So, most of us by now have settled in on our COVID -19 sequestration, lockdown, stay in place, stay-home whatever else they are calling it, wherever we live.
Elementary and Secondary Schools throughout North America have had their classes shut down, often until the end of June, essentially for the duration of this school year. In many cases throughout, teachers are still teaching and hopefully, students are still learning.
PBS and other news channels have explored these issues and depending on the locations, some teachers are delivering traditional schemas to their students, such as paper-driven assignments. In other cases, they are transferring project work online via email and such. Some teachers are even delivering classes online. This capability has existed for some time, but little effort was made in many cases, until recently to mobilize it. Now that the schools are in a crisis, innovative approaches are being tested – on the fly! A colleague commented about how they were walking through a university recently and saw professors standing and speaking in empty classrooms. They were obviously concerned that their students were not going to get to the end of the planned curriculum under the current circumstances. So the professors were taping their lectures for presumably transfer to electronic media and then linking their students. These options work when the teacher has access to 1) photocopiers and or 2) audiovisual technologies.
If institutions are locked up and not accessible, then the front half of this activity is not able to take place. This is when the school division is going to have a very big discussion on how they propose to complete the school year and on what terms. Fortunately, very few school systems are in this situation.
And what about the learners?
The learners are required in the first cases (likely elementary students) to have a table, pencils and other drawing instruments available to them. These are common enough materials and are readily secured – and likely have been stocked up a long time ago. In the second series of cases, where classes are delivered online, a bit more is required. Students here need Wi-Fi and a laptop. Both imply that the family economics supports these requirements. it should be noted here that laptops are likely mandatory for university students.
This is not the case in many urban high-density and rural poorer schools. A PBS story commented that 30% of the students in one case did not have access to a computer at home. If the student was an elementary student, hopefully, the teacher had a paper system to support learning, but in many cases, instruction goes beyond paper exercises and the digital divide starts to challenge everyone. Students need to access their teachers/professors to ask about their assignments, course content and indeed to turn in materials. Perhaps a cell phone can pitch in here, but a laptop would do things a lot better, especially if one needs coaching.
The digital divide is solved in some small way for many computer-less students by having computers available during class hours. Now that schools have closed, the digital divide problem rears its ugly head again. And how to solve this?
In many urban communities’ families can participate in community support settings. What if families volunteered their collective time to these community projects? And the organizers of these community projects would credit these families a certain amount for each hour worked. When enough hours have been worked, the families can pick up a credit letter of any such cash transfer and then go buy a computer for all in their family to use! Now they have a computer at home! Remember to give each family member their own login and in this way, the entire family can have access to a computer without impeding another family member. What about the Wi-Fi requirement? In many cities Wi-Fi is ubiquitous. It is very cheap or even free.
For the country communities, similar community projects are also available except that Wi-Fi may be difficult to arrange.
As for paying for these services, community service groups can consider implementing “A Laptop for our Families” type of program. Many good laptops can be had for about $500, which in many models of financial support amounts to 50 hours of community service.
Used computers are often touted as answers to resolve the digital divide. For the most part, they do not do enough. Windows 10 requires good, strong and current hardware, so used computers older than 2 years do not cut it here. Laptops obsolesce in 5 years, which means that they are pretty well exhausted at that time. So a new computer is what the teacher or the professor ordered!