Such fanaticism makes me wonder if our concern is about education, or do we just want to get the children out of the house and return to free child care? Perhaps I am misreading these signs and the primary concern really is the quality of education that our children are receiving.
What should we do? Is reopening the schools safe? That is the debate at present. Some say yes, reopen schools; there are not that many children dying from the virus so it would be okay to reopen schools. Just send students back to school. However, Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College in London who worked on the scientific modelling in England, advised the government there not to reopen because, as he stated, school closings play an important role in helping the entire country recover. As Professor Ferguson stated:
“When combined with intense social distancing it [school closing] plays an important role in severing remaining contacts between households and thus ensuring transmission declines.”
And yet, here in the U. S., we are still debating what to do. It has been estimated that one-fourth of our school children do not have adequate internet access. Surveys are showing that some families only have Internet access through their cell phones. Other families simply do not have high speed Internet access.
What can be done to help our children, today?
Let’s turn to an experimental research project being conducted at the International School of Monza. In this program, students and teachers create short videos to share, do video conferencing, and group work—all from home. They:
- learn basic skills and knowledge at home from videos.
- come together online to evaluate, analyze, and work in groups.
- use “real-time feedback” from teachers to correct assignments as they are written rather than waiting until completed and simply getting a bad grade if you did not complete the assignment correctly.
One teacher explains that this provides a way to reach struggling students. While students are researching and writing, “I can call a weaker student to a private call and quietly work with them giving them the extra support they need,” says Julia Peters who teaches at the International School of Monza.
If this kind of technology is already available, why are we not using it?
I have always been an advocate for improving the quality of education. I am also an advocate for hands-on education rather than computer-based education. Still, during the coronavirus pandemic, I must stand with those who say the best way to educate our children right now is to teach them at home through computer-based learning.
Are we doing the best that we can do with computer-based learning? No, we are not. Just as when students are sitting in the classroom, some teachers are going out of their way to be as creative and innovative as possible, while, just as when children are in the classroom, some teachers are doing only what is required by their administrator. As a country, we are not doing the best that we can do. Our children deserve more.
How can we make education better? As a research psychologist, I will always heavily lean toward what science says. So, what is research telling us? One reference that I found very helpful stated that we should:
1. Require more training and infrastructure for distance learning. Obviously, if your child received a stack of worksheets this week on their school computer with absolutely no explanation for what the worksheets taught or how the student was to complete the worksheets correctly, you know firsthand that teachers need more training in distance learning.
2. Expand access to broadband. Comcast, Verizon, and charter are mentioned in the article as offering free or low-cost high-speed Internet to low-income families, but we need more.
3. Broadcast over TV free. The article mentions that PBS is offering some programming at present. So why are we not doing more? Even most low-income families have TV. Why are we not turning our televisions into educational classrooms?
Andreas Schleicher, the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of which the U. S. is a member, leaves us with one somber reminder to think about:
“It is clear that this will not reach everyone and it’s not just a matter of access to devices,” he says. “If you don’t know how to learn on your own, if you don’t know how to manage your time, if you don’t have intrinsic motivation, you won’t be very successful in this [computer-based] environment.”
So, what should we do? Should we continue with the haphazard online education being sent home at present (some good—some not), should we totally embrace online learning as demonstrated at the International School of Monza, or should we just send the children back to school and pretend it’s okay?