Never has there been a time more apropos for expressing our appreciation to teachers.
Schools and universities in 166 countries have closed in order to stanch the spread of COVID-19. Approximately 1.5 billion children have been affected. (1) Teachers have had to quickly adapt, feet to the fire, to teach these students from afar.
The challenges are immense. Most have turned to the use of technology. This may mean quickly getting up to speed with unfamiliar software or online programs. It involves reinventing lessons and finding new ways of doing things. And this is for those teachers and families lucky enough to have devices and broadband access at home to accommodate learning. (More on the digital divide later.)
Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash
According to Education Week, plans for synchronous (real-time interaction) sessions can take up to three times as long to plan. Plans for asynchronous lessons (occurring through online channels but not in real-time) can take five to eight times as long to plan. (4)
Teachers also face an onslaught of emails, texts, and telephone calls from parents, students and principals. Many of these teachers are juggling the needs of their own kids and families with the increased demands of their jobs.
Preschool and kindergarten teachers face different obstacles. With curriculum less academic and more focused on learning through play and interaction with one another, using technology for instruction is less conducive. Indeed, many preschools have strict no-technology policies. Studies on brain development discourage the use of technology at these younger ages. What then is a teacher of these youngest learners to do?
Some teachers have mailed sanitized activity packets home to parents. A packet might include play-doh, a few picture books and learning manipulatives.
Still, the use of technology has been used in small doses. In Education Week’s “What Happens to the Youngest Learners During This Crisis,” several teachers shared their adaptations. Some offer optional circle time over Zoom. The teacher leads students to sing their favorite songs, talk about the day and the weather or read a story. One teacher uses a photo of her classroom as the backdrop. (5)
Some schools have encouraged parents to share pictures and interact with other parents using free apps such as See Saw.
Teachers try to balance the need of providing constructive learning opportunities with sensitivity to the parents who are trying to teach and work from home at the same time.
Is Online Learning Effective?
Some 85% of educators who teach online courses believe that those that learn through online instruction are as successful as those who learn in the classroom. However, experienced teachers believe that in order for online instruction to be successful, it needs to include key elements. Simply sitting and listening to an online lecture isn’t enough. The instruction needs to include interaction with content, with the teacher and with peers. (2)
Photo Credit: www.thoughtcatalog.com
The Digital Divide
The pandemic has exposed many of the world’s inequities and the digital divide is certainly one of them. With only 60% of the world’s population online, a large number of children do not have equal access to instruction. In California, only 56% of low-income households have broadband subscriptions.
In many places, schools have needed to quickly come up with alternatives.
An investigation conducted by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune found that roughly 9% of school districts are using paper and pencil methods exclusively. Instructional materials are being delivered by bus or through the mail. (6)
One school district near St. Louis is creating Wi-Fi hotspots in parks using school buses equipped with Wi-Fi. If people don’t have connectivity at home, they can pull up to within 300 feet of the bus to download needed information. (6)
On the African continent, countries rank in the bottom third of those with internet access. This deems virtual learning difficult if not impossible for many schools. What many of the segments of the population do have is access to radio and television. An advantage to these modes of communication is that teachers need little training. In addition, both are familiar and engaging to students. Most African countries have at least one state-owned television station. They also have state, private and community radio stations. Some educational programming existed before the pandemic led to the closure of schools. For example, Botswana Television offers daily educational programming, mostly in math and science. Others have added programming to address student needs during the pandemic. (7)
Winnie, a student at Saving Grace School, shares an important message from home.
Regardless of the method used, teachers around the world have had to quickly alter their teaching methods in order to meet the needs of their students. Perhaps modeling the ability to do so may be one of their greatest lessons of all.