Monday, January 30, 2023

An everlasting in-person / e-learning debate


During the pandemic, opinion pieces in student newspapers take on an increased importance and relevance, simply because students are now writing about events taking place in their own schools and their own communities.

In 2018, when students were shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for example, a national gun control debate followed, producing thousands of student opinion pieces. But most were written with the understanding, express or implied, that “it could happen here but didn’t.” The pandemic has brought national news directly into every US classroom, so when students enter an opinion, they are speaking from firsthand knowledge.

We have reported on these pages the positive and negative effects of e-learning, as well as the positive and negative effects of in-person instruction during a pandemic, trying to make some sense of the risks and benefits of each approach to learning during the pandemic. Yet our voice, however much it is based on research, would not presume to replace the voice of students in our schools. For this we turn to two well-written and well-argued opinion pieces published this month:

  • In “Stressed at a Desk,” Abigail Whyte at Desert Mountain H.S. in Scottsdale, Arizona, elaborates on several key points about how e-learning is working for teachers at the school, including the constant distractions in their homes and the inability, in many classes, to use a hands-on approach that might be the best practice. “As a teacher, I’m worried that I’m not delivering instructions well enough. But as a person I’m worried about students being left behind and having to deal with mental health on their own,” she quoted a freshman English teacher as saying.
  • In “Put Students’ Health First,” Zayna Quraishi at Naperville North H.S. in Illinois admits that remote learning can produce feelings of isolation and exacerbate other mental health issues in students but still believes that students’ physical well-being should take precedence right now. Officials at NNHS originally decided to return to a hybrid model in the coming weeks, primarily in response to pressure from parents in the community, but today reversed that decision and decided to maintain a 10% in-person model for the junior highs and high schools when the county’s health department moved the county from moderate to substantial community spread.

For school administrators, the need to safeguard students’ health brings concerns about liability as schools shift to a model that includes some in-person learning. “Every single day there‚Äôs a lawsuit waiting to happen,” Ms Whyte quoted Desert Mountain Principal Lisa Hirsch as saying.

Although there’s some reason to be encouraged that schools, following appropriate safety guidelines, can reduce the risk that students and staff will catch Covid-19, the incidence of infection in many communities across the US is on the rise. In Caroline County, Maryland, for example, school officials shut down in-person learning at an elementary school for at least two weeks after two staff members became infected with Covid-19.

“We are in the fight against COVID-19 together, and we have a duty to ourselves and our community members to protect our students and faculty,” Ms Quraishi writes from Naperville. “If we all do our part to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by following set CDC guidelines in all aspects of our lives, the day will soon come when we can safely come together to learn face-to-face.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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