Written by: Amanda Sherman
Over the past 8 weeks, the whole of America has been embroiled in national turmoil. Ever since mid-March, when a large segment of the country shut down its schools, students have been forced to adopt unconventional measures to further their education. Notably, using online platforms such as Google Classroom or Zoom.
This system has been controversial among the top educational experts in the country, and for good reason. Educational quality varies among each individual institution. A school can choose to simply distribute assignments on the platform of their choice, or go in depth regarding the specific details within subjects. But from what I’ve noticed, the quality tends to be in the former category rather than the latter. Instead of putting effort into livestreaming a teaching session where students are able to actively ask questions, instructors more often than not provide pre-recorded videos of the explanation of a subject, or simply post work to do without any further checking in. I’m especially infuriated by the fact that they are available to answer emails from students during this period, however, they don’t even put in fifteen minutes worth of effort to teach in a quality manner. Call me wrong, but wouldn’t class time be more valuable if we were allowed to interact with teachers face to face? Concepts would be able to be better absorbed by students, who would then receive personalized live-time feedback. Overall, this model is much more effective than a system that does not encourage efficient time management, which is why the vast majority of students are falling behind on their studies.
So far, most friends that I’ve talked to have said that they are unsatisfied with the quality of their online education. And while there are no studies to back this up currently, the very structure of this novel classroom makes it understandable that restless, ambitious students feel that they are not receiving the tutelage that they deserve. Fortunately, during a time when so many are just experiencing the cusp of personal freedom in a long while, some are utilizing this period as an opportunity to learn skills that they might not otherwise have been able to acquire. With the cancellation of student internships, summer programs, and overnight camps across the board, youth are pursuing their interests with an unmatched vigor. Taking programming classes on Udacity, self-learning Portugese, and launching grand initiatives which coordinate the delivery of PPE to the front lines are only some of the projects that students are tackling. Despite the undesirable situation that millions of individuals across our nation are in, our resourcefulness has not faded. In dark times, humanity has a tendency to chase our dreams, no matter what.
With the billions of taxpayer dollars that have been poured down the drain to ensure a pristine quality of learning in our public education system, you would think that at least homework would be assigned to compensate for the lack of live instruction. However, outside of the assignments which are posted daily on the class feed, there is absolutely no reinforcement of the concepts we are supposedly learning. Material varies day by day, moving quickly ahead and understandably so. Back in March, some schools immediately implemented virtual lessons while others took a few weeks to adjust. I know that for mine, it took one whole month to start up classes again. This meant that all of the subject matter that was supposed to be taught during that crucial month had dissipated, along with our memory of the content we learned in courses. It’s a shame that when students go back to school in September, their knowledge will be fragmented at best. As a young woman who cares deeply about her education, I believe firmly that this is the time to enact a system that works for all learners, not just individuals who are comfortable googling the answers to simple questions.
This is also the time to think about the roles of parents in education. Studies show that students whose parents are actively encouraging them to learn are much more likely to succeed later on because they already have had that solid foundation established for them in their early years. For this reason, students who come from wealthier, upper class backgrounds are more likely to excel academically than students who come from poorer, working class backgrounds. Since parents are typically more experienced in academic fields, they will be able to bestow their knowledge upon their children and answer any questions that they might have. In a sense, parents are their children’s ultimate teachers.
Will online learning widen the income inequality gap even further when it comes to education? The answer to this provocative question remains to be seen, but for now, countless parents across the nation are struggling to provide a suitable learning environment for their children. It is this challenge that educators across the country must tackle in order to set up students for success when they graduate.
In the meantime, while America’s top professionals are pondering this quandary, a vast plethora of resources are already available for students to take advantage of. The non-profit organization Khan Academy has broadened its course selection to include AP lessons to fit the designated College Board curriculum. Thousands of credible YouTube channels have become a haven for enthusiastic learners to further their schooling. Online platforms such as MIT OpenCourseWare are offering free courses on every topic, from the impact of financial success on familial bonds to Malaysia’s tangible development towards urban sustainability. Although traditional institutions may be failing students, there are certainly openings in other spaces where they will be able to learn just as much, if not more, about issues that they are passionate about that may not necessarily be within the conventional norm.
With the onslaught of third party educational programs, it seems that the quality of education in most schools have been left behind. However, for the millions of individuals who are involved in clubs within their centers of learning, this lack of face to face interaction has provided a chance to rekindle meetings towards a greater purpose. While members are not necessarily able to reach out physically to each other, they are still able to make a difference in their communities. Last week, I caught a glimpse of this selflessness when a group of high school juniors and seniors (alas, seniors must hate 2020!) within a community service club coordinated a project which would express gratitude towards public health workers. Members each created posters thanking doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly to fight this pandemic. Each of their contributions was compiled into a video and sent to local hospitals. This is just one example of the countless support that clubs and student organizations are sending towards those on the front lines. It is truly amazing to witness their optimism and spirit in the midst of this crisis.
At this time, peer to peer interaction is crucial towards maintaining a healthy mental state. In the past few decades, rates of depression and anxiety have spiked among high schoolers. Many health experts are concerned that the current isolation caused by social distancing measures will cause a spike in these occurrences. However, as a high schooler myself, I have to admit that I’m getting more sleep these days. Instead of slaving till 3 a.m. finishing up assignments, I’m going to bed at an earlier time with more energy to spare. And many of the people I know are doing the same. Perhaps this more lenient schedule is a better way to educate students going forward. After all, there were already worries about the continuous drop in the average amount of sleep that high schoolers get each year. In fact, receiving a sufficient night’s rest is clearly linked to significant improvements in performance and concentration, according to the CDC. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high school students start school at 8:30 a.m. in order to allow an adequate amount of sleep. Thanks to adjusted educational schedules, this is now finally possible. I have to say, I’m so relieved that my school is now starting at 10 a.m. instead of at 7:30 because staying awake in class used to be a real struggle.
Of course, every system has flaws, and in online learning, one such flaw is the obnoxious amount of trolls which have been hacking into video software platforms such as Zoom. This phenomenon of random individuals invading classes has even gotten a name for itself: ‘Zoom-bombing.’ After the uninvited attendees harass users, they then go on to post the recordings of these trolling sessions on YouTube. The FBI has warned of unauthorized access to virtual classrooms and recommended that users adjust security settings to keep meetings confidential and even Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace company has banned the use of Zoom by its 6,000 employees because of worries about security. Despite these audacious trolls, online learning is sure to be a concrete fixture in our society well into the future as humanity’s billions await the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.