Educational Meltdown

Our forced march to online learning is going to leave a trail of poor students behind

Learning online will not make students who are already having a difficult time in school better students. Students that are having a difficult time academically, socially, and emotionally, or are coming from low-income communities, high crime areas, and schools that lack resources, are not going to benefit from online learning. It would not be a stretch to think that there is a high possibility they will do worse.

Untrained parents will take over some of the duties of teaching, or at least play a massive role in facilitating what teachers are trying to teach online. Many parents are not up to this. Being a parent does not make you a great teacher (and vice-versa). Parents are most likely having an even higher view and sympathy for the people in charge of the most essential aspect of their child’s life.

Some homes in both the city and rural areas do not have computers. Many school districts, communities, and other organizations provide students with the tools needed to communicate with their teachers. But even putting those tools in place and having them available to students will not be enough for those students already struggling. If they are having difficulties with in-person learning, taking them out of the classroom, and placing a computer in front of them is not going to improve their learning.

Out of (possibly) a simple case of CYA, some school districts instructed teachers not to give their students a lower grade than what they already had before the pandemic. The reason why districts are covering their butts and allowing such a rule is because they know they are woefully unrepaired to stop on a dime and change from traditional teaching and start online learning. Teachers were not adequately trained to deliver online instruction. All schools are not created equal. Some schools, those that were already running online learning programs, are doing a better job than schools that do not have online learning in place.

We are only at the beginning of online instruction. The entire country was forced into using the online platform because of the coronavirus. It can be said that academically, this has been the worse semester in America’s education history. That includes K-12 as well as college. Latitude was given to students and teachers alike, as administrators made adjustments for both parties. Students were left off the hook for being inconvenienced, and teachers were left off the hook because they have not quite grasped the fundamentals of teaching online. The result can be easily predicted. Not much learning was done during the coronavirus semester.

This can be excused for apparent reasons. But as we look into the very near future, this approach to learning will have to be changed. All of the problems that plagued classroom teachers still exist. Students who have issues with learning, whether behavioral or intellectual, will not have their problems disappear when their classroom is switched to online learning. It is too early to have any meaningful data because we are only at the beginning of what will be the standard norm from now on and into the foreseeable future.

It is easy to make predictions, though generally, they can be. First, there should not be much argument that the vast majority of underperforming students will have their performance scores dip further. No evidence of data supports their academic performance will improve. Common sense tells us this already. But maybe some thought should go into
imagining what this may look like in the future.

Without face-to-face learning, or to be more direct: With online education, fewer people will be educated. There is always an ample supply of students who will perform at a high level, regardless of pedagogy or delivery methods. Statically, these types of students are a meager percentage of all students graduating from high school. The majority of students will not be able to get the support that traditional face-to-face learning provides. There will be no one to know that they are distracted. The guardrail that in-person teachers offer will no longer exist online. Until we figure out how we will address the issue of engagement, an army of students will not receive the education needed to climb the social ladder from poverty to at least the middle-class.

When we account for other issues that poverty illuminates, the picture is direr. Lack of computers, lack of internet access are significant issues. No supervision in the homes to ensure work is being completed is another problem to contend with.

It is going to take cooperation from students to make distance learning effective. This expectation is not different from the students’ responsibility during face-to-face instruction. Still, the checks and balances are absent from online learning. This leaves students and their parents to develop resiliency and self-motivation to get the most out of online learning. Children from low-income areas are already faced with all of the challenges that shadows poverty. Daily, the problems of unemployment, violence, drugs, racism, and lack of adequate healthcare services are enough to ensure the entrenchment of a permanent underclass living on the fringes of everything we find desirable to live comfortably. Adding the coronavirus and the swift changes to online learning add another thick layer of challenges poor students have to contend with. Still, it also sets them back academically to such a degree that they will never catch up during the remainder of their K-12 school years.

We will not see the scars that this pandemic has left on our educational system for many years. Now is the time to start planning to mitigate the adverse effects that the pandemic has caused. This is important because online learning or distance learning, however you want to call it, is only going to increase. A future with a majority of instruction being conducted online is not confined to futurist imagination; it is inevitable. Technology does not wait for us to prepare for its arrival. Every new technology presents new sets of problems that have to be solved. We are on the cusp of a fast-moving revolution in educational content delivery. We have to start planning now to avoid what’s coming. We will not be able to fix everything at once. Still, our preemptive efforts can go a long way to avoiding a total educational system catastrophe.

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Thomas Holt Russell

Thomas Holt Russell

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Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. http://thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com/ My writing is a living organism.