By Mark Powell
The coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our lives, but arguably the most impacted part is public education. COVID-19 has changed our traditional model of public education forever, and parents realize that learning is no longer restricted to the classroom.
From this point forward, school districts will need to offer students a distance learning option, and should also provide distance learning training and IT support for parents so they can facilitate their children’s instruction.
K-12 public schools are going to combine distance learning with in-school instruction such that, in the future, the first day of school may look very different than it did previously. Instead of lining up with friends outside the classroom in anticipation of meeting their teachers, students may flip open a laptop to meet their classmates virtually as the education process transitions to a hybrid instruction model.
In order for distance learning to succeed, schools must offer parents training courses in online education so they can help their children navigate the new mode of learning. Some districts may already offer online training for parents, but this is simply not enough. Less-computer savvy parents need to be taught the basics of computer operations, such as how to connect to the Internet, how to use online chat assistance, and how to troubleshoot computer problems.
There are other barriers parents may face when it comes to online learning, including language, education level, income, and time—just to name a few. While there are a multitude of training videos available on YouTube, parents still need to know which videos to select.
As opposed to in-class instruction, we now know that “full-time” online learning does not deliver the academic results of in-class instruction. This is especially true when it comes to low-income students who oftentimes lack the essentials needed to compete with more affluent students, such as a quiet space, high-speed Internet, and parental academic supervision.
On the flip side, distance learning does offer many benefits. For example, teachers have enhanced flexibility and can teach from anywhere—with no need to commute from one place to another, they will save time that can be used for lesson planning or tutoring. For students, distance learning provides the opportunity to learn at their own pace, set their own schedule, and even earn a diploma quicker.
Most teachers will agree that they were not prepared to deal with the impact COVID-19 has had on their instruction, but they are much better equipped now—and once the stay-at-home and social distancing mandates end, school districts will need to retain some form of distance learning for their students.
When San Diego County schools shut down on-campus instruction to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, sending 500,000 students home for the remainder of the school year, parents were handed the responsibility of supervising their children’s education from home, a task that few were prepared for. The implementation and platforms that schools used for distance learning varied from district to district, which may have increased confusion as parents scrambled to assist their children with online instruction.
For many parents it may have been the first time they used an online learning platform—and for some a computer. The fact is parents will need to know how to use a computer and effectively navigate online learning platforms so they can assist their child, especially younger children in elementary school.
To make sure no child is left behind and insure a smooth transition from a traditional education model to a distance learning/on-campus combination, it is imperative that educators include regular and consistent computer and online education training for parents, similar to the training teachers receive to prepare them for distance learning. And when this pandemic ends, such training could be offered in-person on the school campus.
Sitting at the kitchen table with a pencil, paper and workbook may be a thing of the past as education transitions increasingly to online systems of learning—and workbooks transform into laptops, iPads, Chromebooks, and similar smart devices. In other words, distance learning for students is something that needs to be experimented with sensibly, considering all aspects and outcomes, and parents must be involved every step of the way to make sure our future hybrid educational system is fair, just, and equitable.
Mark Powell is a member of the San Diego County Board of Education and an adjunct professor. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of any group or organization.