As the 2020-2021 school year approaches — which for some states like Georgia comes as early as next month while for others like Wisconsin not until after Labor Day — educational institutions from elementary schools to universities face a major dilemma: to deliver face-to-face instruction, go totally virtual, or devise a hybrid compromise.
At whatever age there is a case for f2f learning. Teacher-student interaction assures that actual learning is taking place for a larger number of students. Both get instantaneous feedback. Mental and emotional health are maintained because of the social contact.
But in the time of COVID, such f2f instruction comes with a lot of cost: deep cleaning of school buildings, temperature checks upon entry, hand washing and sanitizing, use of face masks and shields, and maintaining physical distance at all times, in all places.
Some teachers may not favor such a method of instruction but may be afraid to voice their fear for their health because they might lose their jobs to those more willing to take the risk to be on campus.
However, because of the present second surge in the pandemic the case is building for purely online learning. Teachers and students will have to gear up for the technology and its implications.
Teachers have to learn the technology to put all of their instruction online in the most creative of ways at every level. Students will need to have the patience to learn in a different manner, that is if they even have the capability in their homes to engage in that manner of learning which requires a computer and internet connection at the very least.
And of course, learning online is not for everyone and may lead to more of our students being left way behind.
A hybrid solution is also on the table. Start the school year f2f and should the virus rear its ugly head again, move to virtual learning. But why take that risk when we know how difficult it is for young children to keep apart and even for young adults to stay away from bars, parties and crowded spaces?
Unless we live in a highly disciplined, militaristic state human beings will tend to be social and not necessarily prefer to do so at a distance.
Thus despite pressure from parents, alumni and even the president of the United States, to come up with a national “go back to school” solution, we still live in a free society that is characterized by a federal form of government in which the individual states and their duly elected officials should know their states better and national solutions may not uniformly apply to all states big and small.
We engaged in this political experiment called federalism more than 200 years ago and have survived a number of crises, but this is a crisis like no other and we shall see if we survive that experimentation.
Cecilia Manrique, a retired political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, is relieved that she does not have to make the difficult choice to teach or not to teach in whatever mode of learning the nation, state of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin System and UW-L finally decide upon.
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