Esther Wojcicki: Back to School

For the fifth part of this series, we asked our experts to reflect upon the things we need to consider as we prepare to reopen schools this fall. “What human, organizational, and/or technological infrastructures do we need to put into place to support sustained periods of learning at home and/or more frequent handoffs between teachers and caregivers over the course of the school year? To what or whom do we need to pay closer attention as we plan for the reopening of schools? What might we be overlooking?”

Reimagining school

Esther WojickiEsther Wojcicki is Founder of Palo Alto High School’s Media Arts Program and the Journalistic Learning Initiative at the University of Oregon.

All parents and all teachers are hoping schools will be open again in the fall, but the probability is low. School most likely will continue to be a mix of in-person classes a few days per week and online classes the rest of the week, or all online classes. Very few schools will open as before. Parents will have to cope and it will impact companies, productivity, and our lives.

There is a silver lining. Students will be forced to be more responsible for their own learning and work collaboratively. Those are good skills. Self-learning is an important skill all students should have. One negative thing is that without in-person classes, students won’t learn social-emotional skills that are critical for success. According to a report from McKinsey, “The U.S. education system was not built to deal with extended shutdowns like those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers, administrators, and parents have worked hard to keep learning alive; nevertheless, these efforts are not likely to provide the quality of education that’s delivered in the classroom.”

Even more troubling, according to the report, is the persistent achievement gap across income levels that will widen in the continued school shutdown. To remedy this, state and local governments should take responsibility to ensure that all students have Wi-Fi (shockingly, more than 30% don’t) and devices to access the web. Unless we take action now, these gaps will widen and continue for years to negatively impact coming generations.


See more posts in this series:

Voices on the Future of Childhood

Akimi Gibson | Elisha Smith Arrillaga | Esther Wojcicki | Gregg Behr
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin | Molly McMahon | Robert Tom Kalinowski | Tom Liam Lynch