• Theresa Capra

A Crowded, Covid, Conundrum

As K-12 and higher education release their reopening plans, as predicted, they're light on face-to-face meetings. Why the surprise and confusion? The issues were there long before Covid-19 showed up in our classrooms. #remotelearning #onlinelearning #distancelearning#technology#theresacapra#teachingtips#Covid19


Fall reopening plans are rolling out reflecting what epidemiologists predicted would be necessary for a long time to come: social distancing. Harvard University will be offering all of its classes online. California wisely pulled the plug early on. Universities and colleges everywhere are realizing that the model they’ve relied upon for decades was ill-equipped for an emergency of this magnitude. Why the surprise? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released its reopening guidelines long ago and for institutions and organizations that are moral and intend to follow them, it’s no easy task. Even the notion that young people and children are immune is being dispelled as cases in young adults in states such as Florida and Texas climb. Additionally, residual health problems such as decreased lung capacity and blot clots resulting from Covid-19 infections, are beginning to manifest in people despite comorbidity.


Schools are crowded by design and this issue has been on the radar of states and school districts long before Covid-19 pulled back the curtain. For example, California has an average elementary class size of 25 and a whopping 35 bodies per room in its high schools. Florida has been historically plagued by overcrowding for so long it amended its constitution in 2002 to curb classroom crowding. Of course some states fare better, especially if they are less populated, but in most cases students are shuffled into tight classrooms that are housed in buildings with poor ventilation. Suffice to say, investments in education over the years have been limited.


Limited investments in technology and innovative modes of instruction have placed us where we are today: a crowded, Covid, conundrum.

College is even worse. Some of the largest campuses in the nation have over 70,000 students, and on the low-end class averages may range from 30-35 while some lecture halls pack in 200 students at one time. Whether or not this crowding is conducive to learning has been overlooked because the cost benefit outweighs any intangible gains. College administrators have adopted the practice of reducing class offerings in order to pack students on top of each other to maximize profit. Additionally, limited investments in technology and innovative modes of instruction have placed us where we are today: a crowded, Covid, conundrum.


K-12 districts are aptly rolling out potential hybrid plans where students come to the brick and mortar twice a week with remote supplements. An obvious problem is that parents who work need child care--a major function schools have adopted for the society we have erected. That is the only reason the President is pressuring states to reopen their schools despite the price tag and logistical nightmares of implementing CDC guidelines.


So maybe that’s what we should focus on moving forward rather than hold our breath for the day we can return to a so-called "normal" system that was floundering in the first place. As scientists have warned, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when this will happen again. Perhaps a blended approach is better for older students. It would certainly free up a lot of space for special needs, at-risk, and early childhood populations--groups where smaller classes have proven to be effective for improved social and academic outcomes.


Colleges especially must innovate--it's overdue. If fewer classrooms were needed there would be more space in general. Furthermore, if remote and virtual modes of learning were more widely used, understood, and accepted, the transition would have been a lot easier.


Will education miss the opportunity to innovate? Let's hope not.

Covid-19 will undoubtedly change the way many Americans work--corporations more than ever see the benefits of reducing costs related to holding physical space to conduct business that can otherwise occur remote. The stressful commute --can we, must we go back? It's not just work, it's life! Telemedicine is more widespread to attend to routine matters, pull up services for veterinarians, no more crowding into waiting rooms for appointments, and the elimination of that sick coworker who dragged herself in because she had that meeting. The social acceptance of people coughing on you and sneezing into their hands (yuk!) is gone. Parents dosing their children with tylenol so they can make it to the office because working from home is taboo. Good riddance. Will education miss the opportunity to innovate? Let's hope not.


Sources:


Classroom Averages


National Center for Education Statistics


University Campus Sizes


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