The 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 has changed everything about our everyday lives. For the past three months, people all around the world have been hunkered down at home as their countries have shutdown international travel and much of public life in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Education is one of the institutions hardest hit by the shutdown. In the US, millions of students from kindergarten to graduate school students have been forced to leave their institutions of learning and stay home.
In a recent survey of outdoor K-12 education programs for in California conducted by the University of California, Berkley (UCB), researches found that almost 63% of the 1,000 programs survey had pending reopening dates with many believing they may not open until the end of the year or until 2021. As of the end of May, over 4 million students who had benefited from these outdoor programs were forced to forgo them this year’s as the programs continued to shutdown to stop the spread of the virus. This comes at a time when public health experts have stressed the importance of outdoor activity for both physical and mental health and wellbeing. Outdoor science and nature programs, parks, and zoos have proven to be effective and vital learning environments for kids outside of the traditional brick and mortar classroom. California’s outdoor educational programs have proved especially beneficial for the learning outcomes of kids for marginalized backgrounds such as black and brown students and students without little access to educational programs communities.
There is much concern by parents and program directors about their ability to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus at their programs or contain one should it occur. Even the most hopeful public health officials believe that the development of a working vaccine for COVID-19 will not be available for months, even a year. And the funding need to mass produce enough vaccines to inoculate enough people in every country in order to foster heard immunity will be immense. Doctors and scientists still know very little about the virus and how it affects people in the short term and in the long term and every new case has brought to light just how dangerous this pandemic is. In a few small studies conducted in Wuhan China, researchers discovered that even in asymptomatic people infected by the virus, the majority had abnormal changes or fluid build-up in their lungs that may have long term consequences on the patients. To date, the vast majority of public health experts believe that the best way for us to combat the virus globally is to continue to practice social distancing and lockdown measures in order to decrease our chances of becoming infected in the first place. Without widespread testing or contact tracing, it is hard to estimate just how many people have the virus, especially for people who may be asymptomatic and spreading it unknowingly. Without testing or contact tracing, even moderate reopening measures will be in vain, as cases of the virus will inevitably surge, which will overwhelm our healthcare system and force us back into stricter lockdowns.
For parents of students there is great uncertainty as to whether or not their student will be able to return to the classroom by fall. By all estimates the virus is nowhere near slowing down in its spread to a degree that would make public health officials confident in reopening our public institutions, especially those such as schools where diseases easily spread.
Can E-Learning Help?
Though online classrooms can’t make up for all outdoor academic experiences, they can give them access to the educational materials normally found in a classroom. Teachers and parents can utilize online e-learning platforms and plug-ins to design a curriculum that can be down from the comfort of home. E-learning can be designed to accommodate anyone. In order to reopen, many of the outdoor educational programs are considering limiting the number of students they allow to attend the programs in order to decrease the chances of a viral outbreak. For these programs, who because of the virus are now strapped for cash, this also means reducing the resources they can provide such as scholarships and subsidized programming. For students from marginalized backgrounds with little access to resources to this means that they will have even less access to these programs than before. For most e-learning platforms the only requirement being a smart device and an internet connection. Many e-learning platforms and plugins are free to download or have affordable monthly prices. And for parents of students, especially those who may have immune complications that make them even more susceptible to catching the coronavirus, having an alternative that allow the student to still access classroom materials.
E-learning platforms gives students access to up to date materials. This allows themselves, their teachers, and parents to stay current with lessons and the newest learning materials. As lessons are easily accessible, they can be delivered easily to students. There is no need for travel and students can do their lessons at their own pace, making it easier for them to absorb the material. They can also access past lessons for study and review the material of subjects that they have struggles with at any time, allowing them to become more familiar and competent with the material. Curriculum developers can also design lesson plans with students specific learning need and requirements in mind, allowing them to design an educational curriculum that is unique and effective for a variety of learning styles. Educators can also stay in contact with their students and use these platforms to assess their students’ progress and understand what their students need. Because materials in an e-learning environment can be accessed at any time, there is no fear of losing out on any lesson material, meaning lessons can be accessed anytime, which can help students to maintain the information that they learn for a longer period of time.