What the New Era of Education Looks Like, Thanks to COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, parents and students are coming to the realization that traditional, classroom-style education is not necessary. In fact, some may take that a step further and say that the traditional classroom is more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to learning.

Picture the typical schoolroom setting. One teacher presides over 30 or more students. Is this order or chaos? Most teachers will attest to the fact that a considerable amount of time is taken up each day trying to gain control of the classroom and then racing through the day’s lecture, trying to ensure each student leaves with full and complete understanding. Consequently, a large portion of schoolwork must be sent home as homework. Why are children spending so many hours per day in the classroom if the work is ultimately being carried home? Are schools serving as education halls or as daycares? And with so many students to just one teacher and everyone on a strict schedule, the more important question is — how can we ever ensure that students are truly understanding what’s being taught? 

Children aren’t programmed to all learn at the same rate and yet the current school system is forced to pretend that they are. Without the resources, there’s been no way to change. But when the pandemic hit and the students were sent home, everyone was forced to come up with a solution. E-learning, homeschooling, whatever you’d like to call it, it now has parents sharing the title of “educator” with the teachers still working with their students remotely. Suddenly, children were able to master materials before moving on. This sudden, huge shift sent shockwaves through everyone. And both parents and children were better for it. 

Many parents are reporting pandemic success rather than pandemonium. Home education has settled in nicely with parents and students alike. Kids can study in their pajamas if they prefer, and parents can start their days a little slower now that the school bell schedule doesn’t rule the morning routine. Lunch can take place around the same table that holds the books and worksheets, and no one needs to raise their hand to go to the bathroom. 

Much less time is spent reigning in the students’ behavior, so the same work that was previously allocated as homework is now just called “work.” It is achieved along with meals, chores and playtime — all under the direction of the parents. American founding fathers would not have batted an eye at such a notion. Most of them were raised the same way. Education flourishes in the home. It fits with the natural order of family life. 

It’s true that many modern parents work long hours and do not have the energy to monitor and direct a complicated home education program. But modern technology has also allowed for virtual teachers to tutor children via Zoom or Facetime, bringing the classroom directly into the home. Parents need only continue to oversee homework sessions and check on children to make sure assignments are being completed. Young students require more attention and hands-on assistance, but their workload is also lighter than that of older students. Assignments can be finished in short order and the child can be given the remainder of the day to play.

Parents and educators once recognized and understood the importance of free play in a child’s life. Much can be learned through social interaction with other children on the playground. Free play shapes the way that relationships are later formed and adversity is dealt with. Free play and exploration also teach children to investigate and imagine. A mind taught solely in academics is confined to the limits of the teaching material. A mind that is allowed to think freely and reason for itself expands far beyond those limitations. Hence the phrase, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Academics have their place in the world of education, but a well-rounded student learns that life is the best classroom. Math can be learned while building a birdhouse, and science can be explored in the garden or on a trip to the local zoo. To live is to learn and to learn is to live. COVID-19 is forcing us to try something new, and it’s working. Now, academia can merge with life experience, technology can bring the teacher into the home, and children can learn at their own pace, taking the time they need to learn the subjects in front of them — whether that’s less time or more. Perhaps most importantly, students now have the freedom to pursue subjects of interest to them, which is the most vital factor of all in true education. They can ask questions and get the answers that matter to them; they can do their own research, make mistakes along the way, and learn from those mistakes. 

This pandemic is a terrible thing, there’s no question about that. But this new era of education we’re suddenly confronted with is presenting incredible opportunities for our students to learn in new and different ways — and it’s something we should embrace with wide-open arms.

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