Subsidiarity is a principle of social organization that holds that issues should be dealt with and managed at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution. This principal is definitely at work regarding the current state of education; as we have seen, each state, each school district, and in some cases individual schools are creating their own safe and hopefully effective education models.
Now that we are a week or two into the adventure that is education during the Covid chaos, many parents are finding that virtual teaching and learning may be a realistic possibility after all. Although most would agree that virtual learning still lags behind in-person education (and when done poorly lags dramatically behind in-person education), that gap is closing. In working with our students spread throughout a number of local school districts, our team at Life Tools is observing teachers becoming much more savvy with technology; instead of creating a virtual lesson plan and an in-person lesson plan, many teachers are simply live-streaming their lectures. Whether the students are physically in the classroom or observing on-line, they are receiving a traditional amount of material presented in a very familiar and comfortable format.
The technology barrier has also been effectively overcome due to heroic efforts by school administrations, local governments, and local technology providers. In spite of the fact that many of us parents and teachers needed to be dragged unwillingly down this road, even the ‘old-schoolers’ have found the technology to be useable and effective (if not ideal).
Now it is true that virtual education is not a panacea for all students. In fact, the younger the student, the more ineffective virtual learning becomes. As any first-grade teacher will tell you, a 6 or 7-year old student requires intangibles and relationship-building that only in-person education can provide. Regardless of how ‘good’ we become at virtual education, effective K-5 education will require in-person learning or a very engaged and available educator within the home. In addition, the teacher-student interaction is more limited and more difficult for the virtual students; one-on-one attention for those students needing more assistance is challenging when teaching virtually and additional resources will need to be focused on providing that assistance. We can also agree that some classes like band, choir, and certain tech ed offerings simply do not work virtually. In spite of these shortcomings, we as a society have been exposed to the possibilities of virtual learning and the choices that lie therein.
What does all of this mean for the future of education? Beginning at the top of the educational food chain, this new understanding has opened a Pandora’s box that cannot be closed. As the cost of higher education has become unsustainable and out-of-line with the product being offered, many parents and students were already questioning the wisdom of the ‘college education at all costs’ mentality. Since March, parents have been presented with a first-hand glimpse of the curriculum their children are paying for, and in some cases are rightfully unimpressed.
Covid has forced parents and students alike to question the ‘given’ that to be successful, a young person must go into debt and purchase a four-year degree. Virtual post-secondary education will give students and parents the freedom to choose. If university A requires my child to pay $1000 for ‘international basket weaving’ and another $1000 for ‘competitive table sports’, and college B allows my child to become certified in supply chain logistics in two years without the required ‘general education’ courses, many of us will be choosing option B. Or if there are several successful marine biology programs across the country offering virtual learning and a student is ok with foregoing ‘the college experience’, he or she can choose the most cost-effective program, live at home, and become a marine biologist for a fraction of today’s costs. Virtual options will also allow students to choose a course of education with or without the political indoctrination that occurs at many universities and high schools today.
Middle and high school students will have access to similar choices as this trend continues. If a family’s local school is a failing school, they can choose to opt-out and pursue a quality education with a virtual ‘school’ of their choice, located anywhere across the country (or potentially internationally as well). On a less dramatic scale, if a student’s local school is good in many categories but lacks a strong science or math department, a parent can find suitable substitutes on-line to keep the student on-track in pursuit of a medical career.
This reality will force us as a community to re-think education and the most effective way to serve our students.
How will sports / band / clubs / etc. work in this new reality? Will communities suffer without the ‘home team’ and the unity that a local school provides? What non-for-profit or government agencies will need to step-up to fill the gaps regarding mental health or child-safety issues? How do we as educators raise the bar for ourselves and our education teams so that we are able to compete with the rest of the nation and eventually with the rest of the world?
Perhaps it will be some time before the full effects of virtual education are known, but we would be wise to heed the clarion call that has sounded loud and clear.