A question I’ve been asking myself (and not getting a satisfactory answer) is whether so-called “distance education” can succeed for secondary school students.

So far, the national tests show children doing classes at home, in YMCAs or other by-computer sites are proceeding fine with reading but falling behind in math.

Some educators say young children need in-person schooling. But that’s because we’ve always had it in the modern age. What would the testing show if we had 5 or 10 years of data for comparison?

One of the things that interviews with young students revealed is the anxiety they feel when they can’t go out more, interact more with other young people. They feel imprisoned.

How about older, high school students? Some typical comments gathered in a California survey:

What I miss is the support that school actually gives. The way distance learning is set up we have two Zoom classes every day in which they assign work that is due a week later. On Thursday, we have one class and on Fridays, the Zoom classes are just clubs or extracurriculars that want to have a meeting. I personally feel that I am not learning in these Zoom classes.”

Every day, I feel less motivated to do my work. At first, when this distance learning started. I thought the work was going to be easier. Then, as time passed everything just fell apart. I’m behind in all of my classes and it’s nearly impossible to catch up. I can’t do the work on my own.”

But keep in mind that we’ve only been at this distance learning thing for not quite one year. Educators are learning new techniques. Leaving gtime for social media interaction. Breaking classes into three and four student “rooms” to discuss class subjects — similar to the way adult seminars are using Zoom discussions.

These smaller groups can help provide additional support around specific courses or topics. They can connect with peers who have some level of affinity to their same course of study. Or having the same problems with math.

What troubles me is that rather than wait out a decent period of distance learning results, a vehement argument is being waged by some to pit distance education against traditional face-to-face education. What is in dispute should not be whether distance education is ideal, but whether it is better than receiving no education at all during times like this of an international emergency.

We’re seeing through long-term studies that it works fine for college students. Can it be tailored to work for grades 1-8? 

I’m among those reluctant to toss in the towel and give it up until we know more than we know from Hawaii’s so-far-very-short school shutdown period.


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

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