When schools closed in spring, our education industry clients quickly took action to provide digital learning access, help teachers get online and address disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 through partnership. Months later, schools are still online, and the country is grappling with how to handle the 2020-21 school year virtually — and how to solve some problems that have been exacerbated as a result.
While school leaders juggle limited COVID-19 relief funds and the reality that 9.7 million students don’t have reliable internet connectivity in their homes, our clients are working diligently to support teachers and students, as well as parents and caretakers, with innovative tools and ideas that show the education industry may be changing for the better. We’re helping our clients tell this story of change and navigate today’s evolving education landscape. A big part of this is understanding the difficult but necessary conversations taking place about education today and devising strategic plans for how to inject our clients into those conversations.
Here are some of the pressing issues we’re monitoring now:
- Opportunity Gap: While the homework gap existed before the pandemic, COVID-19 brought the opportunity gap in the U.S. into the limelight. Lack of device access and broadband bandwidth or connectivity have created a digital divide. Children are learning in varied at-home environments, with differing levels of remote learning support from parents or caretakers. With almost half of U.S. two-parent households supported by both parents working full-time, inequities like the dispute over learning pods earlier this school year are more apparent than ever before. For education industry leaders, the impulse to jump in and join the conversation must be balanced with the knowledge that the opportunity gap cannot be solved with any one company’s solution. We work with thought leaders in the education space to help solve the problem, not expand the gap, through new tools or public and private partnerships.
- Learning Loss: Due to some schools in the U.S. ending the school year in April 2020, the not-for-profit organization NWEA estimated students would return to school with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. In mathematics, students are returning nearly a full year behind. While the overall impacts on learning loss are still unknown, the media is questioning how this generation of students will be impacted and how we will measure the impacts of this turbulent year. Thought leaders with ideas to help get students back on track should work with communications experts to make sure those ideas are heard and shared on the right channels.
- Social-Emotional Learning and Mental Health: Students are experiencing immense mental health impacts as they face the stresses of online learning, the pandemic, loneliness and lack of support typically found in school environments. Teachers themselves are also experiencing uncertainty and immense stress as they address learning gaps, support students coping with trauma and deal with an economic crisis. A focus on social-emotional learning and well-being for both students and teachers will continue to be a top priority for district leaders and education reporters. Education companies with a feel-good story to share or a community-building mission should use this time to center topics like wellness and mental health in the classroom.
Joining the Conversation
To break through the back to school media noise, we support thought leaders in the education space in addressing these sensitive issues and bringing real solutions to the table. We will continue to see stories on how companies extended a helping hand, and, with the right approach, we can advise you to be part of the conversation, too. While we cannot say for sure what the future holds in education, we do know that the important conversations taking place today will impact the industry and students for years to come.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.