What's Next For Schools After Coronavirus? Here Are 5 Big Issues And Opportunities

This is post is our first in a new blog series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our contributor today is Andy Hargreaves who is Research Professor at Boston College. This blog post originally appeared in The Conversation. Future posts in the series will be compiled here

No schools, no exams, more online learning and parents in COVID-19 lockdown with their kids. What a mess!

People are responding heroically. Some parents are working from home, others have lost their jobs and teachers are creating an entire new way of doing their jobs — not to mention the kids themselves, stuck inside without their friends. Somehow, we will get through this. When we do, how will things look when school starts again? 

One of my university projects connects and supports the education leaders of six countries and two Canadian provinces to advance humanitarian values, including in their responses to COVID-19

From communication with these leaders, and drawing on my project team’s expertise in educational leadership and large-scale change, here are five big and lasting issues and opportunities that we anticipate will surface once school starts again.

Extra student support needed

After weeks or months at home, students will have lost their teachers’ face-to-face support. Many young people will have experienced poverty and stress. They may have seen family members become ill, or worse. They might have had little chance to play outside. 

Rates of domestic abuse and fights over custody arrangements have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many children will have lost the habits that schools teach them — sitting in a circle, waiting your turn, knowing how to listen and co-operate. More than a few will exhibit the signs of post-traumatic stress

A lot will have spent hours looking at smartphones or playing video games.

And the learning gaps will undoubtedly widen between children from poorer and better-off homes.

Although governments may be anticipating upcoming austerity, we’ll actually need additional resources. We’ll need counsellors, mental heath specialists and learning support teachers to help our weakest learners and most vulnerable children settle down and catch up.

Prioritizing well-being

Well-being will no longer be dismissed as a fad. Before this crisis, there were murmurings that student well-being was a distraction from proper learning basics. No more. 

It’s now clear that without their teachers’ care and support it’s hard for many young people to stay well and focused. Being well, we’ll appreciate, isn’t an alternative to being successful. It’s an essential precondition for achievement, especially among our most vulnerable children.

More gratitude for teachers

Teachers are among the unsung heroes of COVID-19: preparing resources and guidance for remote learning, dropping off school supplies in plastic boxes, connecting with kids and their parents to make sure they’re OK — even while many have kids of their own at home. 

Parents are fast coming to appreciate everything their teachers do

It’s hard enough when parents have two or three kids at home all day now. Many will surely realize just how hard it must be to have 25 to 30 or more in a class. Once the working world regains a degree of normality, we won’t take our essential workers for granted so much. Teachers will be among these.

Vocational skills and training

The dignity and importance of vocational education, skills and training will be reflected in what we teach.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the global economy to collapses in essential supplies. So Canada will look to bring some of its essential manufacturing back home

There will therefore have to be a related push for vocational skills and training, and higher status for schools and programs that provide it.

It’s now obvious how much we depend on and need to value all our essential workers like care home workers, construction workers and retail staff who serve us from behind plexi-glass. My widowed Mum raised three boys while she cleaned people’s homes, worked in local stores, and cared for other people’s children. There was nothing unskilled about what she did.

While no one quite agrees on what it means to be “working class,” what’s clear is it involves sectors of work, pay levels and a generational accumulation of cultural and social capital, dispositions and tastes

When the regular economy starts up again, some people will feel proud to call themselves working class once more and insist on the financial and broader recognition that goes with it.

This also implies rethinking the gig economy and its impact on people’s lives, as well as what kinds of learning position people to survive tumultuous changes, experience mobility and build meaningful lives. 

More and less tech for education

During COVID-19, there’s been a mad scramble to find technology to support learning at home. But in our ARC Education project network, the deputy minister of education in one provinces informed us that upwards of 30 per cent of students don’t have internet access or digital devices at home. 

As money gets tighter, families on the edge of poverty may also have to choose between maintaining internet services or putting food on the table.

Uruguay, one of the countries in our project, set up an arms’ length government innovation agency in 2007. Every child was given a personal device and an internet connection. This stimulated more than a third of the country’s schools to develop projects in which innovation and deeper learning, not just technology, are in the foreground. 

In this pandemic, technology has supplemented teaching and teachers; not replaced them. During the first week of school closures in Uruguay, use of the agency’s platform increased by 1,100 per cent. Canada needs to develop a coherent and comprehensive national approach to tech connectivity and learning that will support all schools.

Conversely, there will also be less technology. We certainly need better digital resources. But anyone who thought that online learning can replace teachers will be rapidly disabused of the idea — especially parents stuck inside with children when kids can’t concentrate or self-regulate.

We’re in a long, dark tunnel at the moment. When we emerge, our challenge will be to not proceed exactly as before, but to reflect deeply on what we have experienced, and take a sharp turn in education and society for the better.

Issues Areas

We may need several deep breaths too, as well as thinking and reflecting deeply on where we've been and still are during Covid time, and the kind of futures we need to create ... definitely a work in progress, while this is a very good stimulus to getting on the road, no more than one would expect from Andy Hargreaves.


I think a silver lining of this frightening time is that many teachers have had serious time to upskill technologically, and explore many varied ways of delivering material to students, to try to tap/appeal to into the many different thinking processes our students have. I also think that it may focus the govts stragies to provide adequate time for planning and upskilling instead of ad hoc, uncoordinated , input. I agree about the vocational training and attitudes towards this. I redeployed from a relatively academic school to an extremely challenging poor/working class school two years ago. I had never really questioned the academic style education we were offering all students in Ireland, but very quickly i was seriously questioning a one size fits all education. It is so wrong. It is a form of abuse towards the students who are so unsuited to it , an a form opof torture for the teachers who have to contain them every day. There should be adequate vocational and skills training from about age 15 for anyone who wants it, based mainly in the workplace but with time spent in an educational setting for two days a week, with a small monetary allowance attached. This would go along way towards changing attitudes of a certain sector towards education, and potentially relieving pressure areas in some sectors. I am a firm believer of there being a niche for everyone in society, once there is a desire to work. This would have a knock on effect on the mental health of our society too. Hopefully this pandemic will cause some decisions to be reassessed, for example nurses have been a major export from Ireland in recent years as well as an unattractive choice of profession because of the poor conditions they work in in Ireland. My own husbands comment was 'not for my daughters'. I think that says it all.
It will be interesting to watch how this all shapes up. Will we have learned lessons from it, or will global greed pick up where it left off and continue merrily along its way? Ireland has a track record of NOT learning from example unfortunately.