Covid-19: Issues affecting Education, Mental Health, and China

Mar 17, 2020 by

by Tom Watkins

As a former Michigan State Superintendent of Schools, State Mental Health Director, and President and CEO of the Detroit-Wayne Mental Health Authority – the largest community behavioral health organizations in the nation – and having spent nearly 4 decades working to build cultural, economic and educational ties with China I have been spending time reflecting on the coronavirus pandemic which has hit the world with tsunami force. 

My observations and deliberations, then naturally fall into three spheres of interest: Education, Mental Health and China.


• Schools will be closed until at least April 6th.  I believe this initial closure could extend to summer vacation. Perhaps even into the new school year. Planning is needed for ALL eventualities.

• Educators at every level are scrambling to assure that our children receive the education they need and deserve during this crisis – thank you for your service! 

• Covid-19 is highlighting the inequities we have in our society and in our public schools. Wealthier districts are ready and able to weather the crisis: Students are connected, families are equipped with Internet/wi-ficonnectivity at home along with the learning tools – laptops and desktops, tablets and phones enabling continued online learning via the Internet and cloud-based applications. Many students from families in less monied circumstances – urban, suburban, and rural school districts – aren’t as fortunate. 

• Education is no longer confined to the 6-hour school day. No longer confined to four walls, a school classroom, or from between the front and back covers of a book. Yet, while technology make learning seem ubiquitous, many schools and faculty are ill-prepared to fully implement e-learning to their students.

• This crisis is reinforcing my strong belief that our public schools are the true Statue of Liberty in our great country: with teachers the torch bearers, lighting the way for us all. 

• It is vitally important during these trying times that our young people understand that everyone – including the adults in the room – are working together to keep them safe.

•  As  Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Education (2001-2005) I noted that we cannot lead in the 21st century without casting off the anchors of the past – archaic laws, old policies, and bureaucratic beliefs binding us to 20th century education models. We need intense examination of our preparedness in implementing existing and future technologies to help maintain learning systems and new models of education delivery during situations like this pandemic. 

Read my 2005 report: The New Education (R)evolution: Exploring E-Learning Reforms for Michigan

There are a series of policy recommendations in this 15 year old report that are as relevant today as when I wrote them. Some of our schools have embraced this technology and are partially ready to continue learning for their students during this crisis. Sadly, many are not. 

I wrote this report nearly two decades ago, and I still have people contacting me from around the globe requesting a copy or for me to speak to these issues and there impact on schools today. The reports points out we cannot lead in the 21st century without casting off the anchors of archaic laws, policies, and beliefs that bind us to 20th century education models. Sadly, few have adopted the potential technology can offer our schools and children In a way that prepares students for their future and not our past. 

Parents and students are panicking and wondering how they are going to keep up with their studies. There is a way. With technology, learning has become ubiquitous. Education is no longer confined to the 6 hour school day, the 4 walls of a school building or a classroom or the two bindings of a book- eLearning. 

Our students are facing an uncertain future that will defy predictability….Will they be ready? It is our responsibility to assure they are.

Today’s students increasingly expect a learning experience that is relevant, authentic and real. They require skills and knowledge that will enable success in a new world that is global, agile, and entrepreneurial. WAY American Schools is providing a future education- today. 

If you want more information on how you can partner with WAY American School as a school board member, superintendent, principal, teacher, parent or student check  them out at:


Mental Health

• Our world has changed virtually overnight. We are rapidly adapting to new normals like “social distancing”, “self-quarantine”, travel restrictions, and substituting elbow bumps for hugs or handshakes – familiar human acknowledgements and.  

• The 24/7 daily bombardment of “bad news” from the media – regardless of how factual – is causing intense anxiety and feelings of doom and gloom. Trying to decipher the myriad warnings and precautions as well as “breaking news” is overflowing our sense of comfort in the world. 24- hour news feels like a soundtrack to a horror movie, just before you jump out of your skin. Not to mention the misinformation and scare-mongering tactics dredged up on social media. Some are even calling the whole thing a ‘hoax’. All of which takes a real toll on human mental health. 

• Remember: We are all in this together. We will persevere and thrive going forward. It will take time to reframe the negative and panic thinking. Reaching out to others helps. 

• Social distancing does not mean house arrest. Go for a walk, take a hike in the woods. Call friends and loved ones. Call those whom you don’t know well to check on them.

• Health insurers will need to step up in providing coverage for tele-therapy and counseling. We cannot tell people to physically reach out for care, simultaneously practicing ‘social distancing’

• Need help coping? Here is the National Suicide Hotline:    1-800-273-8255   – share it!


• Yes, the coronavirus did start in China. Yet, it is a world problem now. The world is truly a global, networked place. Being angry at China does nothing to keep our families stay safe or healthy. We need to be diligent in combatting any form of xenophobia that inevitably pops up: it is human nature to find someone to blame. When it rears its ugly head, treat it as ‘whack-a-mole’.

• China, reacting to the Trump Administration’s ‘blame China’strategy, is pushing back. Its own propaganda is attempting to sow doubt about the virus’s Chinese origin, even directly accusing the U.S. military of creating and spreading the virus in China. STOP this ‘tit-for-tat’ political blame game.  We have better things to do to combat this virus, regardless of where it began.

• As the largest and second largest world economies, U.S. and Chinese leaders of both nations should be seeking ways to work together to address both public health and the global economic pandemic. Collaboration and cooperation will produce far greater results for our respective nations. Global leaders need to rally the world and join forces to combat this crisis.

• Surely the Trump Tariff – China Trade War helped slow the global economy before the Covid-19 crisis struck. It is doing nothing to help now. Presidents Trump and Xi should consider dropping the tariffs that each country has placed on goods and services – a way to jump start the global economy during this crisis. 

There will be plenty of time after the virus has passed to dissect how prepared (or not) we were. Time later to analyze our human responses at all levels of government and society after the crisis subsides.

Right now, let’s all do our part: Do the habitual soap and water handwashing, use sanitizer when available. Social distance. Avoid crowds. Seek ways to support and help our family, friends, communities, and neighbors. 

Together – humans in this world – we are truly better than our baser instincts sometimes allow. We WILL get through this crisis together. AND come out on the other side. 

Stronger and wiser.

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as State superintendent of Schools and State Mental Health Director. He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant.

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