As of the first week of September, 73% of the largest 100 school districts in the U.S. decided to go to full remote learning for their students. Other districts across the country have adopted hybrid programs, while some are trying in-person learning with precautions in place.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spike in certain states, it’s clear that remote learning will continue to be the “new normal” for a while longer.
The long-term effects of virtual learning are already being looked at. Children and teens need socialization. But it’s also important to pay attention to the short-term effects. What are the problems with remote learning? Who is being impacted by it the most? Finally, what can be done to make sure all students have access to the digital education tools they need to stay on track?
The Internet Issue
Perhaps the biggest problem many districts across the country are facing right now is accessibility. First of all, remote learning goes by the assumption that every family has access to a strong Internet connection. The reality is, more than 10% of Americans are living without Internet. Some people don’t use it by choice. But, others simply don’t have access to it.
In fact, according to the Federal Communications Commission, more than 19 million Americans still lack access. Students who live in rural parts of the country could be at an even greater disadvantage since it can be difficult to set up broadband services in such locations. Unfortunately, because more than 50% of the country’s operating districts are in rural locations, that puts thousands of students at risk of not getting the education they deserve because they can’t actively partake in remote learning.
Students in impoverished areas are also at a disadvantage with remote learning. They have more to worry about than Internet access. The psychological effects of living in poverty include:
- Structural damage to the brain
- Substance abuse risk
- Sleep issues
Children and teens need socialization, a safe place to go, and healthy relationships. If school was the place where they received those things, having to stay at home all day, every day, can have lasting mental health effects that may start showing up sooner than you think.
How Remote Learning Is Impacting Parents
The pressures of remote learning are not only on the students logging into virtual classrooms each day. Many parents have had to scramble to make virtual learning work. Some of those parents are already dealing with the stress of losing their jobs or trying to work remotely themselves.
Unfortunately, many parents have had to play the role of mom or dad and teacher, all at once.
One survey found that 54% of parents feel guilty because they have to focus on work and aren’t able to give their children the full attention and care they need. But that same survey also found that 43% also feel guilty when they’re focusing on their families and not their job.
At the moment, there are a lot of things for the average parent to juggle. From making sure children are staying up-to-date with their online schooling, helping them with subjects, and trying to work a full-time job at the same time, it can feel overwhelming for everyone. As a result, it’s easy for parents to feel like they’re failing, either when it comes to their job or their families.
What Changes Need to Be Made?
There are many benefits to remote learning. Aside from the fact that it is keeping students and teachers safer right now, some of the benefits include:
- No busing or commuting
- A less stressful environment
- Teaching of time management
- Promotion of flexibility
Online learning can even offer students faster, clearer access to some of today’s major issues, including things like climate change.
But remote learning is only useful if everyone has access to a strong Internet connection. More of an effort needs to be taken to provide service to rural areas and impoverished areas across the country. While that isn’t the responsibility of the districts, governmental action needs to be taken for students in those areas who may otherwise fall behind.
Teachers also need to focus on the risks of learning loss. It’s easy to be distracted at home, for both parents and students. While that adds more pressure on teachers to make creative changes, if remote learning is going to become a long-term solution, those changes are necessary to keep students engaged.
As far as parents working from home and trying to balance family life, that is something that will need to be addressed by employers moving forward. More businesses are starting to shift to remote options for employees, as well. As schools continue to opt for virtual learning, businesses will need to do the same to stay afloat.
Of course, it’s still important to consider the long-term effects of remote learning and how students might be impacted by it for years to come. For now, though, as it continues to be a necessity, it’s important to come up with effective solutions to create positive learning environments across the country that everyone can use.