As I’m writing this, we’re in Week 2 of the COVID-19 “social distancing” phase. All the schools are closed and trying to transition to online instruction. I feel like this time will help us evaluate separately the different services that schools are providing in society. This crisis has really brought attention to the fact that schools provide, in addition to education, child care services for working parents and meals for students in need. (It’s also the hub of social interaction for most kids and teenagers.) I think these are all needed services, but I feel like our current “delivery mechanism” evolved without much of a plan and this may be an opportunity to evaluate and improve.
This year, I got to volunteer to help teach a Computer Science class at a local high school. There are more than 20 students in the class, and I’d guess that about 4 are interested in being there and learning the material. The remaining students are there because they need a credit and have to be somewhere during that period. These students have needs that aren’t being met by sitting a class that they have no interest in, and – their presence is reducing the effectiveness for the 4 who could benefit from it.
There are a students for whom high school is effectively a minimum security prison term and they are just doing their time until its over. I’d argue that – once you reach about 16, if you’re not getting anything out of school – you’d be better off getting a job. I’d love a world where older teenagers could get some “life experience” but then had the ability to easily re-enter an education system once they are motivated to learn. (Also – I’m guessing we lose a lot of good teachers who thought their job was to teach, but become disillusioned after realizing that their students aren’t interested in learning and they really just need to keep them out of trouble and from being a disruption. )
Remote learning has the potential to provide an unlimited course catalog of subjects to offer, which increases the likelihood that students can learn about something they are actually interested in. It also has potential to help us transition to a culture of lifetime learning, not just until you’re 18.
There are plenty of needs for local schools and personnel, but maybe some teachers move into more of a “mentoring” role, helping older students navigate the process as opposed to providing actual instruction (that may be delivered via YouTube).
I’ll be the first to confess that I don’t know exactly how this would work, but – while we’re all disrupted, this may be a good time to begin the conversation.