way to keeping employees safe but this will only be effective if all stores actually enforce the policies and deny access to customers who choose to not wear a mask – without exception.
Sadly COVID-19 is going to make several jobs obsolete due to the virus destroying industries that were once thriving, specifically those in the travel, leisure and hospitality. There are going to be several industries that will likely never recover such as those in the cruse line industry, movie theater industry and buffet workers. The worst part of this job loss is that unemployment numbers are high and there are very few options for these displaced workers to get new jobs.
Criminal Justice Reform is a hot-topic in 2020 and for a good reason. Aside from the unfair treatment that several experience in the criminal justice system experience, the system is also a hot bed for COVID-19 and the problem is only expected to get worse every day. As a society, we need to urgently look at our criminal justice system and make some sweeping changes.
Low Level Crimes
The thing that prisons and jails are known for is making better criminals and creating a revolving door with high recidivism rates. The best way to break this cycle is to avoid sending people to jails or prisons if they are suspected of committing a low level crime. Crimes that are non-violent and victimless should not be subject to jail time and should be treated in the same way we do with traffic tickets where people can either pay a fine or challenge the infraction in court in the same way they do a speeding ticket. Examples of such crimes include things like personal drug possession charges, driving on a suspended license, shoplifting, trespassing, and other similar charges. Of course repeat offenders and those who fail to deal with their cases do need to see escalating levels of punishment which may include jail.
As with schools, prisons have cut back on medical care over the past few years. If a prisoner is brought into a facility and spreads the virus around, the situation can quickly get out of hand with every single inmate being at risk. As a society, if we insist on jailing so many people, we need to provide medical services and take measures to prevent this from spreading.