Will COVID-19 affect future engineers?
The answer is maybe, unless experts and educators can help students catch up on STEM and other topics.
As the United States and the world continues to combat COVID-19, parents and educators alike are wringing their hands over the challenges many students are facing. Some students are in the classroom full-time, though classes may be disjointed due to teachers falling ill or shortened school days. Others are experiencing hybrid learning, a mix of in-person and online learning. Some students are 100% virtual, completing coursework and taking exams online. Some school districts are missing students entirely — children never returned to the live or virtual classroom for many different reasons.
Studies will be done for years to come on the impact the coronavirus is having on the education system. While a college senior may have the drive and determination to complete all coursework online, a 6-year-old doesn’t yet have the structure in place to have a productive day in the computerized classroom. Distance learning is causing students to fall months behind in their educational progress. Failure rates are climbing in many school districts. The absentee and failure rates are even higher in low-income households.
In mid-March, students’ progress in math plummeted as a national emergency was declared. Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights has been tracking data on a host of different economic topics, such as racial disparities and students’ educational progress, and it is now tracking information as it relates to COVID-19.
This begs many questions: What does this mean for the future of science, technology, engineering and math? Will there be a “gap” of qualified professionals because of the dip in quality education? Will certain portions of the United States or entire nations fall behind because education has been subpar or completely absent?
America has seen many eras of innovation. After World War I, the fundamental technology shift in the 1920s brought networked electricity, water and sewer system and telephones. About 50 years later, travel via plane was the norm, comfortable cars were driven on Interstate highways and mass communication was part of the fabric of life.
Fast-forward to today, and someone from 100 years ago wouldn’t recognize the United States. Cell phones, the internet and inexpensive data storage have allowed for leaps in technology advances.
The 2020 Product of the Year winners are examples of those technology shifts, albeit some of the improvements are small. To ensure that new technologies are discovered, designed and deployed, current generations will have to mentor and encourage Generations Z and Alpha (people born 2013 through 2025). Schools and companies will need to fill these educational gaps so that any education challenges are addressed.