by Ravi Hutheesing
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my book, PIVOT: Empowering Students Today to Succeed in an Unpredictable Tomorrow. I wrote the entire work during the beginning stages of the pandemic, and it was published in November of 2020, just before the vaccine rollout began globally. These words not only capture some of my experiences and discoveries during the pandemic, but the book itself emerged from confinement.
When I began thinking about this book, the world was relatively calm, with strong economies and no major conflicts. With technology rapidly evolving and impacting the future of jobs, the education industry was deeply engaged in debates about how to best prepare students for an unpredictable future.
As a keynote speaker who has delivered speeches to thousands of education leaders at conferences, including the International Baccalaureate Global Conference and AASA’s National Conference on Education, answering this question has been a cornerstone of my message. Creating cultural competence and equity in education (fairness, regardless of differing values and beliefs), and implementing technology and personalized learning, are common themes because while the future may be unpredictable, educators help shape the future by how they prepare students.
Then the unthinkable happened. The Coronavirus Disease of 2019-2020 (COVID-19) shattered global economies, flipped education upside-down, and caused all of humanity to make the most significant pivot in a lifetime. For much of 2020, ninety percent of the global population lived in countries with some degree of travel restriction, 1.7 billion people were ordered to stay at home, and the rest either found their everyday lives severely curtailed given the mandated closures of non-essential businesses or were encouraged to self-quarantine while working and learning from home.
Classrooms and conference rooms pivoted immediately from physical to virtual. Wedding receptions, birthday celebrations, and funerals soon followed. The global shutdown accelerated the implementation of technology into education, the workforce, and social interactions practically overnight. The absence of traditional schooling for at least one semester was probably the most significant disruption for most families. Ninety percent of the world’s students found schools closed or were sent home from colleges and universities, sometimes without even the time to pack their belongings.
Educators went into a panic as they attempted to bridge a gap that turned into a chasm. School systems everywhere involuntarily accelerated the adaptation to online learning with varying degrees of success. While digital learning had already been increasing in classrooms, it quickly became apparent how much disparity it creates without structure and guaranteed access to computers and highspeed internet. Moreover, since many families depend on free school lunches, creating a system to distribute box lunches often took precedence over solving the challenges of delivering education to the home.
ust as the world was beginning to find its rhythm, a second event stopped us in our tracks. George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, suspected of committing a minor offense by using a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, was killed by the excessive force of the arresting white police officer.
While the virus had, in some ways, united the globe in the effort to contain a common enemy, people were also reaching psychological breaking points from being kept in figurative cages. Riots quickly erupted in cities across the United States, often evolving from peaceful protests into violent clashes with police. Then, like the Coronavirus, the protests transcended borders, spreading to Europe and beyond as the world’s attention pivoted from overcoming a health crisis to demanding social justice…
While disparity has been accentuated during the pandemic due to the lack of equal access to technology, which would likely perpetuate classism and racism, young people around the world are now taking a firm stance on social justice issues. Even during the months before COVID-19 and George Floyd, millennials have started marching on the streets to fight for equality, from Hong Kong to
Chile to France to Lebanon. While previous generations have done the same, it is the multicultural nature of millennials and their successors, Gen Z, that could produce a change unlike anything we have seen before.
Moreover, nature appeared to heal, even if only temporarily. While humans were quarantined, wild animals were found grazing in cities for the first time in most of our lifetimes, with dolphins swimming closer to Italy’s southern shores in the less polluted waters, and pumas descending from the Andes onto the unusually quiet streets of Santiago de Chile. Air pollution vanished over Beijing and New Delhi, and while household energy consumption increased worldwide, it was being offset by the reduction in businesses’ use.
Many found that working from home increased their productivity while companies saw office expenses disappear from their bottom lines. Given the need for social distancing, the recent surge in coworking spaces reversed, but the rise in home delivery benefitted shipping companies and online retailers. Some hotels that depend on tourists found new business as places for travelers to quarantine for the fourteen days most governments required. Just about every industry has been forced to pivot in one way or another…
The time had come for me to complete this book, which is for all educators, including school administrators, teachers, counselors, parents, and students. I believe education is the solution to all the world’s problems, but to educate the “whole child” and create “lifelong learners,” it must begin as a partnership between parents and teachers and then pivot to one between students and mentors. While it need not always be an active collaboration, each must take ownership of his or her role because education is much more than just going to school. By giving all students the skills to pivot in the face of constant changes, we empower them to succeed in an unpredictable future.
(*Reprinted with permission, ©2020, Ravi Unites, Inc. Visit RaviUnites.com to learn more.)