School Closures Could Have a Lasting and Detrimental Impact on the U.S. Economy
Raji Sahota posted on August 21, 2020 |
Having no on-site school until 2021 will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions.

The extended shutdowns in schools across the United States as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have created many challenges for educators and students. The challenges are disproportionately greater for students, leading so many to drop out or fail classes that questions are being raised about the possible long-term detriment on the well-being of the American economy. 

Many factors contribute to the loss of learning, including the access to remote learning, the quality of remote instruction, home support and the degree of engagement. Educators may not have adapted to teaching virtually. A home environment may not be conducive to study. Students may be distracted at home, or not have enough space or quiet to learn effectively. Studies prove that in-class learning is dramatically better than online learning. 

Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.
Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.

Many students are facing social and emotional challenges in the isolation caused by the pandemic. They may be suffering a financial hardship if their supporting family members have lost their jobs. They may be directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19.

And gone are normal graduation ceremonies, sports, and extracurricular activities that have motivated many students and kept them engaged in educational settings.

While many students are finding it challenging to study amid the pandemic, science and engineering students are put in a much more difficult position. With the lack of resources to teach practical skills, many educators are still searching for ways to teach lab courses or are canceling labs altogether. The labs that would enable engineering students to correlate theory learned in lectures with a physical reality are all but impossible to conduct online. All told, science and engineering students are receiving less education than they would normally and that has put their educations on pause.

According to McKinsey & Company, a student can lose 7 to 11 months of learning if in-class instruction does not resume until January 2021 or up to 12 to 14 months if they do not receive any in-class instruction for the full academic year.

Losing this much education will have a dramatic effect on the earnings potential of the student—and the overall economy. The McKinsey study estimates that students entering the workforce now, with their academic experience compromised by COVID-19, can expect to be $61,000 to $82,000 poorer over their lifetime earnings. 

Those entering the workforce during or post-COVID-19 will earn $1,000 or $2,000 less a year. They will also be less skilled and less productive than those who joined the workforce a year ago. This will lead to a GDP loss of 0.8 to 1.3 percent a year when they enter the workforce. That doesn’t include deteriorated health, increased crime and incarceration levels, and reduced political participation, which will also negatively impact the economy. 

Make: Projects, Making It Work

 (Full disclosure, Make: Projects is partially owned by engineering.com.)

To lessen the impact of COVD-19 on the educations and future earnings of engineering students, several software platforms have launched to help students cope with the struggles of online learning. One of these is Make: Projects. Make: Projects encourages collaboration, engagement, and discussion, and enables science and engineering students to develop skills they otherwise cannot during the pandemic by providing project templates, group chats, teams, and whiteboards for greater interaction, engagement and productivity. 

While in-class learning may still not be possible for a while, educators can finally use their time to learn how to make online education more effective and engaging before starting the 2020–21 school year. 

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