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A Look Back at 2021 and the Year Ahead for Education

By Daryl Brewster and Lori McFarling, Daryl Brewster, CEO, CECP and Lori McFarling, President, Social Impact, Discovery Education

Daryl: With Discovery Education as the worldwide EdTech leader serving around 4.5 million educators and 45 million students worldwide, what lessons did you learn last year? 

Lori: Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 90% of K-12 students transitioned to remote learning, and many remain in some type of hybrid model. 

While communities are doing their best to adapt to this new educational reality, we all saw the spotlight that COVID-19 focused on the inequities prevalent in education. 

 We know a great deal of uncertainty remains as societal challenges continue to impact education in communities big and small, rural, and urban. We also know we’re only beginning to understand the long-term impacts of this past year on today’s students. As we look to ensuring economic opportunity for all young people, we learned that industry plays a critical role in making connections for students to see themselves in the future economy and making sense of the world beyond the classroom. Recent research reveals that trust in the corporate sector is increasing – businesses are adaptable, competent, and increasingly ethical. With a growing degree of confidence comes a standing responsibility to transform good intentions into action with sustainable and lasting impact. As companies move to measure their success by global commitments to communities, we’ve learned that placing education at the forefront of their plans is imperative.

Daryl: Do you have any advice for companies focused on educational investments about how they can adapt to the new normal?

Lori:  I do. First, we need to speak to all students, not just those on the path to a traditional 4-year college experience. Now, more than ever, industry can play a crucial role in helping to bridge the gap between high-school and post-secondary plans in support of empowering students with the skills they need to compete. Second, we know that industry succeeds when we have a workforce that represents the diversity of our country. It can’t be clearer: we need all students to play a role in next frontier jobs, and those jobs require STEM skills, plain and simple. We need to show students of all backgrounds and genders the types of careers that are possible for them to attain. Over this past year, I’ve come back time and again to what children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman famously said: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there will be more than 10% growth in STEM jobs in this next decade, a rate 3% faster than all other industries and with projections to pay double that of non-STEM roles. But there’s a diversity challenge in STEM. Currently, women in the U.S. comprise only 24% of the STEM workforce. For Black STEM professionals, the percentage has not increased since 2016, according to findings by Pew Research, while Hispanic professionals are currently only 8%. Solving big problems means reaching a more diverse range of people through education. We can do this when we close the opportunity gap in the STEM workforce.

Since 2019, the STEM Careers Coalition™—a first-of-its-kind national STEM initiative powered by corporate leaders and anchored in schools by Discovery Education—has been working to address these gaps. Representing a range of industry sectors, it seeks to prepare 10 million students for the future of work by 2025 by providing no-cost equitable access to digital content and experiences. Since its inception, it has engaged 4.5M students at about 700 partner schools.

Ensuring economic opportunity for all requires engaging young people at the right time in their educational journey and providing them with exposure to the type of jobs critical to closing the wealth gap. 

Daryl: What other core areas should companies that support education focus on in 2022? 

Lori:  This past week, I read a staggering statistic: one in five children are experiencing mental health challenges, such as depression, behavioral issues, or anxiety. However, given the many challenges facing classrooms today, fewer than one in four teachers say SEL is implemented in their school on a programmatic, schoolwide basis. We see companies across the country leaning into supporting wellness programs for their employees, and at the same time, some are extending that work to support the young people whom they hope will one day join their ranks as employees.

 More than two decades of research tells us that an intentional focus on SEL is indeed something that benefits industry as it’s proven to help young people develop social responsibility, practice leadership, and gain the personal and social skills critical to the workforce.  

As students and teachers navigate these unprecedented times, social-emotional learning (SEL) has never been more important. A new public-private partnership dedicated to supporting educators, students, and families through equitable access to critical SEL resources has launched. The Social-Emotional Learning Coalition brings together corporate and foundation partners, SEL providers, thought leaders, and subject matter experts. Together they comprehensively ensure access to critical, vetted, and high-quality SEL resources for K–12 classrooms and associated youth organizations.

To date, no-cost resources from the Social-Emotional Learning Coalition have reached more than 1.1 million students since its launch this past summer. With cultural identity and understanding at the center, the work of the Coalition aims to support educators and students nationwide in this critical, timely journey.

As educators continue to heroically show up for their students every day, we’re proud to collaborate with industry leaders who are connecting the dots between investments in STEM, SEL education, and building the diverse workforce pipeline of tomorrow.