As of January 2020, due to the pandemic, schools around the world began to engage students in remote learning. It was a breathtaking leap for teachers, students, and their families. There was no time for thoughtful planning to pivot millions of children in a very short time to a different form of education.
Many people had heard of distance learning - as it is more commonly referred to than remote learning. However, until the pandemic, they were not aware of the complexity and combination of technology, curriculum, and instruction needed to make it successful; that it was not merely putting a curriculum and schedule from a school day into the virtual realm.
Unprepared in an emergency situation, many schools were not successful in implementing distance learning for their students, even in well-resourced communities. School-and-parent Facebook pages, listservs, and virtual PTA meetings have had heated exchanges on the topic. Families have had to quickly understand that “distance learning” as it has been delivered during the pandemic is not the only way distance learning can operate - just as in-person learning as it has been delivered during the pandemic is not the only way children can be educated in the classroom. The lesson to be learned from the past few months is that there are best practices from each mode of instruction; these can and must be combined to make education methods even more effective as we approach 2021.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Distance Learning
A few months ago, Bennett International held a webinar on the “nuts and bolts” of distance learning, equally resourceful for educators and parents. Learning outside of a formal school building has always existed, but “going to school” has become the norm for countries in the last two hundred years. Distance learning has been perceived as a lesser option than in-person education. In fact, as discussed in the webinar, it frequently offers advantages such as convenience, flexibility, lower cost, and the elimination of negative school environments.
What parents are now learning is that they and their children have the agency to create the learning environment that best suits them - the freedom to pick who they want their children to learn with and what they want their children to learn. In a sense, back to the times when education was done in the family or in small communities.
The pandemic has shown people that distancing learning can be creative and can be a vision that someone has and not just a formula given by a state or country. In some countries, it does not even have to be one curriculum nor one method.
Additionally, many parents who previously were not very informed on what their children were learning have suddenly found themselves having to play a greater role in their children’s education as they choose online programs and manage their children’s daily schedules. Some have also found themselves in the role of teachers and have had to make thoughtful and detailed decisions about want they want for their children.
The New Frontier
Education buzz words abound: Curriculum Managers, Double Bubbles, Learning Pods, Micro-schools, Nano-schools, Pandemic Pods, and Quaran-teams. Parents are hiring college students and retired teachers to facilitate online learning, “bubbling” with other families in order to ensure that any pandemic learning pods that are created are keeping children healthy.
In essence, parents are forming their own blended types of schools, and private tutoring and even nanny companies are jumping in to help families create these learning environments.
Parents who have the ability to do so are ensuring that students have not only a virtual classroom, but the ability to have social interaction and hands-on learning experiences, such as science and art. Keeping their children in smaller environments or even outdoors due to COVID-19 concerns harkens back to an earlier form of education “best-practices”.
Although these are exciting times in education, the pandemic has also revealed gross inequalities within the US and around the world in the form of millions of children without access to technology. There are also children who do not know the native language of instruction, and those who have special learning needs that cannot be accommodated at home, in addition to children who are also responsible for the care of younger siblings such that make them too busy to “attend” online school. In many countries, the education of students who are not able to access online learning will have serious long-term ramifications.
This new situation is one that presents many challenges; in many families around the world, both parents work, often outside the home, and young children cannot be left alone, but sourced childcare can be unaffordable. In a more typical time, having children be in a school building during the day is the solution, but now those same children not only require at-home at-home care but also at-home school instruction.
Moving forward, parents need to reflect on how their children learn and make choices that they previously have never had to make. Some parents will likely remain with distance learning after the pandemic has passed or at least consider the ways in which it can be folded into their children’s in-person education. Hopefully, we will all learn to think creatively and differently and to take the best of each option for our children as we step into a new era of education.
Alexandra Ruttenberg is the Senior Director of Education Research and Analysis for Bennett International. She began her career in the education and relocation industry over 25 years ago working for The World Bank and International Monetary Fund as the Director of the Education Advising Office and Founder of the Global Mobility Center. Alex joined Dwellworks in 2007 as the Director of Education Services. In addition to her work in the corporate world, Alexandra has worked in private school admissions and has taught in both private schools and at the university level. Alexandra earned a B.A. Cum Laude from Yale University, an Ed.M. from Harvard University in Counseling and Education, and an Ed.S. from George Washington University in Education Administration. She is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA).
Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancy has worked with hundreds of corporations, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing school advisement services—preschool through university—to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our Education Research and Analysis team provides customized consulting for corporations in need of assistance with a range of education issues: education policy writing and benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement and planning, education “site assessments,” and the creation of remote or difficult-location education solutions. Whatever a company’s education issue, wherever it is, Bennett has the experience and the expertise to help.