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E-Learning at Home and Why it’s a Fail

Published in ChicagoNow, November 13, 2018

My grandkids who live in another state had an e-learning day last week when their school was closed for staff in-service. I guess this counts as a learning day. It was also a trial for doing the same thing on snow closing days, thus avoiding having to make these days up at the end of the school year. If this is a vision for the future of public-school education in our country, I’m fearful about the direction we seem to be headed.

The first false assumption about an e-learning day is that a parent will be home to supervise it. Since most parents work these days, non-attendance days are already a logistical nightmare. Parents need to make child care arrangements. Nowhere in the job description of a sitter or day care is the supervision of e-learning.

Another obstacle is the belief that every home has at least one computer with access to the Internet. There is quite an assumption of privilege in that belief. The e-learning site does not work on an iPad or most other tablets. In the case of my grandkids’ household, one child who is in Intermediate School has a chrome book issued by the school. She was able to get her assignment online because her home is fortunate enough to have a Wi-Fi connection. When she got stuck and needed help, however, there was no teacher to answer her questions. Since her parents were at work, she was told to help her younger brothers with their assignments until an adult came home.

She chose to help her kindergarten-age brother in the misguided notion that the work would be easier. This resulted in her fourth-grade brother pouting and her youngest brother being very upset because he can’t read yet and doesn’t know how to do e-work. Needless to say, when my daughter got home at dinner time, everyone was frustrated and upset, and almost no work was finished. While throwing dinner on the table, she first helped her five-year-old complete his assignment. Next up, his eight-year-old brother, who had not had a chance to even start his lessons. While he and his sister fought over the computer and vied for their mother’s attention, the hours flew by until it was past bedtime.

No one can convince me that electronic educational lessons hold a candle to a real, in the flesh teacher who can guide children’s learning and knows her students well enough to individualize lessons. In my book, it’s a lazy way to occupy children’s time completing the equivalent of worksheets without the guarantee that there will be anyone to help them learn or answer their questions. Because it is done electronically rather than with paper and pencil, the school believes this qualifies as a day of actual education.

I’m not a luddite. I read books on my iPad and clearly, I write using a computer. I have helped my grandchildren with homework assigned on their school tablets and see the value in reducing a load of heavy textbooks to one device. Much better for their developing backs. But for their developing minds, it takes an actual human being who can gauge by a student’s expression that he doesn’t understand, who can recognize a child when she raises her hand with a question, and who can differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students of differing abilities and learning styles. Good teaching is an art that extends far beyond electronic instruction that assumes a parent will be available to supervise and guide children through the process.

I hope this experiment is deemed a failure rather than being extended to cover snow closing days. My grandchildren are not robots.


by Laurie Levy
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