How online learning may be more than a stopgap in the US
The Christian Science Monitor | April 3, 2020 - What changes to the way children are educated might come after the current pandemic? While there are still shortcomings to address, some see innovation happening in online learning – and in how people think about the goal of education.
Jessica Calarco has been thinking a lot recently about the importance of school.
This isn’t just because the sociology professor has been learning firsthand, like so many millions of other parents around the country, how life works without school. (For her, it involves new locks on the office door to keep her 5- and 2-year old from interrupting the Indiana University classes she is now teaching by Zoom.)
No, for Professor Calarco, the new life of trying to get a preschooler to do worksheets while a toddler runs amok in the background has brought up a host of concerns about what this unprecedented moment in American education might mean long term – particularly for disadvantaged students.
Professor Calarco studies inequity in education. Recently, she published a paper on the difference in homework expectations for low-income families. So she worries about increasing educational disparity as tens of millions of students bring all of their work home, for an unknown length of time.
“Homework-related inequalities become even more consequential now that schooling has basically all been pushed home,” she says.
Professor Calarco is far from the only one thinking about the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the education system. As of April 2, at least 55.1 million students were out of school in the U.S., according to Education Week, which has been keeping a running tally of school closings. At least 124,000 schools have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, according to their count – nearly all of the 98,000 public and 34,000 private schools that exist in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“There’s no way you can get through an experience like this without some sort of impact,” says Vicki Zakrzewski, education director at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “I wonder if it won’t change how we view the purpose of education. In the West it’s been about academics. How to survive in a global marketplace. This is making us step back and question what is important.”
At this point, the predictions are theoretical. As Michael Hansen, senior fellow and the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, says, a lot depends on whether schools and families treat this moment like an extended snow storm – a monthlong closure after which everything goes back to normal – or a fundamental shift.
But he and others say that, at the very least, the experience in online learning for millions of students will change the way schools approach virtual education.
“There has been an overall resistance to technology [in schools],” Mr. Hansen says. “I do believe this will be something that will motivate more schools and districts and states to take the virtual learning environment and classroom much more seriously.”
SOURCE: The Christian Science Monitor