A Promising Future: Post-Pandemic Learning
When I was first married (in 1987), as all young couples do, my husband and I devised wonderful dreams of grandeur. I would earn my degree while he put me through university. In turn, I would do the same for him after I graduated. Being overachievers, we added children to the formula right away, with the support of family. As life does, it gave us a sucker punch to the face when our first of five precious sons was born with a severe and terminal genetic disorder. We quickly rerouted. My husband took on two jobs while I put all my formal education on hold to become the primary caregiver for our
special needs child and his four subsequent brothers (all born healthy and disorder free). Our oldest child left this world for the next twenty-seven years later, only a month after my mother passed. He outlived his prognosis by thirteen years. How? Happiness and joy. Not the least of which included as many trips to Disney as the tight wallet could spare. Here’s what I’ve learned from wading through a lifetime of tragedy and hardships: though it is difficult to dream in the face of suffering, without hope for something better, there is no future.
In 2018, with our youngest son being fifteen years old, my husband and I decided it was finally time for me to pursue a monetary career of my own. However, as a forty-nine-year-old woman with only a high school diploma as my formal education credential, I could not find a position that paid me what I knew I was worth. Oddly enough, business owners and managers don’t calculate experience as a wife and mother into the paygrade. I know many others have walked in similar shoes, whether age, color, gender, or academic credentials were the cause of poverty wages. This is when my husband and I decided that I would not be undervalued by a broken system.
Uncomfortable and fearful as I was to return to the classroom after nearly three decades out of it, I was determined not to play the victim. I wanted to show my children that fear was not to be the guiding motivator in life. Fear must be conquered for success to flourish, no matter your age, sex, education, or ethnicity. We continued to wear that tight financial belt, and we put our shoulder to the wheel to get me through my path to higher education.
Unfortunately, life never puts the gloves down. COVID was the next global sucker punch to the face. So many suffered loss. No one and nothing was left unaffected. And, education, worldwide, hung in the balance. Technology was definitely an issue for me, but I’m not gonna blame my age here. Tech was a challenge for everyone. Online learning was not unheard of when COVID struck its mighty blow, but it was severely underdeveloped. Everyone from whole institutions, to administrators, to teachers and professors, to students and their families, were devastated, lost, confused, and afraid. All had the same nerve-racking question, “What’s going to happen to us?”
Humankind proved its perseverance, and I wanted to be sure I did my part. I did my best to maintain a positive attitude and make it through all the ups and downs as formal education and humanity fought their way back from the suffering. Some are still fighting the good fight today. Keep waging that battle. Hope is over the next horizon. Sure enough, from the bitter ashes arose fertile ground for amazing growth. I experienced full-time online learning through Zoom; part classroom, part online learning; online and classroom at the same time learning; as well as classroom only learning while masked and socially distanced. I saw students and educators alike break under the pressure and sadness of it all. I saw others somehow rise from the devastation. I was fortunate enough to have tremendous support from my large, in number and stature, family, and my professors and fellow students were lavish in their encouragement and support of my return to school. Indeed, I was one of the fortunate ones during the pandemic; because, while the struggles were very much there, I was so well loved and supported. Humanity was in fine form all around me.
I remember one professor, in particular, who was truly doing her best to accommodate everyone. She offered the choice of in person learning when classrooms opened back up and also allowed anyone who feared returning to remain on Zoom. Bless this woman’s heart as she struggled through attending to those faces on her computer screen and those in the classroom at the same time. She quickly brought in IT assistance who put her Zoom students on a big screen and pointed her computer camera at the class from the front of the room. I couldn’t help feeling, even then, this is the future. This can work, and it did.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one excited about online learning and its potential. With the World Economic forum boasting incredible stats like 189 million online students enrolled worldwide, it’s no wonder they claim the pandemic only served to accelerate an already shifting social core value (Wood). As online learning became the norm, a whole new world of education opened. Whereas in the beginning of the e-learning experience I dreaded the uncomfortable newness of it and couldn’t wait to get back in the classroom, I soon saw its diversity and now prefer it. For example, in one of my writing classes, the opportunity to return to the classroom afforded us the chance to perform a live reading of a classmate’s script. However, the writer of the selected script was living in a city hundreds of miles away. So, we just had fun with it. We passed a computer around with his face on it as if the piece of tech were actually him. We even put his face up on the big screen at the front of the room and took a class photo as if he were there. In a big way, he was. What once was a source of anxiety in my learning experience became a creative source of expansion.
Dread can evolve to hope and must within global education. Online learning is not for everyone. However, with its advancement, many have discovered that in person learning is not for everyone either. My experience has taught me that it does not need to be one way or the other and shouldn’t be. What needs to change is that very idea – that education is one way or the other. The important point of reference is education itself, and online learning provides a platform where different cultures can commingle in a learning environment – even if they’re half a world apart; where single parents can receive higher education without leaving the home; where those who can’t afford a long commute to their nearest university can thrive; where being ill or handicapped doesn’t slow you down; and where friendships and fun can still form and flourish.
Online learning provides a whole new level of education as more and more students gain access to learning virtually everywhere from anywhere. With credible institutions like eduTopia exhibiting statistics that prove the average student’s learning experience is enhanced with e-learning, education sans online experience becomes an oxymoron (Markus). In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution initiative has set its sights on providing one billion people with more opportunities through online education by 2030 (Woods). Thus, online education provides the diving board for not only improving skills, providing higher education opportunities where none existed, and creating accessibility for certificates and licensures that can increase household incomes, it becomes a viable means of global cultural diversification. We can understand each other through virtual classrooms. Does it get any more promising?
It is crucial that the progressive momentum in education, motivated from such tragic circumstances, continues to move forward. It is the serendipity of tribulation; the hope for something better; the crux of advancement; the opportunity in place of hopelessness. Education is the future, or at least the foundation for a much better one. What if everyone were granted the opportunity at higher education? Don’t poo-poo it. With all the movements that have surfaced in this new century, why not one of hope? Hope for education; hope for the future; hope for each other. If ever in the history of this world that dream was possible, it is now. Just, imagine a world where all who desire can take their education as far as they can dream it; imagine the discoveries, the advancements, the hope and possibilities, the promise … Now, let’s go get it.
Markus, David. “The Brave New Breakthrough of Online Learning.” George Lucas Educational Foundation, eduTopia, June 29, 2010, https://www.edutopia.org/stw-online-learning-new-breakthroughs
Wood, Johnny. “These 3 charts show the global growth in online learning.” World Economic Forum, Jan 27, 2022, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/01/online-learning-courses-reskill-skills-gap/#:~:text=The%20upward%20trend%20in%20online%20learning&text=Enrolment%20number