The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has dramatically changed the education landscape in Maryland and around the world. As a result, students, teachers, faculty, superintendents, and many other stakeholders have been forced to quickly adapt to what is now widely known as “the new normal.” As Marylanders prepare to usher in 2021, there is still a great deal of uncertainty that remains; what does the future hold for Maryland’s education sector? Will online and remote learning become far more commonplace, even more so than in-person learning? Before we can move forward and attempt to answer these queries, let’s take a look back at this past year and how COVID-19 has impacted the state’s education industry.
Primary and Secondary Schools
Due to Governor Larry Hogan’s emergency declaration, Maryland schools closed from March 16, 2020 and remained closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Evidently, the decision forced educational leaders to restore, reconstruct, and re-design the layout of Maryland’s education sector. Teachers and students alike needed to adapt to virtual learning practices while government leaders began brainstorming strategies for a safe reopening process when the time eventually came.
In August 2020, state officials allowed the education executives of each individual county to decide whether or not to reopen schools. The only advice provided by state officials was that schools should limit in-person instruction as much as possible or close their doors altogether if their county’s COVID positivity rate was more than 5% and the new case rate exceeded 15 cases per 100,000. With that said, the urgency of Governor Larry Hogan’s remarks on the virus prompted nearly every school in the state to embrace hybrid learning practices.
As reported by The Washington Post, students in certain communities have experienced more severe educational repercussions as a result of the pandemic. For some of the most vulnerable students in Maryland’s largest school system, failure rates in math and English classes increased as much as six times. Newly released data also shows that 36% of students in the ninth grade from low-income families failed the first marking period in their English class. This comes as a stark contrast to last year’s statistics: when the same students took a similar test in eighth grade English, less than 6% of them failed. In Montgomery, one of Maryland’s most diverse systems of more than 161,000 students, Black and Hispanic students from low-income families or those at the poverty line were the most severely affected by the pandemic’s adverse effects.
For instance, when the virus was first declared a global pandemic back in March 2020, universities across the state, including the University of Maryland, Towson University, and Johns Hopkins University, reacted quickly, closing campuses, canceling classes, and/or transitioning to remote learning for at least a few weeks. The swift action was taken in an effort to curb the spread of the virus across college campuses and across the state in general. However, as recently as November 2020, Former Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr.
Joshua Sharfstein expressed that Maryland was still experiencing a “dangerous time” as COVID cases continued to rise. In his statement, he pointed out that other states were experiencing inundation in hospitals and a similar crisis could occur in Maryland if citizens failed to abide by new regulations, one of which was reducing the indoor capacity of all bars and restaurants in the state from 75% to 50%.
As cases remained high throughout the year, online courses and degree programs saw a massive surge in enrollment levels. For example, enrollment at the online platform Coursera, which offers massive open online classes (MOOCs), skyrocketed from mid-March to mid-April 2020, increasing from 1.6 to 10.3 million – a 640% growth from where enrollment levels sat during the same period in 2019. Similarly, enrollment at another online MOOC provider called Udemy increased by roughly 400% between February and March 2020. Undoubtedly, these surges are directly correlated to the global lockdowns that ensued in the initial stages of the pandemic.
For better or worse, Maryland’s education sector has undergone some drastic transformations throughout 2020. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland’s primary, secondary, and postsecondary institutions all saw significant shifts to online and remote learning as a strategy for curbing the spread of the pervasive virus. Some students, particularly BIPOC students and those from low-income families, have experienced more adverse educational effects as a result of the pandemic. Ideally, in 2021, Maryland’s state officials can continually work to address these inequalities and develop strategies for the safe reopening of schools.