OPINION

Distance learning a distant second to real thing

Posted 6/24/20

If there's any doubt that we have a long road ahead of us in terms of getting "e;back to normal"e; from the disastrous detour forced upon our society by COVID-19, simply look to the Rubik's Cube of complexity that is the state's ongoing process regarding how

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OPINION

Distance learning a distant second to real thing

Posted

If there’s any doubt that we have a long road ahead of us in terms of getting “back to normal” from the disastrous detour forced upon our society by COVID-19, simply look to the Rubik’s Cube of complexity that is the state’s ongoing process regarding how to re-open schools safely at the end of August.

The state released its guidelines for reopening last week and asked each school district to come up with three potential scenarios for how to implement students returning to classrooms – from the best case scenario where in-person learning becomes the norm again, to the worst case scenario where distance learning continues for the majority of young people in Rhode Island.

Although Rhode Island emerged as a national leader in how quickly and wholeheartedly it embraced the polarizing concept of distance learning – being the smallest state surely played to our benefit there – and some schools more than stepped up to the challenge of implementing distance learning curriculums, this by no means that distance learning has surpassed the efficacy of tried and true classroom learning.

While technological advances have enabled students to receive educational materials, study lesson plans, complete and turn in assignments all remotely, this approach leaves by the wayside some of the most important aspects of what makes school so essential for the development of healthy young minds. Things like in-person socializing, maintaining focus on a task throughout its various stages towards completion and the crucial emotional growth that comes from being part of a large group for long periods of time throughout an entire year.

With distance learning, there may be assignments and readings and homework to do – but there is no tangible, uniform structure to tie these concepts together into an actual education. When a student can check off an assignment by quickly scanning through a document – while a video game runs in another tab in the background – this is clearly not an optimized environment for retention or comprehension.

Removing students from physical school buildings may also take them from a place where they feel safe and supported. If a student has parents who must work long hours, or perhaps reside in a situation at home that is less than safe and supportive, they are at the mercy of long hours by themselves or an environment that is not conducive to productive learning. Resources such as appointments with school social workers

While the ideal situation revolves around more students coming back to class, the calculus then shifts to how to do that safely – and how cash-strapped districts, particularly the more highly-populated ones, will be able to implement those plans under proper public health guidelines put forth in the state’s plan.

How will Warwick – a school district that has been defined in recent years by skyrocketing deficits that most recently resulted in almost cutting school sports to pass a balanced budget – be able to afford additional buses to accommodate smaller groups of commuting students and increased cleaning protocols?

Clearly, there are more questions than answers right now – and patience will continue to be a valuable virtue for parents, students, school staff, local officials and administrators within the education and health sectors.

Of course, all of the above could be a moot point if a viable vaccine becomes available at the end of this year or early next year, as infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated was a real possibility on Tuesday. But banking on such an outcome is a luxury that those who must plan for the worst-case scenario do not get to enjoy.

Instead, parents and educators must use this summer as a chance to catch their breath – but only temporarily. The real work of ensuring that students receive a proper education has already begun, and will continue throughout these months where school buildings are supposed to be empty. We hope for our students’ sake that our state’s brightest minds are up to the task.

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