Oct. 11, 2021 -- How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect education? Several projects that focus on how remote learning impacted education -- and widened disparity gaps -- are being funded by the National Science Foundation.

The switch to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic signaled the start of a massive experiment in the U.S. education system. In March 2020, educators, administrators, and policymakers were forced to find new ways to keep learners safe and healthy while trying to minimize learning losses. Remote learning especially made hands-on classes in science and technology a difficult problem to solve.

But did these efforts work? The National Science Foundation has awarded more than $200 million covering 1,200 grants to find out, many of them for studies of how COVID-19 has affected preschool through to graduate education, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Several projects are focused on the transition from in-person to remote learning, such as one that found technology and internet problems interrupted the learning of about 1 in 6 undergraduate STEM students. Other groups are looking at how the pandemic has highlighted or worsened existing disparities, such as less internet access in rural areas and disproportionately larger learning losses among low-income and minority students.

A few projects also examine how stressors such as housing, food, and lack of child care affected the mental health of learners.

Though much of this work will identify, characterize, and quantify the negative impacts of the pandemic, the research may also pinpoint approaches that worked well during these unpredictable times. In one such case, educators used the pandemic to involve students in real-time microbiology research. Another project uses the pandemic as a case study for developing high school lesson plans about infectious disease epidemics.

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National Science Foundation: “Education researchers assess impacts of long-term remote learning on students.”

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