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Home Schooling Is the New Normal

High school student Gabriella Swan has everything she needs to study at home. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 8, 2020 (Photo by Michael Swan) Creative Commons license via Flickr

High school student Gabriella Swan has everything she needs to study at home. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 8, 2020 (Photo by Michael Swan) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

WASHINGTON, DC, April 9, 2020 (Maximpact.com News) – “I wish I could make it easier for everyone, I wish I could eliminate the frustration everyone feels,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on Wednesday as she announced that all schools in her state will be closed for the rest of the year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outbreak has already closed schools in most of the 50 U.S. states, and 13 states have announced that schools will remain closed through the end of the school year: Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Today the United States has more confirmed cases than any other country of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China late last year.

One of the impacts of this highly transmissable disease is widespread school closures, not just in the United States but worldwide, putting new pressures on educators everywhere who must now make the transition from classroom instruction to virtual classrooms and online education.

“No one has been trained for this,” say Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, Morris is director of the Digital Pedagogy Lab at the University of Mary Washington and Stommel serves as executive director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the same institution, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of students and teachers (pre-K-20) have had to ‘pivot’ to online education. Because this is hardly the carefully architectured “online learning” that has become more and more a staple of higher education – and more an abrupt 180-degree turn to remote instruction – the challenges are not only more complicated, but also more immediate and pressing,” Morris and Stommel say on their website.

The two educators are trying something new to help the educators at their university make the transition – weekly open online office hours.

They hear questions such as:

“How do I know if students are actually doing the work?”

“I miss seeing students. How do I keep in touch with them when we never see each other?”

“Is there any way for my teaching to live and breathe online?”

“We don’t promise answers, but we will work with those who show up to find creative, compassionate, generative solutions – and likely more questions,” Morris and Stommel said. “If you have a pedagogical concern, or even want to just listen, join us. If you just need some camaraderie in this very difficult time, you are welcome.”

Teachers need help navigating this crisis, and so do parents. Many have had to stay home from work to attend to parenting duties now that schools are closed, and one of the most urgent of those duties is home schooling.

As growing numbers of schools have announced closures through the end of the 2019-2020 school year, formal, school-sponsored distance learning programs for kindergarten through 12th Grade children are ramping up.

In the two weeks that the polling company Gallup has been tracking the ways in which U.S. schoolchildren are being educated during the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of parents who say their child is learning remotely through a school-sponsored online distance learning program has grown.

An online, probability-based Gallup Panel survey conducted March 24-29 found that seven in 10 parents of K-12 students who are currently not in school report that their child is participating in an online distance learning program being run by the public or private school they attend.

A quarter of these parents (26 percent) are home schooling using a curriculum they have selected, while 16 percent are using an informal, free online learning program not associated with their school and six percent are using a formal, paid private learning program not associated with their school.

Fifty-one percent of parents are generally comfortable with the situation, saying they are not too concerned (30 percent) or not concerned at all (21 percent) that it will negatively impact their child’s education. Even so, 18 percent are very concerned and 31 percent are moderately concerned that the new normal for education during the outbreak will have a negative impact, a Gallup Panel online survey April 3-5 found.

Only four percent of parents surveyed in April, down from 11 percent in March, said that their child is not receiving any instruction.

Schools in 165 countries around the world have closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, according to UNESCO. As a result, teachers have rushed to prepare distance learning tools – with parents grappling with how to teach kids at home – to ensure that #LearningNeverStops.

For many students, the transition appears to be easy and natural. “School children today were born to be digital,” according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in a new article on its website.

ITU estimates that “digital natives,” 15 to 24-year-olds with five or more years of experience online, represent 70.6 percent of the global youth population.

Online learning tools vary between countries and schools. Some teachers share coursework by email. Others direct students to websites for self-paced learning. Still, others are conducting face-to-face classes on online meeting platforms, such as Zoom. Even extracurricular activities such as ballet, music and physical education classes are suddenly now conducted online.

“Learning in a home environment is different from the classroom, but I think everyone right now is trying out different ways to make it work for them,” a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York City, told ITU News.

“Never before have we witnessed educational disruption on such a scale,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “Partnership is the only way forward.”

To plant and grow partnerships, UNESCO is launching a global education coalition, the Coalition to ensure #LearningNeverStops, to support countries in scaling up their best distance learning practices and reaching children and youth who are most at risk.

“This coalition is a call for coordinated and innovative action to unlock solutions that will not only support learners and teachers now, but through the recovery process, with a principle focus on inclusion and equity,” Azoulay said.

Inclusion is difficult for learners without internet access, and the newly formed Coalition to ensure #LearningNeverStops will help fill that need, and the coalitiion has attracted some partners with deep pockets.

Multilateral partners, including the International Labor Organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the World Food Programme and the International Telecommunication Union, as well as the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait, the OIF (Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie) the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Asian Development Bank have joined the Coalition, stressing the need for swift and coordinated support to countries in order to mitigate the adverse impacts of school closures, in particular for the most disadvantaged.

The private sector, including Microsoft; Weidong; Google; Facebook; Zoom; KPMG, Coursera, and GSMA, an industry organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, have also joined the Coalition, contributing resources and their expertise in technology, connectivity, and capacity strengthening. Companies using learner and educational data have committed to uphold ethical standards.

Philanthropic and nonprofit organizations, including the Khan Academy, Dubai Cares, Profuturo and Sesame Street are also part of the Coalition, mobilizing their resources and services to support schools, teachers, parents and learners during this time of unparalleled educational disruption.

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