ISLS Statement: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Formal Schooling

There are a number of discussions taking place right now related to the nature and format of formal schooling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many places, these discussions take the form of disagreements about whether students should return to physical school buildings and campuses. In others, they take the form of a rapid embrace of new learning technologies without thoughtful critique, evaluation, or discussion of best practices. As a professional academic organization, we are dedicated to the study and design of learning across settings, environments, and the lifespan. Given that expertise, the International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS) offers the following:

  • The well-being, health, and safety of the learners, educators, staff, and community members should be the primary consideration in any decision regarding the resumption and format of formal schooling. We oppose the use of political pressure that discounts or dismisses these as primary considerations. Expert recommendations and guidance regarding public health and safety should be consulted to inform decision-making.
  • Learning Sciences research has firmly established that meaningful and consequential learning takes place across the lifespan and in a multitude of settings, including but not limited to home, work, community groups, online, in the natural world, and in schools. Should the physical operation of schools be temporarily delayed or greatly altered, ISLS expects that there will still be a number of rich learning opportunities available to affected students, even during this challenging time. Statements that a resumption of physical schooling is necessary in order for students to learn is a mischaracterization of what we know about when and how meaningful learning occurs.
  • The design of high quality learning experiences and curricula requires substantial time, resources, and investment, even in the best of conditions. To best support educators and researchers who are now pursuing new forms of educational design and implementation work in response to the pandemic, we urge patience and the provision of adequate support and resources so that this complex work can be done. A number of quick fixes and technocentric solutions are being proposed and endorsed without sufficient considerations of equity or the many roles that the formal education system plays in people’s lives. To find truly desirable and responsive solutions, we encourage interested parties to pursue meaningful and equal partnerships that directly involve educators and communities.
  • The pandemic has affected and continues to affect individuals, families, and communities in unequal ways. For those in positions of power and influence, we urge acknowledgment of the differential impact the pandemic is having on different populations along with advocacy and meaningful action for those most negatively affected. For example, this may take the form of additional funding and the deliberate pursuit of community-responsive policies and solutions.

Individual and collective actions taken in the coming days and months will determine the nature of the pandemic’s impact on how we live and learn. Many in our community are doing important work to respond to the unexpected challenges we are all facing. As a professional academic organization, the International Society of the Learning Sciences will continue to seek out ways to support and advocate for our members and the communities that we serve.

Victor R. Lee, President
Susan Goldman, Executive Officer

Board of Directors
Kris D. Gutierrez, Board Member
Joshua Danish, Board Member & Treasurer
Ravit Golan Duncan, Board Member
Heisawn Jeong, Board Member & Past-President
A. Susan Jurow, Board Member & Incoming Co-Editor of Journal of the Learning Sciences
Oskar Lindwall, Board Member & President-Elect
Jasmine Y. Ma, Board Member & Secretary
Jun Oshima, Board Member
James D. Slotta, Board Member

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