Perfectly spaced black squares filled with students’ names have become the school for teachers and students across our country, including myself. No matter how much I like sitting through class while relaxing on my couch in PJs, it is dampened by the worry of accidentally unmuting, arguing with my mom while in class or losing my internet connection right in the middle of a timed test.
I commend my teachers who tried to make it interesting for us through online multiplayer quizzes such as Kahoot, virtual chemistry labs that spared us from pungent odors and for offering extra credit for keeping our videos on. Yet, classes are didactic, lecture-heavy and devoid of hands-on activities.
Our school districts also deserve a round of applause for having to balance the safety concerns of students and staff with their express goal of providing us with the least interrupted and best possible education.
Despite all efforts, virtual instruction is far from optimal. Missouri is one of the 17 states researched by The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University. They estimated that the average student lost a third of a year to a full year’s worth of learning in reading and about three-quarters of a year to more than a year in math as a result of the shift to online.
The consequences are worse in marginalized communities that lack the appropriate technology and home environment for virtual instruction. Students who were already lagging academically before the pandemic have gotten even further behind.
Internationally the situation is even more tragic. Eighty percent of the world’s school-age children, which is an estimated 1.5 billion children, have experienced disruptions in their education due to COVID-19. According to UNICEF, for at least 463 million children whose schools closed due to the pandemic, there was no such a thing as remote learning.
Too much of our government’s response so far has been passivity masquerading as innovation in the form of online school. Despite the earnest efforts of students, teachers and administrators, we are not very close to a remedy. Action is urgently needed to prevent the COVID-19 education crisis from plaguing an entire generation of students.
The most basic tool is one available to everyone age 12 and up: vaccinations. Not only do COVID-19 vaccines save lives; they also enable full reopening of schools in the fall.
Unfortunately, the U.S. is one of only a few nations with ubiquitous access to vaccines. Countries without the ability to vaccinate their teachers, administrators and large portions of their students will largely be unable to safely reopen schools, especially countries that lack sufficient resources to modify their schools for virus-stricken instruction. America is uniquely positioned to be a global leader in education through international cooperation. As the only international fund of its kind, the Global Partnership for Education marshals global resources for national education plans in lower-income countries. Now, GPE and its partners have a five-year plan to support learning for millions of children in lower-income countries, helping to build back better from the pandemic. On July 28-29, the GPE is holding a replenishment conference, co-hosted by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, to raise $5 billion to achieve the goal to educate 175 million children, lift 18 million people out of poverty and save 3 million lives.
I am proud of our country for being a consistent contributor to the GPE in the past years. The U.S. was the third-largest donor country to education in 2019, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
I urge President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress to make a bold pledge of at least $1 billion over the next five years to the GPE.
The U.S. can and must lead this effort and work hand-in-hand with the global community to ensure every child can reach his or her potential. I further urge Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Blaine Luetkemeyer to sign House Resolution 225 and Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley to sign Senate Resolution 240 in support of GPE.
Raj Jaladi is a student at Parkway West High School in St. Louis. He is the freshman class president and group co-leader for Results, St. Louis, which is an advocacy organization and a worldwide movement of everyday individuals who take action to end extreme poverty.