Remote learning is probably here to stay

One effect of the pandemic that parents especially have to cope with is the transition to online classes. Many are, probably, eager to have these return to their in-person normal, as taking care of children while working is no small feat. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but online school might be here to stay.

Image credits Engin Akyurt.

A new study from the RAND Corporation — a U.S.-based nonprofit global policy think tank — found that 20% of schools in U.S. districts have adopted, plan to, or are considering adopting virtual classes as the norm after the pandemic. District leaders also felt that we’ll probably see this shift to virtual schooling after things return to normal, saying that both parents and students demand and support online education.

More school at home

The study focused on (school) “district leaders”, probing their views on the future of education after COVID-19, and picking their brains on what challenges await us going forward. All in all, it serves as a barometer of things to come in the field of education.

One of the most widely-cited concerns of those interviewed was uneven opportunities and access to learning due to restrictions imposed against the pandemic. The unique combination of factors we’re facing is putting great strain on families, especially those of more modest means, who may simply not have the time to handle both work and the school needs of the children during this time. Such challenges will say with us for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

Here, however, is where deeper discrepancies started popping up. Leaders of districts in which at least 50% of students are Black or Hispanic/Latino or at least 50% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch rate (i.e. those dominated by racial minorities and those struggling financially the most, two lists that often overlap) ranked fundamental elements, such as having internet access or devices available to access classes, as their districts’ greatest needs or challenges. In contrast, leaders of other districts typically listed student mental health and availability of high-quality instructional resources as their districts’ greatest needs.

The survey was carried out in the fall of 2020, and aimed to anticipate the challenges educators will be facing this year, in a bid to make required resources and know-how available.

“We found three common concerns: disparities in students’ opportunities to learn, students’ social and emotional learning needs, and insufficient funding to cover staff,” said Heather Schwartz, lead author of the report and director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program at RAND.

“But just as reopening plans differ based on local approaches to both schooling and the pandemic, district leaders’ opinions differed on the degree to which they prioritized these needs and concerns.”

One approach which most district leaders believe we’ll see continue — and perhaps even grow in scope — is virtual or online schooling. This was vital for the education system during the pandemic. So we could expect online teacher to become a genuine, official job description quite soon.

But its continued implementation means that issues such as lack of access to the Internet (which are overwhelmingly caused by economic inequality) much more dire and impactful in our lives. It also raises a natural question: those of you who can read this are quite blessed just for affording a device and internet connection. We’re probably living better lives than any of our ancestors. This made it possible for us to shift work and school online.

But what about those areas that don’t even have access to electricity or those families who simply cannot afford the devices their children need? In the case of the West, we’re talking about individuals, families, or communities that lack such resources (since most people, the ‘baseline’, do have access to them). In other places of the world, we’re dealing with whole nations who have never had them to begin with. Online schooling simply isn’t an option for them. In this light, the impact 2020 had on global education quality might never be erased.

The paper “Remote Learning Is Here to Stay” has been published here.

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