Parents have had a taste of virtual learning and most are now looking forward to when kids are back in their traditional classrooms. The impact of closures has been academically significant on high school and post-secondary students where assessments matter as they plan for their future. The closures have also been difficult for parents of younger children as they navigate the nebulous world of ‘home schooling’. Some have decided to boycott the whole idea and just let kids be kids. Return to school will likely be in the last phase of normalization and close to the first to be targeted in future waves of the Covid19 pandemic. We have to start thinking about a sustainable way for educators and parents to ensure learners will continue to grow and prepare for the future. What will that new norm look like and when will it happen?
It remains to be seen if schools will reopen before the summer or start fresh in September. Either way, we have to consider possibilities for when social distancing and gathering of crowds including traditional classrooms and lectures halls is re-instated. Full time virtual learning is not a long term solution.
Getting back to school will present significant challenges that need to be considered, including childcare when parents are back to their workplaces. How will we ensure appropriate supervision and assistance for when children are at home to set up and support the day’s activities? How will older kids balance the freedom that online learning provides with the responsibility to complete their work and actually learn? An important element will have to include a robust way to assess progress and how to address remediation and assistance for those falling behind.
Possible solutions should include a blended model of online and in-class learning. Physical distancing can be maintained if kids could rotate between attending school and learning from home via a virtual curriculum. The split would be guided by the number of people that could be safely accommodated in a classroom. For example, one possibility could include two days a week in class and three days of virtual learning. Employers must also embrace flex work in order for this model to work. Whatever the strategy, we must start thinking of solutions now to be ready for the fall. The social, educational and economic implications of relying on children learning from home are too great and it is unrealistic to think everything will be back to normal in September.
Until we have broad immunity or a vaccine has been developed and delivered all over the world, large gatherings and group activities may not be possible. What will future classes look like? How will we teach? Is it reasonable to expect young people to learn from home? The conversations must start now so we can get ahead of this and be prepared not only for our future, but for the future of our children.
Rupa Banerjee, PhD
Ted Rogers School of Business Management
Rohit Kumar MD, FRCP(C)
Anesthesiologist - Trillium Health Partners
President - THP Professional Staff Association
Vice-Chair - Ontario’s Anesthesiologists
Lecturer - University of Toronto