Schooling During the Pandemic
Education got flipped on its head in the recent months. With the introduction of Covid-19 to the United States in early 2020, almost immediately, schools went online to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff. Months later, that is still a pressing concern with the pandemic ravaging around the country. However, with the fast turnover to an online schooling environment, groups of the population were left out; students who don’t have internet access/reliable internet access at home, students who don’t have access to a computer or laptop, and students in special education. There’s also the issue of a students’ situation at home, with domestic violence reports increasing, athletes whose seasons suddenly ended, and the loss of the school social life with friends, clubs, and activities. Distance learning also provides other challenges; students are falling behind, and teachers are losing access to their students. The overall consensus of remote learning in the Spring was that it didn’t work. Now though, with the sudden influx of Covid cases across the country, schools have decided not to reopen and conduct virtual education again in the Fall, despite the consequences. While many feel remote learning is safest during the pandemic, remote learning has to change so that it supports each student’s needs and maintains an interactive environment between the peers and teachers.
Benefits and Consequences of Being Remote
Many schools have already opted for virtual classes to continue in the Fall. A remote learning environment allows for students to log into class from anywhere, and sometimes anytime. It also keeps the kids’ germ pool at home, instead of spreading it around the school building keeping both the kids, teachers and other staff members, and parents safe, something that has been all the more emphasized with the novel coronavirus leading to severe complications in both older adults and children alike. Studies have also been done showing that students have a higher success rate in online education as they have greater control over their work with the ability to work on their own pace. Multimedia content such as video chats and messaging boards allows for greater access to classmates and teachers. While this may be true, online learning is not “one shoe fits all” due to differences in learning styles. Though some students may excel remotely, others may fall behind. For example, the oral learners may excel as they can focus just on hearing the material through a video lecture, but tactical learners can struggle, not being able to handle the models during lab or see different diagrams in the classroom. With online learning, it completely takes labs out of the mix, and there is no classroom, and often time, “class” is just the teacher talking either through a pre–recorded video, mp3 file, or video conference. Although those who can comprehend everything verbally probably will not struggle as much, for the students who struggle to take everything in verbally, online learning is a nightmare.
With the schools switching to virtual learning, a population of students was left in the dust. Students in special education were left behind, harming both the special needs student and the parent, who in some cases are ill–equipped to handle the child or give them the support that special needs students need. Furthermore, the special needs students’ progress that they had made at school would regress at home. Some students, especially those in lower–income communities, do not have access to laptops or internet access either, a must for online education. With not being able to access their classes, these students are falling behind, not having the same access to education that they would if school was in person. In general, as well, students are not making the same progress online that they once did in physical classes.
Loss of an Interactive Environment
Not all of a student’s education exists within the classroom with different sports, clubs, and activities that make up the school day. Sports allow for a sense of team and family, while clubs and activities engage the students’ interests and let them define them outside of the classroom. There is also an interactive part in the classroom with discussions that gets to take place between students, their friends, and teachers. All of that is lost in a virtual environment, which leaves students losing communication between friends, peers, and teachers, and some of the activities that students enjoy that balance out the school day.
Teachers are also struggling to keep the students engaged and learning. They have little way to see if the students are actually doing their work, or learning anything. Some students are also slipping through the cracks, as they are not able to put the time aside for distance learning with home responsibilities, or lack access to the internet and a computer, and the teacher is not in a position to help them.
Acknowledgment of Challenges for Change
In the world of a pandemic, how does education move forward to acknowledge the challenges of what a virtual learning system does? Return to in-person classes, if it can be done safely with mask-wearing, social distancing, and small class sizes implemented, especially for the students in special education. If the situation in the school’s given area does not allow for in–person classes, make sure that every student has access to a computer that they can use for their work at home. Provide free wifi at public places like parks, coffee shops, or bus stops, giving the students with no or limited internet a chance to complete their work. Find ways to check in with your students online. Have rules in place that the cameras need to be turned on in classes and enforce participation. Have athletic meetings be conducted through a video platform, have athletic challenges and competitions in a sports team, and conduct club gatherings through video conferencing as well. The technology does exist; it needs to be creatively implemented to maximize education and the social life outside of classes if remote learning is the only feasible option.