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How the pandemic can reinvent schools and learning

Children sit at a lunch table.
Kindergarten students were seated in every other chair during snack time at South Elementary in St. Peter in January as students returned to the school for in-person learning.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News file

Keynote speakers from the Global Minnesota “International Day of Education” event: California’s Linda Darling-Hammond and Audrey Azoulay of UNESCO.

Darling-Hammond is president of the California State Board of Education, and was head of the Education Transition Team for President Joe Biden. After her talk, she answered questions from Mark Ritchie, the president of Global Minnesota.

Darling-Hammond said we must use the lessons from the pandemic disruption to education to reinvent and transform schools. There has been an “explosion of knowledge” and lots of innovation and cooperation.

Schools are one of the major safety nets in many communities, Darling-Hammond emphasized. Many young people are suffering from trauma and anxiety.

The pandemic has also exposed major equity concerns. And “we must close the digital divide, so it never opens again.”

A public health crisis, economic crisis, civil rights crisis and climate crisis are all happening simultaneously, she pointed out, but “history shows that crises can lead to major generational social change.”

The relationships children have with each other, with their parents and with their teachers are “building brain architecture.” We must recognize that “learning is social, emotional and academic.”

In brief remarks, Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO, said education is a basic human right and a critical element in solving global problems as we come through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Global Minnesota is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization advancing international understanding and engagement. It hosted a daylong conference to mark International Education Day on Jan. 25.

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