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Monday, July 26, 2021

Education Innovation

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Pandemic unveils new learning methods

There should be little argument that the past year has been anything but normal. The Covid-19 crisis has transformed our lives. Who knew that seeing a man wearing a mask in a bank could be considered “normal”?

The panic that we all felt was real and justified. We separated, stayed home and tried to do our part to stop the deadly virus – the thought of sending our children off to school terrified parents everywhere. Thankfully, our education leaders responded quickly and developed alternative ways to continue to educate our children.

Of course, there was understandably much misinformation, trial and error, and shifting strategies that confused everyone involved. Administrators, teachers, parents and students were all faced with sometimes weekly shifts in information, rules and objectives. But what have we learned? Where do we go from here? What should we expect now?

I hear exasperated teachers, students and parents all saying, “Let’s get back to normal this year.” I agree, but what does that mean? What is normal? Surely, it doesn’t mean let’s all get back to the dismal “normal” that our state educational system has produced for decades. For example, US News and World Report in 2019 reported Louisiana was 46th in the nation in pre-K – 12 state rankings. Contributing to that poor performance, Louisiana was ranked as follows in the following metrics:

College Readiness 46 High School Graduation Rate 42 NAEP Math Scores 47 NAEP Reading Scores 44 Pre-School Enrollment 15 Maybe we should all take a breath and see if we have really learned anything during this unpleasant epidemic. Is this an opportunity to make fundamental changes to benefit our state and significantly impact our children’s future? I suggest we take a look at what silver linings we might find if we look closely.

During the past year, our best leaders, administrators and teachers have taken advantage of several innovative methods and systems to deliver education in exciting new ways. The pandemic has forced parents to become much more involved and forced everyone to adapt to online learning tools. Of course, not all of these have been successes, but without Covid, we may never have discovered how effective some of them can be.

First, distance learning has proved to be possible but may transform the availability of quality instruction to every student.

Consider the possibility of having specialist educators providing cutting-edge education to all of our children in various fields such as mathematics, science, history and others. This can all be done efficiently by using these tools now available through the infrastructure developed over the last year.

Second, the pandemic has forced parents into taking a more active role. Similarly, it has forced more transparency into the inner workings of the classroom. Instruction has been streamed into almost every home. The teachers take on more of a mentor role, and parents are responsible for ensuring that offline practice and homework are completed. This newfound teamwork between the teachers, parents and students can only lead to improved outcomes. When everyone is pulling in the same direction, we can move mountains.

Third, all of this virtual learning has spawned significant innovation and the expansion of available technology to everyone. In this computer age, having easy access to the internet is essential to ensure that every child, parent and teacher has access to the most advanced information available. With a laptop in almost every home, children can conduct research like no generation before. Parents can join groups or blogs to gather tips and support, and teachers can collaborate to stay abreast of new teaching methods and innovations.

This all seems like a winning strategy to me.

I hope that we don’t just get back to “normal” and business as usual, but that we move past these dramatic moments of the last school year and use what we learned to accelerate the level of education in Louisiana. Maybe we can use this pandemic as a catalyst and transform our education system to jumpstart the progress we have needed for decades. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is still in front of us. What path will we choose?

Beth L. Woods, M.Ed. is a Shreveport native and owner of At Home Academy Test Prep and Tutoring with two locations. Beth has owned and operated At Home Academy for 12 years in Shreveport and is now open in Bossier at 4959 Shed Road. Beth taught school in Caddo Parish for over 20 years. She works with hundreds of students yearly from age 5 through college age to help students become more successful in school and to help them to achieve their educational goals into college and beyond. Beth is available via email athomeacad@gmail.com or www.athomeacademy.net.

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