As an educator and teacher, Karen Swanson has seen a lot of challenges and barriers to education. Having worked in multiple middle-grade schools, Swanson has seen her share of critical problems. However, nothing in her decades-spanning career has prepared Karen Swanson for what she sees now as a generational risk that will last for years and, in many cases, won’t be fixed at all. That risk has been time lost in primary education for students affected by COVID pandemic-related social distancing. Despite all the technological tools thrown into the mix to keep kids engaged with learning, the most damaging effect of the virus may very well be how many young people it negatively impacted in education during the 2020s.
According to Karen Swanson and other education experts, a combination of problems is already being seen. Issues ranging from loss of critical skill development in math and science as well as reading and social skills are being seen across the board. However, more insidious, students coming out of the pandemic-forced separation are actually suffering from severe social skill failures and the inability to work together in teams. While many children and teens seem at first to be resilient and have bounced back to the classrooms unfazed, psychologically and socially, the same students are becoming insular, less communicative, and deeply entrenched in online presence as their safety zone. Instead of acquiring the skills they need in the adult world to work cohesively with others, kids are showing signs of moving in the opposite direction for more isolation instead.
From an education perspective, Karen Swanson believes that the impact of COVID separation will be felt in cyclical waves. As children grow and move from primary grades to teenagers, each phase will come with hurdles and generational trends counter to the expected educational development. Where conceptual thinking development is the norm, many children may struggle to think above individual levels. Where teamwork and negotiation become critical for success, Karen Swanson expects many children will fall down and become frustrated from a lack of social skills and networking abilities. Where many would be expected to find their resources in traditional research and training, Karen Swanson and other educators are seeing kids rely on social media and online chatter as their sources of information at an alarming rate.
Many might argue that Karen Swanson’s position and those of concerned teachers are alarmist. Everyone is returning to a normal post-COVID life, and kids will adapt. However, educators like Swanson see things differently. COVID has left lasting effects on kids in terms of how they interact with communities, learn, and their own futures. And, in Karen Swanson’s opinion, we will all see the results of this paradigm change for decades to come, clearly defining a generation separate from older ones in their commonality with the pandemic.