Home learning leaves a lot to be desired but may linger on
While the Covid-19 shutdown teaches us that working remotely from home might become a plus, it has also shown us that home schooling is usually a loss.
As classes at all levels, right through university, have entered the living rooms and kitchens of America, key pieces of education are being left out.
But as educational institutions plan to exit the shutdown, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place: they face sharply higher expenses and health risks even if they welcome back students with social distancing and good health practices, but continuing a high percentage of education on line would be costly to students, who can’t get full educations at home.
As with most of the nation in this pandemic, education leaders are flying blind and charting their own ways.
The University of Florida has already pushed back the fall term a week to Aug. 31 but still is unsure how it will handle education when students and faculty return. The University of South Florida plans to keep some classes on line but how much is unknown. Florida State University’s fall plans are unknown but are likely to see most classes stay on line. Each private university and college is making its own plans.
Meanwhile, the State Board of Education meeting this week is to hear the ideas of school superintendents on social distancing, classroom space, recess and lunchroom settings and the number of students who could be on school buses, personal protective measures and more.
Private schools face the same issues plus the added worry that their tuitions are based on more than distance learning can offer. The less they provide in unique classroom and extra-curricular pluses, the more likely they are to lose students.
Whatever decisions are made individually, it’s a good bet that education in the coming school year will be more like it was at the end of this school year than what it was prior. We’ll be fortunate if the only changes are 6 feet of separation and masks in classrooms. More likely, many students at all levels won’t be in class very often, if at all.
Educators know about the knowledge slide learning from home. So do the people being educated – from grammar school to university, they all know they haven’t been learning as much as they used to, and they aren’t happy. Parents aren’t either.
Testing will tell teachers and administrators how much of curriculum education – what we used to call “book learning” – was lost by absence from classrooms in the early months of Covid-19. They can estimate how long it will take to fill that gap and how, because surely it can be done.
What else is lost, however, is not so easily replaced.
Socialization has taken a direct hit. Classrooms at all levels provide more than the curriculum: they teach accepted behavior in social settings.
We all grew up in school as much as at home. We learned how to listen to others, to express our views but let others be heard. We learned to take turns and to share. We learned how to accomplish in groups. We learned about fairness and decency. We learned about classmates who are different from us.
We can’t inculcate most of those concepts alone at home.
As we got older, we learned about shared experiences in extra-curricular activities and dorms.
We also learned in higher education from faculty-student interactions after class, discussions in class or on campus where others shared their educational views and from lessons-beyond-lessons – times when classes strayed from the curriculum into uncharted areas.
No matter how we test students, we won’t find and then fill the gaps in all of these areas of learning that are not in any classroom plan. These areas of learning are a large part of the reason parents choose a particular school for younger students or young adults select one college over another. Any of us several decades removed from schooling are far more likely to remember the informal side of education that helped us than we are what was in a lesson plan.
The learning gap of digital schooling is likely to be far larger in informal than in formal education. Those informal areas differentiate among institutions of higher learning more than a school’s football record or how the institutions are ranked nationally by other educators. You probably remember your classmates as much as your professors.
Decisions on paying tuitions are going to ride heavily on those informal learning factors. What are they worth?
Educators have no easy task in deciding how to handle students in the fall or possibly beyond. Health should be the deciding consideration. There is no 100% safety anywhere, any time. But what is the acceptable level of health risk to students, faculty and school staffs?
The trick is to factor in educational loss – not just what’s in the curriculum but the informal educations we all received every day we were in a classroom. Because the educational loss will be real no matter what considerations any educational institutions makes to minimize health risks. And catching up later will be difficult.
Unlike working at home, education in the living room will be a loss for both the students and the community. Unfortunately, it still might be our best choice.