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Has Distance Learning Failed Students?

Author: Best Brains Nov 16, 2020

child on laptop, distance learning, online instruction, african-american girl wearing headset

Since March of this year, kids across the country have pivoted from in-classroom instruction to distance learning, interacting with teachers and classmates via instant messengers, emails, and video chat. And by and large, the reception of this new form of education has been very negative. From sub-par lesson plans, to a lack of engagement, to technological issues such as a lack of internet or equipment. Some parents have gone so far as to file a lawsuit in Los Angeles over the quality of the education their children are receiving. There’s no denying that, without support, any kind of learning program is doomed to fail, and distance learning presents unique challenges to a population already burdened by unemployment, a lack of child care, and the fear and stress caused by living through this pandemic. So, what are the issues with the current distance learning model, and can it be improved?

It has been proven that without strong, reliable internet, distance learning cannot properly function. Being connected to video calls for hours at a time, as well as uploading and downloading apps and files, puts a tremendous strain on bandwidth. There are still many places in this country where internet access unreliable or even non-existent. Compounded with the cost of internet and electricity bills on families, many of whom have lost their primary sources of income, and the situation is very grim. Fortunately, some cities and districts have responded by adding WIFI hotspots to neighborhoods or making internet access free. But not every child has been offered these solutions, and the access they receive is still sub-par. Dubbed, "the digital divide," lack of access to proper equipment have directly put children at risk, as they must travel outside of the home with a parent to do their schoolwork.

So, if a child does have the proper equipment and internet speed, is distance learning still failing them? The answer is not as simple. While no official data exists, surveys of students and parents reveal mixed feelings. Teachers have reported a major drop in attendance and engagement of their students, and students have reported a lack of quality in their assignments. All agree that it's the content of online programing that makes the difference between an effective program and ineffective busywork. And while it's clear that teachers are trying their best, the model for distance learning that works has not yet been crafted in large-scale way. And all of this puts a tremendous strain on parents, who feel compelled to pick up the slack for their children, all while juggling work, housework, and self-care, which is already not easy to manage in the best of circumstance.

That being said, there are some successful programs which are contributing to children's education during the pandemic. Many apps and after school programs which have already been designed for maximum engagement have proven to be vital components of increasing academic skills. No doubt the coming months will see many more edutainment, guided learning programs, and hands-on education models created and implemented. And, if they are properly integrated into children's education, they can potentially make up for any gaps in the traditional learning model. While it is still too early to tell the major effects the pandemic has had on learning, the most important thing we can all do is stay engaged, stay alert, and keep looking for new opportunities to teach our children something new.