The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Education and Problems With Remote Learning

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a rapid shift to remote learning while the world’s leaders and healthcare authorities scrambled to get the spread of the virus under control.

When one researches the effectiveness of remote learning, it’s easy to find a few shining success stories, and a lot of people are drawn to the sheer convenience of it. Nonetheless, most reliable research on remote learning during the pandemic suggests that it has been an unprecedented disaster. :: Mariakray

The Brookings Institution reported that, since the pandemic, students and teachers alike are struggling with:

  • Mental health problems
  • higher rates of violence and misbehavior
  • Concerns about lost instructional time
  • High rates of absenteeism

The Brookings Institution also reported a significant decline in math and reading scores as well as a substantial widening in the test-score gap between low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools.

Sure, a small percentage of students have really thrived in an online learning environment, but these students are far from the majority, and they’re often the same students who were already likely to succeed in school. Prior to the pandemic, the internet proved a useful tool when coupled with traditional classroom learning. When used as a replacement for traditional methods, however, remote learning has some serious problems, and those problems are more likely to affect students who are already struggling and at the highest risk of dropping out of school.

Technological Disparities

One huge problem with online education is that it tends to assume technological equality among all students, and nothing could be further from the truth. The online learning experience is greatly affected by things like:

  • The quality of students’ devices
  • The availability of devices
  • Internet speed

All three of these factors are important when it comes to effective online learning, and, like just about every other relevant factor, they are more likely to affect disadvantaged students.

Device Quality

Having a compromised or low-quality device can make remote learning frustrating and substantially more difficult. Things like viruses and malware can result in system instability and increase the probability of system crashes, which is not conducive to uninterrupted learning.

According to the Washington Post, a computer suitable for remote learning needs to be powerful enough to run video conferencing, which is not a given, and have the battery life to sustain conferencing and web browsers for six or more hours.

Device Availability

Not every student owns their own computer. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) conducted a study on remote learning and found that about 16% of eighth graders do not own their own desktop or laptop computer, and nearly 5% of them don’t have home internet. Again, these disparities are having the biggest impact on students from low-income families.

Internet Speed

Regardless of the quality of one’s computer, a slow internet connection can make online learning nearly impossible. Internet coverage and speed vary wildly across the country. In somerset, New Jersey, for example, the median internet download speed is 97.6 Mbps, which is more than fast enough, but not every city is so fortunate.

In Charleston, West Virginia, for example, the median internet download speed is only 7.5 Mbps, which may not meet the demands of the software required for remote learning. Additionally, students living in rural areas are often stuck with satellite internet connections, which are notoriously slow and unlikely to be capable of reliable video conferencing.

Endless Distractions

Another huge problem with online learning is its inability to regulate the learning environment. As a result, students are prone to being distracted by all kinds of things. Siblings, parents, pets and even the learning device itself can make it difficult for students to focus.

On the whole, kids aren’t really renowned for their discipline, and computers offer limitless opportunities for their minds to wander. The EPI study found that more than 57% of 15-year-old students report using their computers for social media every day, but less than 25% of them said the same thing about schoolwork.

Asking students to monitor their screen time effectively may be like asking a gorilla to assume the role of zookeeper.

Remote Learning Can’t Teach Social Skills

Academic subjects aren’t the only things children learn in a traditional school setting. In adulthood, success and survival depend greatly on positive interaction with one’s peers. When relying solely upon online instruction, kids may have difficulty learning to:

  • Treat their peers with respect
  • Wait their turns
  • Communicate effectively
  • Make friends and cultivate relationships

According to a National Geographic report, 61% of parents indicated a negative impact on their children’s social-emotional development.

Teachers’ Lack of Training

When the pandemic hit, educators were forced to rapidly change their tactics, and many of them feel ill equipped to teach on an online platform. When it comes to teacher confidence in using computers for instruction, the EPI report isn’t particularly encouraging.

Only 67.7% of teachers reported receiving training specifically tailored toward using computers for instruction. Among those who did receive training, 71.4% felt it was “not useful” or only “somewhat useful.” Only 25.5% felt it was “very useful.”

Clearly, both teachers and the education system were not prepared for such a rapid transition to remote learning.

Much Is Unknown About the Effectiveness of Online Learning

Another problem is that online learning is still in its relative infancy, and it hasn’t been studied extensively enough.

There’s no reason to believe that online learning will never be as effective as the traditional classroom setting, but as of right now, it has some serious pitfalls that educators are working to address. Technology disparities, the distracting nature of the online environment, a lack of adequate training for teachers and a lack of social learning are all factors that diminish the quality of online education.

As the pandemic winds down and students return to school, teachers and students will have to make up some lost ground.






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