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Mother and child doing homeschooling, e-learning at home because of the corona virus pandemic covid-19 quarantine

Five Ways COVID-19 Is Changing Education for Good

Parents, students, and teachers worldwide have been finding ways to use the internet in creative ways they would never have considered before

Recently, a Harvard prof chose to launch an attack on homeschoolers, portraying them as driven by narrow religious concerns. Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s Harvard Magazine-length putdown hit precisely when millions of parents now homeschool— or at least supervise their children’s remote learning—whether they like it or not. Mike McShane spoke for many when he characterized the attack as “lazy”:

Lazy stereotypes of insular religious homeschoolers are also easily disproven by a cursory look at the data. In 2019, the National Center for Education Statistics published results from a survey of homeschoolers who found that the number one reason for homeschooling was not “a desire to provide religious instruction” (that came in third) or even “a desire to provide moral instruction” (that came in seventh), but rather “a concern about school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.” Number two was “dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools.”

Mike McShane, “Harvard’s Lazy Attack On Homeschooling” at Forbes

Harvard’s Kennedy School has—possibly recognizing Harvard Magazine’s apparent cultural tunelessness—responded by launching a Zoom meeting titled The Disinformation Campaign against Homeschooling (May 1, 2020): “Speakers will discuss the dishonest attacks on homeschooling that have been pervasive in the media and academia and also address the failures of public education.” A good call. Attacks on homeschooling, often launched by interests favorable to massive teachers’ unions, were more understandable back when it was just some parents’ choice in a free market.

Meanwhile, five trends to watch:

1.Parent–teacher co-operation is becoming critical, not just desirable. Instead of disparaging homeschooling, many classroom teachers have begun offering advice to parents who have been conscripted by COVID-19 as homeschoolers. Educator Oona Hanson suggests, given that many resources are available, parents relax and farm out the areas that are just not their best strengths, with so many online resources now available:

Unless you love exploring math with your kids, go easy on yourself with this one. And since most parents are unfamiliar with — and even afraid or suspicious of — the current approaches to math, you’re really off the hook here.

Luckily, there are many high quality online resources for math, such as Kahn Academy and Bedtime Math. Younger kids can use flash cards to maintain or build automaticity with their math facts, and they can do it on their own, without an adult or a computer.

Terri Peters, “Teacher: ‘You don’t have to strive for perfection’ when homeschooling your kids” at Today

2.Creative internet use is getting around quarantines. Parents, students, and teachers worldwide have been finding ways to use the internet for subjects they would never have considered before:

… students at one school in Lebanon began leveraging online learning, even for subjects such as physical education. Students shot and sent over their own videos of athletic training and sports to their teachers as “homework,” pushing students to learn new digital skills. One student’s parent remarked, “while the sports exercise took a few minutes, my son spent three hours shooting, editing and sending the video in the right format to his teacher.”

Gloria Tam and Diana El-Azar, “3 ways the coronavirus pandemic could reshape education” at WeForum

3.The “digital divide” is, becoming stark and more critical, as illustrated by the plight of a rural student in the COVID-19 shutdown in Washington state:

Medina is one of millions of people in the US who lack reliable broadband internet at home, either because they can’t afford it or because it simply isn’t available where they live. This digital divide has always left children and adults alike with fewer educational and economic opportunities. But with schools, libraries, and workplaces closed during the coronavirus pandemic, those without broadband are struggling to access schoolwork, job listings, unemployment benefit applications, and video chat services that others use to keep in touch with friends and family. For those on the wrong side of the digital divide, working from home isn’t an option.

Klint Finley, “When School Is Online, the Digital Divide Grows Greater” at Wired

The many tech industry efforts to alleviate the shortages and stresses caused by COVID-19 don’t address basic lack of broadband. Fixing that takes more time, energy, money, and technology. But post-COVID, we can likely count on hearing much more about digital inequality as a political issue.

4.Enrollment at universities could see large swings this fall:

A “cascade” of over-admissions is coming. “Schools are going to have unexpected yield for this class,” John Katzman, the founder and CEO of Noodle Partners told me. Noodle works with colleges to build innovative learning programs and part of that is advising colleges on student recruitment and retention.

An unexpected yield means it will be almost impossible to calculate what percentage of students a school accepts will actually show up in the fall. “As a result,” Katzman said, “schools will over-accept. And that will have a weird cascading effect all the way down. If the first tier schools take extra students, they can put them someplace, but the less prestigious ones will have a problem.”

Derek Newton, “Five Ways COVID-19 Will Impact Fall College Enrollments” at Forbes

If so, we can reasonably expect news of enrolment problems at smaller or local universities.

5.Some long-term changes will be unexpected but make sense in context: Hurricane Katrina’s impact on education in New Orleans, which most people thought at the time would be temporary, turned out to be long-term:

The schools didn’t cause the devastation, so why change them? Yet, change they did. The state took over almost all the city’s public schools, eventually turning their operations over to nonprofit charter organizations. Teacher tenure and the union contract ended. The attendance zones, which assign students to the schools they attend based on where they live, were eliminated so that families had a chance to choose any schools they wished. Only a handful of cities had ever done any one of these things before—New Orleans did all of them at once.

Douglas N. Harris, “How will COVID-19 change our schools in the long run?” at Brookings

The change, radical on the surface, enabled parents to send their children to any approved school during the post-devastation period when much housing was temporary. The parents were perhaps unwilling to give up that right later. The new charter schools approach restores the traditional balance in education, which gives parents some say in schooling for their children’s future.

In an age when most governments worldwide have closed schools in response to COVID-19, these lessons may not be lost later. Some see the situation as an opportunity to explore the opportunities for (very often free) learning at home:

Whether it’s taking a virtual tour of one of 2,500 museums around the world, listening to a live concert, learning in-demand technology and coding skills for free, engaging in livestream story or art time with renowned authors and artists, or just enjoying special, slower moments together as a family, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to disconnect from standard schooling and discover how much learning can really happen…

Most parents will eagerly send their children back to school when this is all over, but some parents will be surprised by what they discover during this break from ordinary life. They may see how much calmer their children are and how school-related ailments such as ADHD are less problematic at home. They may see that their children’s mental health has improved, particularly for teenagers who report the most unhappiness at school.

Kerry McDonald, “Are kids learning more at home durig COVID-19?” at MercatorNet

Hold that last thought. Most teens are probably better off without their lives being ruled by an “in” clique at school.

In any event, here are some parting thoughts from a political science prof who was homeschooled for eight years:

What books and magazines do you leave lying around? What subjects and ideas do you discuss with your friends when you see them? How do you treat the other people you encounter, and what kinds of interactions take place? Children learn chiefly by emulation, and the examples you provide every day in small ways, the books you have on the coffee table, the websites you visit, and the work you bring home and talk about – whether you are a lawyer, a dentist, a nurse or a bus driver – provide more instruction than most classes.

Mordechai Levy-Eichel, “I was homeschooled for eight years: here’s what I recommend” at Aeon

Children learn most surely the things they actually live.


Further reading on post-COVID-19 changes:

Post-COVID, five ways your job could change. This is a good time to be a creative thinker and innovator. Many COVID-driven innovations will likely endure, whether it’s vets doing telehealth, trolls harassing Zoom users, or cybercriminals targeting remote workers, the new opportunities and risks will stay with us.

and

Five possibly unexpected ways the post-COVID office will change. We’ll all know more about working at home than we ever thought we would.


Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she has published two books on the topic: Faith@Science and By Design or by Chance? She has written for publications such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Living. She is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist'€™s Case for the Existence of the Soul. She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Five Ways COVID-19 Is Changing Education for Good