By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University
It’s an age-old question: What’s the best way to educate children? As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most K-12 public and private institutions had to pivot this past March and move to some form of distance or online learning. The results from educators, students and parents were mixed.
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Distance Learning Has Advocates and Opponents
Advocates of distance learning cite the benefits of the new environment for students to learn. Many of the social stigmas associated with in-person learning, such as bullying, were virtually eradicated by moving to an online learning method.
Issues of classism, where students’ clothing and school lunches were a means to codify a student’s status, are virtually eliminated in the online environment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says with the goal of adhering to social distancing guidelines, distance learning is the best alternative in a pandemic.
But opponents of distance learning say students will suffer from decreased socialization. Parents quickly realized the extra burden of working and homeschooling their children, some with disastrous results. Some rural areas lack adequate resources for broadband and wi-fi internet services. Some low-income households lack the technical equipment or resources needed to provide a proper remote learning environment, especially when several children try to access the internet simultaneously. For parents who worked outside the home, finding childcare is extremely limited and costly, which is a potential recipe for educational disaster.
Finding Alternatives to In-Person Classroom Education
Both advocates and opponents have sought alternatives to in-person classroom education. Parents have taken the initiative to find alternative ways to encourage remote learning. Tutors are in high demand, with some instructors commanding as much as $100 per hour for specialized subjects such as French, ecology and world history.
Another alternative for parents are pods. Writing in The Atlantic, Brian Platzer, a co-founder of Teachers Who Tutor NYC, says: “Pod has become a magic word, even though its meaning is not always clear. Some public schools are “podding” their students into smaller groups. Private companies are popping up with “microschools.” But for the most part, the word pod refers to unofficial learning collectives organized by parents, sometimes with the help of a professional teacher or tutor.”
Pods have taken shape overnight and in many forms. For the children of affluent families, pandemic pods have emerged, each with a certified educator and some with a price tag as high as $25K a year. Rotational pods are another model that has increased in popularity. In this model, like-minded parents with students in the same age group have taken turns with child-care duties, including educational instruction. This rotation allows parents to work outside the home while their children attend online school together at home.
Certain Students May Not Be Welcome in Some Educational Pods
However, these educational pods often come with a price that working-class parents cannot afford. It’s not only poor children who are being excluded from pod plans. Children with learning disabilities or behavioral issues who, regardless of their family income, also may not be welcome. “No one will let in the kid with learning differences or challenges,” one mother posted on DC Urban Moms, a listserv for parents in the Washington metro area.
Educational Pod Success Involves Paying Attention to Different Issues
There are several issues the educational pod concept fails to address uniformly. They include:
- Scheduling – Finding a pod that suits your schedule may be challenging, especially if you are an essential worker or someone who works outside the home. Many people work alternating shifts, which means it’s a challenge to find a standard time that will always work for the parent and child.
- Hands-on Activities – Kinetic learning requires learning by doing; however, this may be an added expense for parents. It may be challenging to teach home economics without a sewing machine, art without paints and brushes, music without instruments, or auto shop class without a vehicle.
- Equity – If not properly addressed, discrimination and classism could result in lawsuits. While most pods are by choice, what’s the standard to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion within pods?
- Outdoor Activities – Outdoor activities may be weather dependent, so pods that encompasses several areas could be problematic. Not to mention, a large portion of the population lives in apartments or condos with little access to outdoor environments conducive to open-air learning.
- Parent Interaction – Adult supervision is needed in all learning environments, so how do you handle three-year old Pre-K activities when there is an unscheduled conference call?
- Time Zones – While it is ambitious to think that a pod can span several states, time zones may provide a challenge to kids on a set schedule.
- Subject-Specific Pods – Should all pods cover general education, or should they be specialized to handle topics for which students need more help? Likewise, can pods open new opportunities and include subjects not covered by standard K-12 education?
- Educational Levels – Most pods are organized by like-minded adults, but the pod design might fail to acknowledge that students learn at different rates. Likewise, will K-12 education test students to ensure aptitude goals have been met?
- Discipline – For a paying parent, expectations are high. So how do you handle unruly students in a virtual environment? Do kids get “voted off the island” like the reality TV show “Survivor,” or does the instructor have the ability to uniformly make decisions of this nature and expel students?
- Grades – How will students be evaluated in the online environment and will the time spent in educational pods equate to academic mastery of a subject? Can a grade earned in a pod be the equivalent of the grade earned in a standard K-12 curriculum?
- Teacher Credentials – Can anyone truly be a teacher? What credentials are needed for those educating youth in these virtual environments?
- Special Needs Students – Children with a learning disability may require specialized attention that only a licensed professional is equipped to provide.
So what’s the best way to educate children? The educational questions posed in this article only scratch the surface and leave much to be discussed. By creating a have-and-have-nots society, education, which once was the great equalizer, has become a polarizing stigma.
While everyone can agree that structure is needed in the remote learning environment, how to achieve that equitably still remains a mystery. At least for the remainder of 2020, the new normal will include distance learning, educational pods, tenacious tutoring and microschools.
About the Author
Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University who has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.
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