Setting up a classroom curriculum has never been easy, especially with the changing requirements from local and state education policy makers about what students should be taught. But with schools across the state closed until at least May 4, educators at all levels are facing huge challenges to keep teaching children under extraordinary conditions.
Technology is the key to everything now, as anyone working from home and communicating with employees, family or friends knows well.
When Gov. Charlie Baker ordered schools closed two weeks ago, the scramble began to find ways to set up virtual classrooms, to communicate with parents, students, teachers and administrators, and coordinate education from elementary through high school. Many school systems already had students equipped with tablets and teachers working with online communication tools where information could flow back and forth.
Baker’s initial order anticipated classes resuming April 6. With the new May 4 date in place, Baker said the longer closure will give teachers time “to ensure that all students have access to resources and instruction that is customized to their particular needs … [and] provides a runway to ensure that they can complete their coursework by the end of the school year in June.”
Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley has appeared in a series of public service announcements on public television promoting his department’s work with WGBH to coordinate programming for virtual classroom work.
He said last week his department also is working with superintendents so school districts can “build upon or harmonize with their current remote learning plans” and implement their revised plans by early April.
“We recognize districts will have the ability to kind of customize their plans for their communities, but we’re going to offer some structure by which to focus on that. And so we think getting kids into a routine, keeping them engaged in learning, is the way to go,” Riley said at a news conference last week. “This is an amazing opportunity to think about project-based learning, to think about reading a book, to think about cooking recipes and how that works, to think about starting a garden. We have a real opportunity here to do different things with our children, and we’re going to try to supply the resources in addition to what the district is offering.”
When you step back for a moment, it is exciting to look at the possibilities virtual classrooms offer large numbers of students. The reality of limits in technology come into focus quickly, though.
In some rural areas and communities with lower average family incomes, students might not have ready access to WiFi or fast internet connections. They also might not have a home computer or tablet that fits the needs of technology today. And the idea that every household has a parent who can be at home to help them stay focused and work through online lessons is fraught as well.
This pandemic has called for creative solutions at every turn, whether for school work, employment, buying groceries or getting medical care.
That creativity can take some interesting forms. For example, last week the South Carolina Department of Education rolled out the first of some 3,000 school buses that are being connected to internet providers and sent into communities with limited incomes or limited web access.
The buses, which already had WiFi capability, are connected to internet providers which have contracted with the state, according to the Department of Education.
The state had received almost 500 requests for buses with WiFi ability; 1,102 school buses are already being used for meal delivery, according to numbers from the department. Some South Carolina school systems had also created packets of learning materials to deliver to students’ homes in areas where computer access and WiFi aren’t practical. So there is recognition that one size does not fit all children.
We’re hopeful local and state education officials here will find the solutions needed to address the educational needs of all students, no matter how “wired” their homes or how needy their families.
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- US Department of Education Releases “COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs” | US – U.S. Department of Education
- The more you learn, the more you earn: education and poverty alleviation in Thailand – UN News
- Dep’t of Education issues emergency order waiving test requirement for seniors, series of adjustments – Florida Politics
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- US Department of Education Announces More Biden-Harris Appointees | US – U.S. Department of Education