Today, State lawmakers are scheduled to evaluate best practices for remote learning to students during the pandemic.
As many of us know first-hand, our State and its citizens are facing an education crisis. With schools across the state of Massachusetts closed since mid-March due to the novel coronavirus, children are now forced to learn remotely. It’s been deemed unsafe to reopen schools for the remainder of this school year and many are concerned whether it will be safe for schools to reopen in the fall. Not only were our communities ill-prepared for this abrupt change to the institution of education, but also these changes pose significant challenges to children and their families.
“This has been an unprecedented interruption to an entire generation of students,” state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said. “We want to minimize learning loss as much as possible.”
Times like these often shine a light on glaring inequities within our society. Specifically, the gap between rich and poor. “Something like this really amplifies [inequities] so that the social divide, the economic divide, and the educational divide becomes much wider,” said Beth Kontos, the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
Students across the State have been required to transition to online classrooms. This abrupt change is tough for children, especially (1) those without sufficient technology resources (e.g. home-computer(s) with access to the internet) (2) those with special needs, and (3) those learning English as a second language. The transition has been slow and the loss of routine for many in the aforementioned situations will likely result in the children falling behind.
First, before COVID-19, there was already a “homework gap” Many students had difficulty accessing digital devices and internet service outside of schools. Census data showed an estimated 17% of U.S. students did not have access to computers at home and 18% did not have access to broadband internet.
Whereas not every community has equal access to necessary resources to send technology home for the children, children in certain low-income communities are more likely to be impacted.
Second, the DOE reports that “in these extraordinary circumstances, special education services will be provided differently than they are when school buildings are open and fully operational.” Resources for educators and families regarding how to support students with disabilities can be found here.
Third, English Language Learners (“ELLs”) need in-person interaction to increase English language proficiency. Our DOE gave guidance for ELL remote education.
In addition to the “access to education” crisis, closing schools continue to pose hardships for parents now saddled with children at home as well as low-income students who rely on schools for access to free or reduced lunches.
There are many positive impacts of in-person education including building friendships, joining sports, working in teams, group work and collaboration, gaining confidence, interpersonal communication, and much more. This transition to online learning will hopefully bring about a deeper appreciation for our teachers, our schools, and all the extra services they provide.