HIGHER EDUCATION | Educational Landscape Must Evolve Following Dual Pandemics By Adrienne T. Cooper, Ph.D. | Legacy Miami Education Issue

As I write this column, we are remembering the day one year ago that George Perry Floyd Jr. was murdered by a Minnesota police officer who held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he and other officers watched Floyd die. 

Unfortunately, the murder of George Floyd was not and is not an isolated incident. However, the release of cell phone video of the murder placed such violence front and center in the public eye, catalyzed multicultural international protests over racial injustice, and highlighted what has been appropriately referred to as a racism pandemic.

At the same time, the United States, though not so much the rest of the world, is emerging from lockdown due to the global Novel Coronavirus pandemic. With more than  40 percent of the country vaccinated, we are returning to in-person activities. 

These dual pandemics have disrupted the educational landscape so much so that as we return to in-person education we are returning to a different educational world than the one we left behind in March 2020. What we teach and how we teach it has changed and continues to change as we seek to adapt to and, in some cases, to resist the new realities. 

The rapid move to virtual learning was not easy, but it forced schools to reconsider the instructional delivery and rethink online and virtual learning. It spotlighted the digital divide, as we discovered that smartphones are not smart enough to support learning in every subject at every level. 

We learned that while some students thrive in the remote learning environment, many need the interaction of an in-person learning environment. Some educators made the choice to leave the profession, while others doubled down on professional development and emerged stronger. 

Colleges and universities as well as K-12 schools are examining their curricula for equity and inclusion while legislators in some areas are seeking to limit those changes. Several Historically Black Colleges and Universities received transformational gifts, though none were given to any of the four HBCUs in Florida. 

In July 2020, South Florida’s HBCU, Florida Memorial University, launched its Social Justice Institute to impact policy. The FMU SJI is a solutions-focused think-tank to examine issues involving the intersection of racial disparities and injustice in Miami-Dade County and South Florida.

As we prepare for the 2021-2022 academic year, the schools that will thrive are those that integrate active learning and embrace flexibility. Successful schools will be those that are hyper-focused on diversity and inclusion, ensuring that all students are not only valued but also have a learning environment that is culturally competent and adapts to their learning style and ability.

Lastly, the schools that thrive will need to continue to provide a safe learning environment through an effective COVID-19 protocol. It is our responsibility as educators to meet the challenges head-on and ensure our students are prepared for the new normal.

Dr. Adrienne Cooper is the provost and executive vice president of Florida Memorial University.

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