The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in at least one positive thing: a much greater appreciation for the importance of public schools. As parents struggle to work with their children at home due to school closures, public recognition of the essential care-taking role schools play in society has skyrocketed. As young people struggle to learn from home, parents’ gratitude for teachers, their skills, and their invaluable role in student well-being, has risen. As communities struggle to take care of their vulnerable children and youth, decision-makers are having to devise new mechanisms for delivering essential services from food to education to health care.
We believe it is also valuable to look beyond these immediate concerns to what may be possible for education on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hard to imagine there will be another moment in history when the central role of education in the economic, social, and political prosperity and stability of nations is so obvious and well understood by the general population. Now is the time to chart a vision for how education can emerge stronger from this global crisis than ever before and propose a path for capitalizing on education’s newfound support in virtually every community across the globe.
It is in this spirit that we have developed this report. We intend to start a dialogue about what could be achieved in the medium to long term if leaders around the world took seriously the public’s demand for safe, quality schools for their children. Ultimately, we argue that strong and inclusive public education systems are essential to the short- and long-term recovery of society and that there is an opportunity to leapfrog toward powered-up schools.
A powered-up school could be one that puts a strong public school at the center of a community and leverages the most effective partnerships, including those that have emerged during COVID-19, to help learners grow and develop a broad range of competencies and skills in and out of school. For example, such a school would crowd in supports, including technology, that would allow for allies in the community from parents to employers to reinforce, complement, and bring to life learning experiences in and outside the classroom. It would recognize and adapt to the learning that takes place beyond its walls, regularly assessing students’ skills and tailoring learning opportunities to meet students at their skill level. These new allies in children’s learning would complement and support teachers and could support children’s healthy mental and physical development. It quite literally is the school at the center of the community that powers student learning and development using every path possible (Figure 1).