School Just Got Better for A Lot of Kids
With Covid-19 a persistent threat in the U.S., online learning is here to stay for the foreseeable future. But what was once envisioned as a last resort — sending kids home with a laptop and hoping for the best—has shown some surprising benefits.
Remote learning offers not only flexibility for kids, but convenience and comfort. I recently saw a Twitter thread about a teacher telling a child he could not eat a snack while distance learning in his own home. His mother insisted that the hungry child be allowed to eat.
In elementary school, I was given 15 minutes to get through a line to pick up my lunch, then sit down and eat. If teachers kept us in the classroom for too long, the time was cut down to ten minutes, and I couldn’t finish eating. We were allowed no other snacks during the day. In school, I was only allowed a drink twice a day: a small carton of milk at lunch, and a few gulps from the water fountain after recess.
As a result, I was dehydrated, and would often get headaches. We didn’t have air conditioning on hot summer days, and we would sit with sweat dripping off us while trying to learn.
With distance learning, kids can grab a glass of cool water whenever they like. They don’t have to trudge through snow to stand at freezing bus stops, either.
The rigid structure of primary education hasn’t changed in over a century. In the U.S., the antiquated September-June calendar was designed so that kids could help with their parents’ farm work, and so that they didn’t have to sit in classrooms during the hottest days of the year.
While curriculums have varied over time, the physical classroom space, rows of tiny desks pointed at a board, hasn’t. Adults are often miserable when they have to sit in open office plans, due to noise and a lack of privacy, so why do we make kids do it? Spending six or more hours a day sitting on hard chairs isn’t exactly comfortable, either.
I recently saw a modern school design that had more “break-away” spaces — like the nooks in libraries for kids to study or take tests, but throughout the building. I would’ve loved such a design in high school. In college I would hide away in the library, which had carrel desks with raised edges, to do my studying. It was like a mini-cubicle, and effectively blocked off a lot of noise and distractions.
Library designs often imitate homes, with comfy chairs, quiet spaces, and carpets (to minimize noise). While a traditional classroom is easier to clean and maintain, it isn’t exactly the coziest of environments.
Learning at home, however, bridges the gap. Kids can stay safe from germs, while having more comfort and control over their surroundings.
The benefits go beyond physical. Fitting in with peers can be stressful for kids. One study showed that teens in the UK had better mental health during the lockdown, when schools went remote. They had a lower risk of depression and anxiety. They even liked school more when it was done at home.
Teachers have also been embracing distance education, finding that it helps with classroom management and provides tools to help track kids’ learning.
One major drawback is for parents: How can they work while their kids are home? It might be beneficial for schools to offer the remote option for teens, except for classes like art, biology and chemistry labs. For younger kids, there is no easy solution.
And of course, not all kids enjoy remote work. Kids are missing out on a lot of extracurricular activities, like sports and performing plays, that can’t be done over a computer screen.
But one thing is certain: school isn’t ever going to be the same. Once it’s safe, kids should go back to school with more flexibility and options — and some snacks.