Online Learning Was Supposed to Democratize Education. Coronavirus Shows It Hasn’t.

OneZero spoke to teachers worried about students being left behind

Sarah Emerson
OneZero

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Dark image of a boy on his laptop.
Photo: mtreasure/Getty Images

OOne afternoon in March, dozens of teachers in central New Jersey hunkered down in a room to prepare for the inevitable. Campuses across the nation were shuttering like dominoes as the coronavirus spread farther and faster. Teachers would need to move their classes online — and quickly. But resources were scant, and the state’s edict to close all schools had arrived with little warning.

While private academies in California’s Bay Area had incorporated remote learning years ago, some school districts, particularly in rural areas, would need to adopt online education for the first time. For this New Jersey district, which serves mostly low-income communities, less than a day of planning was involved. Teachers hurriedly decided which chat apps to use, how best to assign homework remotely, and what, if anything, could bridge the gap between physical and virtual campuses.

“I was given 30 to 45 minutes to sketch out with my co-workers what we would do, with no details about when it would happen or how long it would last,” said a special education teacher for the New Jersey public school. They requested anonymity for fear of professional retaliation.

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Sarah Emerson
OneZero

Staff writer at OneZero covering social platforms, internet communities, and the spread of misinformation online. Previously: VICE