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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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A “New” Education Model: An Opening for Positive Change

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to adopt a new educational model. After lagging behind, holding on in some ways to the old factory model emerging during the Industrial Age (desks in neat rows like an assembly, bells still ring, stringent schedules keeping everyone on track), public education has moved into uncharted territory.

Students learning from home, having more autonomy and flexibility in schedules. Teachers teaching to children on virtual screens—sometimes juggling between having students in face-to-face classes while some students are logging into class on virtual settings at the same time.        

It’s definitely a new age for schooling.

But as we still grapple with the virus and figure out how students might get back into physical classrooms, I wonder what education will look like if (and when) things settle down. For instance, how much virtual teaching will still be conducted? Will some students have the option to remain virtual? How will schools address that? Will teachers, now equipped with more virtual teaching and technology-related experience, continue to use these new skills in the classroom—or go back to the “old” traditional methods of instruction?

How much of this will stick?

I’m not sure at this point anyone really knows for sure. I think much will depend on the state and the local school districts—and how much parents and students expect to keep the “new” model intact.

For example, I heard of school districts planning to maintain “virtual academies” after students return full-time to in-class learning. Students that qualify would attend the virtual classes, which would be taught solely by assigned virtual teachers. Will some schools continue their practice of having a “virtual teacher” assigned to each grade level or will this fade away over time?

I do know this: like all change, the “new” model provides both challenges and opportunities. I wonder what will happen with disadvantaged students, who are falling behind due to lack of technology access and not responding well to remote learning. Will a new virtual model create a further divide, resulting in a wider achievement or access gap?

I also see openings for improvements. Students benefiting from self-directed learning, for instance, gifted and advanced students, can be allowed to learn at a more appropriate pace using virtual options. Also, more flexibility has been created in schooling. Students unable to attend physical class due to illness or other reasons could “Zoom” in (or Microsoft “Teams” in). Of course, this option could be abused if not carefully monitored.

Schools could also consider offering a hybrid schedule, where students attend in-person classes several days a week and learn from home on the other days. Again, this could cause hardship since parents would also need the option to work from home from employers on those days (but this seems possible given how the workplace and commute have changed during the pandemic).

I think if I had one piece of advice for educators and policymakers in this arena, it would be this: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Education is notorious for extremes, for swinging the pendulum all the way to one side or the other when making reforms.

We don’t have to do that. We have an opportunity here—an opening to make a positive change by honoring what worked in the old model of education and fusing it or enhancing it with the “new.” Let’s not waste that chance.