Author | Lujaine Salem | Grade 12 | Canada
A small desk is now the classroom, a bed or couch is a mere representation of the break room, using the bathroom is no longer an act requiring consent, and teachers consist of nothing more than faces or voices from our computers, where no connection can be sustained. This however, is not in reference to an internet connection, but rather the human interaction that students once experienced with their educators. As we envision this situation, and attain a glimpse of the day to day life of the online student, it becomes evident that this is now the new reality for many. These circumstances which the school system has fallen under demonstrate that they were simply not prepared for the shift from physical to online schools. However, the question becomes ‘was the education system unprepared, or did it take a global pandemic to finally uncover the fundamental flaws within a system that has been unsatisfactory for so long?’ Problems experienced in physical schools are now enhanced by the new system. What the online structure has revealed is that the education system lacks the serious teaching of practical and hands-on learning; that teachers are valued as workers within an institution rather than genuine educators; and it is problematic that education still equates student prosperity to grade levels.
As an individual who is currently participating in the experimental stages of online education, I have gathered enough information to break it down into its components. The typical day of an online student consists of six hours of “lessons” for the first half of the day. The rest of the evening is dedicated to students re-teaching themselves the content and revising it multiple times before gaining an understanding. They can then proceed to use that knowledge in order to submit many small graded assessments, before their respectable deadline, in order to arrive at a grade.
Let us begin by examining the effects of the first half of the student’s day. The online meetings typically consist of the teacher speaking while reading from a slide show in hopes of engaging students and communicating to them through a side panel chat system if they have questions. Students are asked to keep their cameras and microphones off to prevent distractions. However, the reality of this system is that most students will not listen or pay attention in class because of the boredom that overtakes them, or the lack of clarity from the unsustainble connection. Many might choose to blame this on the circumstances of online education, but the unfortunate truth of the matter is that nothing has changed in the shift from physical to online learning.
This has always been the primary technique for teaching within the education system. A teacher will speak periodically and students can ask questions if they need. It is common for students to fall asleep in the classroom or lose focus. What this exhibits is that the physical circumstances are not to blame. It is a fundamental problem in our educational system in which students do not learn through engagement. “Engagement is generally defined as the level of participation and intrinsic motivation a student displays in a learning environment. It’s also referred to as ‘the amount of physical and psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience’.” (Norris, 2015). In a classroom setting, most students will not participate, and will put forth minimum effort to attain average results. The fact is, students treat education with average input because it is the treatment they are receiving in return. Simply listening to a teacher speak does not leave students with transferable skills for the real world. Not only does it waste the teachers’ efforts but it misuses time that students can utilize to make productive efforts towards their future. This creates an issue where students are required to teach themselves the content they are learning because they are not given practical learning experience in which their brains are active and knowledge can be absorbed.
This leads us to the issues that are revealed by the second part of an online student’s day. After their online lectures, they are now intended to read over and understand the lessons. Again, this aspect is enhanced in online school because there is no interaction with a real teacher; nonetheless, it is founded on a preexisting concern in physical school as well. This reflects on the underlying issue that a teacher’s value in the education system is constantly decreasing. This is because “an education system is only as good as its teachers.” ( Norris and Soloway, 2015). If students feel the need to teach themselves the content because they come out of classes without fully grasping the material, the teacher has not done their job. This is not necessarily the instructors fault as they have great potential to teach but are not equipped with the resources to do so. It is, however, the fault of the system because when teachers are deemed non essential workers in an institution, the results are a problem where “the pay gap between teachers and other comparably educated professionals is now the largest on record.” (Reilly, 2018). It all arises from the fact that education regards teachers as the bottom of the food chain. They “are often lacking good resources, such as teaching materials and textbooks, or proper training.”(United Nations, 2015).
This results in a significant drop in the quality of their work. Moreover, when teachers are treated as dérriere workers it creates a positive feedback effect where they are unmotivated to teach and students do not feel the necessity to receive education. It is unacceptable that individuals who play the greatest role in a student’s success are not given the resources to allow them to prosper. “The central argument [is] our system is seriously corrupted… [because] governments, bureaucracies, academics, parents, also principals [are] at the centre of attention, not children and teachers.”(2018, Ukessays). When the system does not prioritize education and, instead, values business, students will create a generation of future teachers unable to provide the necessary education for the individual. Furthermore, the core issue that teachers face is that their mechanism for teaching is not based on the needs of today’s society. “The purpose of education has always been to treat everyone, in essence, the same—to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.” (Mcallister, 2018). When the education system first began, it was intended to teach individuals the same set of skills in order to be uniform workers within society. School was intended to create individuals who are limited to the same attributes.
This leads us to the issue in which education is solely based on standardization. The problem is that we have carried this same essential concept until the present, and it is further exemplified by the online system. This can be exhibited in the last part of the online student’s day where they are tasked by submitting assignments and tests before midnight. What can be understood here is that a teacher’s sole purpose is to provide individuals with enough knowledge in order for them to do well on tests and assignments. This system in and of itself is extremely problematic. It equates a student’s success and value to a grade while killing all of their creativity. The idea of standardized evaluations has diminished the value of education because a student’s main focus is attaining a high grade instead of retaining information. It makes students feel worthless if they cannot attain a certain spectrum of numbers and deems their other characteristics and talents useless. “Comparative assessment techniques, such as standardized tests, often measure performance more than knowledge. Students may recite information, but have little ability to apply it to their lives.”(Norris and soloway, 2015). Learning is no longer the focus, and numerical success is now the goal. This encourages the context for students only remembering information for a small period of time in order to perform well, and it forces them only to think strategically for tests. This also gives students who are strong logical thinkers an unfair advantage over students who are more creative and imaginative thinkers. “It can create artificial hierarchies that promote unnecessary competition, and discourage students from learning.”(Gillmore, 2020). Two individuals can retain the same amount of knowledge but have different mechanisms of expressing their intelligence. One might be able to explain their thoughts by answering questions on a test while another might excel at presentations or creating informative posters.
From personal experience, being part of the online learning establishment has shifted my goals solely to submitting my assignments before their deadline rather than truly absorbing the content being taught, because this is the only way to determine my success. It all forms a connection with the former issue, that there is no real teaching done by teachers in online schools, and which forces me to remember only the information needed for tests. It takes away the purpose for learning and makes me feel unmotivated to be genuinely invested in the content and appreciate the art of comprehension.
Acknowledging the issues that can be seen from an isolated learning environment, it is clear that it was not in online schools that these problems were learned, but that they were all issues found within the school system itself. In a way, it is worthwhile to address them now as they become more exemplified with the presence of the Coronavirus. It is possible for the institutions to look at the online school crisis and fix these issues. It has taken too long to finally realize that the school system is corrupt, because it does not provide enough hands-on learning, it diminishes a teacher’s worth, and equates a student’s value to their performance on standardized assessments. It is now critical more than ever to resolve these issues so that schools can generate a cohort of individuals who are capable and high functioning in the real world and are not bound to the limited thinking that is currently taught. “When one aspect of a system prospers everyone involved will prosper as well.”(Reilly, 2018).
“A Teacher’s Perspective on What’s Wrong with Our Schools.” Cato Institute, 8 Feb. 2018, www.cato.org/cato-journal/winter-2018/teachers-perspective-whats-wrong-our-schools
Cathie Norris, Elliot Soloway07/13/15. “A Fundamental Flaw in Competency Learning.” THE Journal, thejournal.com/Articles/2015/07/09/Competency-Learning.aspx.
“How Corrupted Is Our Education System Education Essay.” UKEssays.com, www.ukessays.com/essays/education/how-corrupted-is-our-education-system-education-essay.php.
“The Problem With Standardized Testing.” Education for Today and Tomorrow | L‘Education Aujourd’hui Et Demain, teachmag.com/archives/9990.
Reilly, Katie. “Exactly How Teachers Came to Be So Underpaid in America.” Time, 13 Sept. 2018, time.com/longform/teaching-in-america/.
Team, The Understood. “8 Ways Distance Learning Makes It Harder to Focus.” 8 Focus Challenges of Distance Learning, Understood, 27 Aug. 2020, www.understood.org/en/school-learning/learning-at-home/homework-study-skills/distance-learning-focus-challenges.