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Back to School By the Numbers

Last week's Deep Take
 considered the effects of adult children moving back with parents. Think fewer subscription services, empty units in apartment buildings, shifting foot traffic to grocery stores, and reduced number of purchased devices. Another COVID-fueled change with major outcomes to consider? The shift to remote learning. Beyond the complex and ever-evolving challenges of educating children from home while most parents work or attempt to find work, what will this first-of-its-kind school year bring? 

According to
Burbio, more than half of U.S. elementary and high school students will study virtually only this fall, with an additional 19% participating in hybrid online and in-person learning. And globally more than 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. This will affect students, parents, and teachers professionally, socially, mentally, physically, and beyond. Companies are also navigating changes to employee benefits, wellness, and flexible work policies for parents, sometimes with serious backlash. We'll likely be discovering the good, bad, and ugly effects for years to come – and many journalists, educators, and policymakers are already digging in. But for today's five-minute read, below are a few early implications of distance learning.

More from PayPal's Back To School study in today's Deep Take. 

Spending Shifts: Laptops are now a requirement for students in many districts, but affordable computers are hard to come by. Since the first week of April, PC sales have jumped 44% compared to last year. Even between July and August, MacBook sales increased by 31% and Chromebooks by 61%. Finding a child-sized desk for these devices may also prove tricky. Over the summer, searches for "desk" on Amazon rose 600%, "kids desk" rose 3,783%, and "computer desk" is up 257%. Hybrid learning will lead to added safety purchases, with 81% planning to spend more on supplies like sanitizer, tissues, and even goggles. On the flip side, back-to-school clothing purchases are down, with retailers like Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, and The Children’s Place seeing weaker-than-usual fall sales. Across the board, 61% of families believe remote learning will negatively affect their finances as they spend more on technology, tutoring, meals, and beyond.

Behavior Changes: Beyond practical purchasing shifts, society-altering behaviors are emerging with major economic impact. Many parents are seeking alternative education models through learning pods or "mircoschools," which cost anywhere from
$60,000 to $125,000 annually. Many are critical this will only further widen the education gap and digital divide. For the 40% of American parents who cannot work remotely, child care can come at the cost of financial security and family health. Startups including virtual babysitting services are popping up to make the transition easier for parents. Alternatively, upward of 13% of parents, especially mothers, are considering quitting their jobs to assist their children with school. About the same number of families are switching their children to private schools, more than half of which have seen enrollment increase, as many remain open for in-person classes. Those who cannot afford these options are turning to virtual-learning labs held at public schools or YMCAs, which still cost around $200 weekly and come with increased health risks. 

It's undoubtedly a tough time to be a parent, teacher, or student. Businesses should do everything in their power to stay nimble, address changing needs, and find authentic ways to contribute to a smooth transition. Back-to-school may never look the same, but foresight and planning for second-order effects can make the disruption easier to navigate for all. 

Chris Perry


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What We're Reading
College is Everywhere Now
By Taylor Lorenz, The New York Times 

As the fall semester begins, many college students will be attending classes from the relative safety of their family homes. Others have arrived to live on campus, with varying amounts of success. But some are pursuing a third option: Renting giant houses with friends — sometimes in far-flung locales — and doing school remotely, together. How will these college “collab houses” affect communities and spending habits? 

Modern Content Canvas
Biden Campaign Launches Official Animal Crossing: New Horizons Yard Signs
By Makena Kelly, The Verge
Animal Crossing: New Horizons players can now deck out their island homes with official Biden yard signs. Millions of people have picked up the game since its March release, and the Biden campaign is hoping to engage that large base with their new merch. Some see the move as a smart way to engage voters in the virtual spaces many have found comforting during the pandemic. But others are calling it a cringey attempt to appear hip.
Modern Content Canvas
Would-Be Stormchasers in ‘Microsoft Flight Simulator’ Observed Hurricane Laura in Real-Time
By Gene Park,  The Washington Post

Microsoft Flight Simulator streams the entire planet Earth in real-time, feeding in weather data from meteorological services and AI platforms. Scientists and novice stormchasers use the game to observe severe weather events like Hurricane Laura and the California forest fires from the safety of home. The features of the game are exciting not just for virtual scientists, but also for game developers and tech professionals who can tap into massive amounts of data to bring ideas to life.

Data Ethics
University Staff Are Worried Their Recorded Lectures Will Be Used Against Them
By James Vincent, The Verge

When lectures go online, who gets to keep the copyright? Some professors are worried that their recordings could be used to teach classes without them. Technology historians say that even if management has no intention of replacing professors with recorded lectures, negative unintended consequences are likely given the nature of the tech. 

Modern Content Canvas
Bloomberg and The Washington Post are Betting Big on Gaming. Here's Why
By Kerry Flynn, CNN Business

Big news organizations have announced major investments aimed at tackling gaming coverage. The gaming industry is soaring thanks in part to a pandemic that has left many people at home with limited forms of entertainment. But beyond just a tech or business beat, gaming journalism, much like music, has everything to do with culture. lifestyle, and community. 

Media Intelligence
Why Twitter’s ‘Trending’ Section Has To Go
By Dazed
A group of Twitter users are calling for the platform’s trends to be scrapped to help stop the spread of misinformation in the run-up to the 2020 election. While the platform seems committed to reform, recently implementing several changes to the trending page, critics call for Twitter to get rid of the trending page altogether. How would this affect brands who use the trending page for advertising and signal spotting?
Brooklyn Startup Puts Local Spin on Online Retail Market
By Anne Kadet, The Wall Street Journal

“Shop Brooklyn Not Bezo$” is the tagline for Cinch Market, a Brooklyn startup aggregating the inventory of local small businesses so residents can shop several retailers at once and get a single, same-day delivery. The service allows consumers to make sure their money  — whether it's for school supplies, clothing, or wine — goes to neighborhood businesses struggling to survive the pandemic. 

Emerging Technology
A Robot Wrote This Entire Article. Are You Scared Yet, Human?
By GPT-3, The Guardian
The Guardian published its first-ever op-ed written entirely by artificial intelligence. The outlet fed a prompt to GPT-3, OpenAI’s powerful new language generator, and asked the machine to write an essay from scratch convincing readers that robots come in peace. The results are promising, if not slightly misleading
Deep Take
Back-to-School is About to Look Different
By PayPal
In typical times, merchants play an important role in making the back-to-school experience simpler and less stressful for parents. Now, they have an even bigger opportunity to help shoppers navigate this tricky time of year. With such an unusual back-to-school season on the horizon, PayPal highlights what retailers must keep in mind.
Copyright © 2020 Weber Shandwick

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