Jun 13, 2022

Career and Technical Education during the Pandemic and Beyond: Challenges and Innovations

Boris Granovskiy
Student working on a mechanical element

Much like nearly the entirety of the nation’s K-12 education systems, career and technical education (CTE) at the secondary school level was severely disrupted by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. As school buildings closed and districts scrambled to transfer instruction to online and hybrid models, CTE classrooms were particularly impacted due to the hands-on nature of many CTE courses, which often require the use of specialized equipment and machinery.

Initially, CTE programs struggled to adapt to the remote and hybrid learning environments. They experienced issues similar to those reported by all K-12 education systems across the country, including inequity among students with access to the internet and necessary devices (often referred to as the digital divide); variable quality of online instruction; and difficulty in maintaining student engagement in the online environment.

By the 2020-2021 school year, however, many school systems began to adapt and innovate in their approaches to providing quality CTE instruction in a remote or hybrid environment. According to the CTE Research Network’s September 2021 report, school systems began addressing many challenges and finding innovative solutions to the pandemic-induced problems. These solutions included distributing connected devices to students; increasing access to mobile hot spots; acquiring newly developed CTE-specific online curricula and course materials; using block scheduling to offer some hands-on instruction to smaller groups of students; as well as offering virtual work-based learning opportunities, such as internships, virtual guest lectures, and job shadowing experiences for CTE students.

Funding for a lot of these real-time responses to the shift away from in-person learning typically came from federal programs such as the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

Region 5 states were among those that developed innovative responses to the challenges of providing effective CTE instruction during the pandemic. Below are some examples of innovative solutions developed by Region 5 states during the COVID-19 pandemic.

West Virginia implemented a new “virtual CTE completer” certificate for students who fulfilled the classroom hour requirements for their programs of study within the state’s Simulated Workplace CTE program, but were unable to access the necessary hands-on learning for certification. These students had up to one year after high school graduation to complete their required hands-on assignments and get certified.

West Virginia also pivoted to providing virtual professional development sessions for its CTE teachers in order to hone and improve their skills in providing CTE instruction in hybrid and virtual environments.

Kentucky began offering flexibility in end-of-course examinations for its CTE students in the 2020-2021 school year, and introduced a variety of virtual professional development and networking opportunities for CTE teachers during the pandemic.

Tennessee created a toolkit for CTE instructors with links and best practices related to providing high-quality work-based learning opportunities to CTE students. Tennessee also worked to address the digital divide by partnering with TMobile to ensure that all students had appropriate devices during the pandemic.

Virginia held virtual professional development events focused on work-based learning and a CTE Creating Excellence Awards program, complete with a virtual awards ceremony. Virginia also established industry partnerships that allowed students to get virtual certifications and industry credentials as part of their CTE diploma. An example of this is the Microsoft Imagine Academy Program.

Below are links to references and further reading:

For more information and support, contact the Region 5 Comprehensive Center.