Two weeks ago I was going in to teach 8th grade US History as a co-teacher (guest teacher) at a charter middle school in Florida. Spring break was about to begin and I still had a week left of the unit on ‘Just Wars’ that I am teaching.
I had no idea that within a week all schools and colleges across the US would start closing for coronavirus. A virus that had seemed so far away for almost a month in China was much closer to home. It was now a force to reckon with.
I now have two college students who will be in Virtual learning till the summer and during summer (if taking summer courses) and a high schooler whose spring break has been extended by 3 weeks (indefinitely). They will all have ‘distance learning’ or virtual school.
Student Access to Technology
My high schooler goes to a technology magnet school where each student has a school issued laptop for the year so it is not hard to start online learning. It is just a matter of one week when the teachers will get prepare their lessons and methods of delivery (apps).
But, I wonder how students at the charter school where I am completing the teaching and planning for COETAIL Course 5 will manage. There are students in the 8th grade that I am teaching who do not have a smartphone or a computer at home. Some have parents who have a smartphone but still no computer.
An information notice from my county also gave parents the option to “repeat the school year if parents feel the need” as no statewide assessments would take place now. This should not be an option if absence from school is due to a virus.
However, the last corona update was much more positive and shows the county’s desire to deal with corona virus as it stated that “Laptop pick-up will begin on Monday, March 23 – Friday, March 27, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the designated schools listed below:” This is hopeful as it levels the playing field and gives every student a chance to keep up with their school work. At least there will be no excuse for no access to technology.
The Haves and Have Nots
It is saddening (though I did expect it) to see the difference between Saudi Arabia’s private school that required every student to bring their own chrome book or laptop and the public schools in Florida. Here, even in the A rated charter school that I am working in, at least one third of the 8th grade students do not have a computer, ChromeBook or iPad at home.
The good news for Florida is the laptop distribution program at the high schools and the offer from Spectrum internet of free 30-60 day access to internet for all households with a student from K-12 though I am not sure about college students. It will probably be extended if Covid-19 forces more school closures.
What about the lower income elementary, middle and high schools in other states possibly with less education funding? They definitely do not have access to technology (maybe a smartphone) at home. Even their parents may not have smartphones. And if someone does have a smartphone what about high speed internet that would be needed for distance learning?
So all the areas that are dark purple or any shade of purple are students who are testing below their grade levels. We have to understand that these are tentative closing periods for schools as school closure can increase at any time. What if it is till the summer break begins (May 2020) or till August 2020? What then?
Will Coronavirus Level or Increase the Education Divide?
So, the Florida (I am sure other states) students will have a laptop and access to the internet to carry out distance learning. But what about countries that can not provide these facilities for eg. the developing countries in Asia, Africa, South America etc.? What about them?
So countries that can’t afford the technology needed for distance learning will have students that will not get an education until schools physically open again? What if Covid-19 persists for longer till the end of summer or beginning of Fall 2020? How far behind will these students fall?
Is it fair that students in these countries fall behind?
Teachers Ready for Distance (Virtual) Learning
Are Florida teachers and teachers from other US states ready for virtual learning on an extended term? I am sure that some are and some are not.
What kind of training is needed for the teachers to incorporate their curriculum in a virtual school setting for a long period? Is it possible to provide the training by school administrators, county school boards and state education boards on an emergency footing? And the training will have to on an emergency footing to avoid students falling behind nationally.
From now on all teachers will have to be ready for virtual school. Due to natural disasters of climate change eg. snowstorms in Arizona in March (?!) and global pandemics like Covid-19. We are susceptible to school closures at anytime and anywhere in the world.
The corona virus is a pandemic that knows no boundaries, no religions, is somewhat age restricted, no politics and no gender. It is the first global virus that we are encountering but it will not be the last one.
So, we need to ensure equal access to technology, the internet and trained teachers who can quickly adapt to changing conditions so all our students across the world do not have to be without an education.