Online Learning Was Supposed to Democratize Education. Coronavirus Shows It Hasn’t.
OneZero spoke to teachers worried about students being left behind
One 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.
Online learning is a multibillion-dollar industry that optimistically envisions a future wherein education is propelled to greater heights by technology. Now, with an estimated 54 million students currently out of school, these online learning tools are being put to the test — and it’s clear that they are not the equalizing force that some entrepreneurs have imagined they could be.
Silicon Valley has long exported online education — or “ed tech” — to countries like Ghana, South Africa, and Brazil, where it is intended to democratize learning across the socioeconomic spectrum, parachuting personal learning into often poor communities. In the United States, such tools have supplemented classrooms for decades now — video lectures that let students learn at their own pace, and homework platforms for tracking assignments. Bill Gates claimed these tools would “revolutionize the classroom.” Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan made a similar…