The COVID-19 pandemic effectively impaired various businesses and industries. Recently, a study showed the threat of the global crisis to environmental, outdoor science education programs. This could result in missed opportunities for children to engage in such productive programs.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on environmental, outdoor education programs was detailed by researchers at the University of California – Berkeley, a public research university in the US. Their study unveiled more than 50% of related organizations are unsure of reopening. This could deny the participation of about 11 million youth by the end of 2020. Results were published in the journal Policy Brief of the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) at Berkeley.
The Pandemic Continues to Worsen
Right now, the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations is focusing on accelerating vaccine research. The organization already announced a blueprint to facilitate vaccine development through a centralized approach. Via Solidarity Trial, all vaccine models will be tested for safety and efficacy. The same approach also covers ethical challenges that may occur in requiring human participants. To protect participants, they have to be closely monitored for adverse reactions, infection, and symptoms of COVID-19.
In the 147th Situation Report of the WHO, the total confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide were 7,823,289, as of June 15, 2020. while the total global confirmed deaths were 431,541. The total new cases were 132,581 and the total new deaths were 3,911 within the last 24 hours. The figures show that the pandemic is not slowing down, even with strict measures applied in numerous cities. In some aspects, the pandemic may be worsening and starting the next global wave.
In the Western Pacific, the total confirmed cases as of June 15, 2020, were 198,995, which included the 1,131 new cases in the last 24 hours. China, the first epicenter of COVID-19, reported a total of 84,778 confirmed cases and 4,645 confirmed deaths to the WHO. While the country's efforts to control the disease worked, new clusters of cases were detected after lockdowns were selectively lifted. This might indicate a potential second wave in the country if all cities were released from lockdowns. A total of 49 new cases were confirmed by China on June 15, 2020. No new deaths were reported.
Lockdowns in any country are disruptive for businesses, education, and the overall welfare of communities. If not lifted, a government could ultimately fail in sustaining the needs of its citizens due to resource scarcity. If it failed, a social collapse would be inevitable.
Environmental Science Education Programs Paralyzed by COVID-19
Some countries are easing restrictions to gradually restore businesses in an attempt to reboot the economy. For an average person, this is a good thing because they have a chance to earn again, even if they have to endure the rules of the new normal. As more workers report for duty, the issue in the supply and demand stabilizes. Unfortunately, this is not easy to do in the education sector.
At the University of California – Berkeley, researchers examined how the pandemic influenced environmental, outdoor science education programs. They identified that some organizations hosting such programs survived the crisis. But many of these groups were uncertain of reopening due to severe income loss. With more groups canceling than groups reopening, millions of children and teens would miss their opportunity to participate.
"Years of efforts to increase access to the benefits of learning and thriving in the outdoors could be undone, even if environmental and outdoor science education programs manage to reopen. Resource-strapped organizations tell us they will need to forego initiatives to promote equitable and inclusive workplaces, and even perhaps to halt subsidized programming, scholarships, fee waivers, transportation grants and community partnerships in favor of paying customers, which could lead, once again, to the exclusion of low-income students and students of color. There are things we can do now to prevent that," said Craig Strang, an author of the study and associate director of LHS.
Outdoor learning is the primary impacted aspect of these programs. The approach allows students to experience a unique method of learning: outside and connected to nature. But COVID-19 threatens their health and their communities. As such, the application of outdoor learning is impossible without risking students to the virus. This makes outdoor learning inapplicable to support low-income students and students of color.
In the study, researchers surveyed the impact of COVID-19 on the fieldwork of outdoor science programs throughout the US. Some of the organizations that host those programs were residential outdoor science schools, nature preschools, parks, zoos, and museums, which have been instrumental in both K-12 and out-of-school learning. A total of 995 organizations responded to the survey and revealed their characteristics. Around 62% of them were nonprofit, 35% were public or governmental groups, and 4% were for-profit.
Out of 995 respondents, 61% get their funding from program fees, memberships, or sales, 60% from fundraising and private donations, 35% from state funding, 34% from local funding, 25% from the public school system, 24% from federal funding, 18% from grants or foundations, and 7% from other sources. About 39% of respondents are affiliated to aquariums, museums, nature centers, or science centers, 28% to school districts or other local educational agencies, 21% to regional, state, or national parks, 20% to government agencies, 16% to colleges or universities, and 12% to gardening programs or botanical gardens.
In terms of participants, 52% of the respondents served kindergartens or younger students, 81% served grades one to five, 80% served grades six to eight, 80% served grades nine to 12, and 58% served adult students. These percentages show that most students of outdoor science programs are young learners, who will lose access as many relevant organizations shut their operation. By program type, 65% of respondents are heavily focused on outdoor programs, 21% are focused on indoor programs, and only 14% serve both program models.
Researchers estimated that as of May 31, 2020, approximately 4 million learners missed the chance to learn through outdoor science programs. By the end of this year, that number could balloon to at least 11 million learners. Around 63% of organizations expressed uncertainty in reopening, but only 22% of the groups confirmed reopening once guidelines were in effect, while 30% of organizations could not determine if they might reopen or not in the future.
The lack of funding caused the organizations to lay off some of their manpower. To assist these groups and young learners, proper coordination from local and state agencies with these organizations can mitigate the adverse impact. Deploying outdoor educators to K-12 settings and expanding the area of learning in schools are a couple of ways to help teachers and students.