Coronavirus and eLearning

As people champion the idea of more schools and universities exploring online classes in the face of coronavirus, it’s a good time to remember that not everyone has at home access to the equipment and technology necessary to participate.

Computers, internet, webcams, this stuff isn’t magically available for everyone. Yes, MOST people have these things at home, but those that don’t are more often than not those who need access to education the most.

And if we get to this point, it’s not like libraries are going to be a viable option.

Problem is, should we get to the point of schools closing, then what’s the solution? Aside from saying “school’s out!”?

Related: Many Districts Won’t Be Ready For Remote Learning If Coronavirus Closes Schools

Many students across the country are equipped with tablets and computers provided by their schools. More than half of 300 school IT leaders who responded to a 2019 Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) survey said their districts have at least begun moving towards 1:1 programs in which each student has a device to complete assignments during the school day and at home.

But that leaves out many school districts where such devices aren’t provided, as well as many students, particularly in rural areas and from low-income backgrounds, for whom home access to the internet or a personal digital device is out of reach.

Some school leaders haven’t yet figured out how they would maintain the flow of learning if school needs to close for an extended period of time. Sal Pascarella, the superintendent of Danbury Public Schools in Connecticut, is resigned to accept that students won’t be able to access new concepts or learning materials if they’re stuck at home for more than a few days.

“Our school district would not be able to sustain in a meaningful way substantive teaching in the content area on a platform like teleteaching,” Pascarella said.

Of the district’s 12,000 students, 52 percent are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and school resources are tight, Pascarella said. Some of the district’s high schools have begun developing e-learning capabilities more generally, he said, but elementary and middle schools are further behind. Developing bilingual programs for the district’s substantial population of English-language learners has also been a challenge, he said.

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